Making my first foray into the art world this weekend, I went to a demonstration by an artist, Elizabeth Pruitt, in a gallery near my home. It was intriguing... to watch someone slowly turn blotches of paint into a practically alive version of still objects. And, while watching Elizabeth, an analogy of painting artists to software product creators came to me quite clearly.
Elizabeth set up her still life model to be a pre-defined image of what her product would become. If you didn't like the way the roses sat atop the box, or if you just don't like brass urns and grapes, than you know in advance that you probably won't like her finished product - even before her brush hits the canvas. On the other hand - if you love the way these objects fit together the way she has created the physical model, and you've already enjoyed the beauty of her other paintings, than you will love this particular painting when done (which we did!).
The point is (yeah, I'm finaly getting there) that Elizabeth defines her product well before she paints it. She figures it all out before any tubes of paint are even opened. The objects, their relationship to each other, the colors, the shadows, the light (!), "the story" (as she puts it). Do all painters work this way? I think not. I'm guessing there are some which start painting without a real vision of where they'll end up...and while they still may achieve brilliance, they couldn't convince anyone else of that until the work was done.
It seemed so clear to me that product managers - at least in the software space - also work closer to one of those methods or the other... either diligent about defining every behavior of their finished product, every graphic, every navigation, every functional feature - or - loosely outlining only the highest level definition of what they are creating (uh..."web-based collaboration", as an example)... while most fit somewhere in between these two extremes (guess which side I am closest to ;)
As I thought about this blog entry - it also ocurred to me that this line of thinking is very close indeed to a brilliant Malcolm Gladwell speech (a rendition of which I heard at a sales conference about a year ago) which expands on the concepts put forth by David Galenson in his book "Old Masters and Young Geniuses".... Here's a quick excerpt from his site:
"Experimental innovators work by trial and error, and arrive at their major contributions gradually, late in life. In contrast, conceptual innovators make sudden breakthroughs by formulating new ideas, usually at an early age."
Seems like analogies come easy when comparing creators in any medium - just took my a bit by surprise at first since it seemed painting was so far from my work for me when I first stepped into that gallery.