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#70 Have it Your Way
Inspired by Tyler Durden
“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.”
- Tyler Durden
We may agree with Tyler, but our ego doesn’t. It demands to express itself - to be heard. Our desires aren’t random emotional whims - they are needs. In our attempt to brace ourselves against disappearing into a sea of humanity, we shape the world around us to match our tastes and preferences. The products we use become altars to our personal quirks, a physical manifestation that for a flickering moment proclaims ‘we exist’.
Even In-N-Out burger’s famously simple menu has left the door ajar for customization. Their secret menu creates insiders and a feeling of belonging. When we can inject a bit of ourselves into the world, we feel alive. Our ancient brain doesn’t do well with standard products for standard people.
“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not.” — Agent Smith in The Matrix
Organizations are unique too, and software endeavors to facilitate this expression. Historically though, these myriad ‘customizations’ led to problems. At work ‘have it your way’ had a high cost. In many ways, the hangover of failed implementations drove the demand for the software as a service model that dominates today.
As a whole, the industry recoiled from this pain, so too product teams. They learned to avoid going too deep into a cul-de-sac, sticking instead to the main roads that carry the most people. In many ways, turning a blind eye to organizational snowflakes, forcing them to adapt to the software, but maybe this was just an intermediate step in our journey? The problem wasn’t in their desire for flexibility, but that our foundations were too brittle. What if instead of beating back the customer’s desire for uniqueness, we not only enabled, it but encouraged it!
The ‘no-code’ movement best exemplified by products like Airtable, Notion, Monday, and Coda, is bridging this gap. Providing flexible building blocks end users can assemble to solve their unique needs. Yet it’s not for everyone - no code requires a special type of person. One part tinkerer, two parts business expert, but with these ingredients in place - creative souls can get very far indeed.
Is ‘no-code’ as powerful or flexible as cracking open an IDE? Of course not, there is a downside to the general-purpose tool. You won’t get the precise look you want and it won’t work exactly how you imagine - so no, in those ways, ‘no-code’ isn’t as good as products handcrafted from the ground up, but for how long? We are in the uncanny valley of business tools.
You might recall when getting online required a magical incantation or when setting up a merchant account meant you were in for weeks of pain. Programming itself has undergone the same revolution - from punchcards to high-level scripting. Power moves up the stack. Why should it stop now?
The winners of tomorrow will break the compromise of single-purpose and tailored. The dream of working in my world and actually working will be realized - the false compromise shattered. After all, we aren’t selling physical goods that need to be manufactured, shipped, and inventoried - bits and bytes need not live under this despotic rule.
Want to have it your way? Have at it!