The Best Laid Plans

Ideas are not innovative unless they are realized (Johansson, The Medici Effect).

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blest, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

“To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785, a poem by Robert Burns.

Things don’t always go according to plan. When I was reading about how entrepreneurs got started in their businesses, it seemed that, more often than not, there was no plan. Usually, something unexpected happened, which forced people to quickly make decisions about how to make the best of the situations they found themselves in. Often, there is a moment of insight that leads to other opportunities. Success often happens without any grand idea about how to get from small beginnings to amazing feats of teamwork and innovation.

The story of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and how Apple started tells something about how innovation happens. It usually doesn’t start with a plan.

When we started Apple we were out to build computers for our friends. That was all. No idea of a company.

Later in his life, Steve Jobs talks about passion, about, in a sense, the lack of sanity needed to persevere when things got tough. You wouldn’t keep doing it unless you really loved it.

I came across a series of videos by some independent filmmakers in the UK, who have been working on a project for several years called The UnderWater Realm. It is an impossibly ambitious project to film a series of five short films under water, which was ultimately crowdfunded through Kickstarter and produced through the passion and volunteer efforts of the cast and crew. It is an intriguing storyline that is meant to pique an interesting in the mysterious world below the surface of our oceans and to possibly raise more awareness about the need to protect this rich, hidden world of life for future generations. The expressed goal is to continue working toward the creation of a trilogy of feature length films.

Even more interesting for myself was the story of how the project began and the persistence and perseverance of the cast and crew to realize their ideas. The Making of The Underwater Realm documents the determination of the team to give everything they had to bring the project to life. Things did not go according to plan, and there were several times when the project seemed at the point of failure, and there seemed to be little hope of finishing. But an intense commitment to the project and to the supporters drove the work forward, and they were able to finish the five short films.

This is the same passion that I would like to bring to the Symphony project. I have many ideas that I would like to pursue, but the amount of work required is far more than what I might be able to accomplish on my own. The vision I have is much larger than a single open source project. It involves the changes that I sense need to take place across an entire industry. I may be proven wrong in the process, and I want to be open to adapting and learning to change along the way.

Still, I am disturbed by the fragmentation of the web design industry by proprietary templating systems that separate the community into factions loyal to specific technologies, frameworks and scripting languages. As a designer who codes, I have needed to adapt to different development environments that have varying levels of respect for the art of front end web design. Ultimately, the separation of the roles of design and development in the process of building websites has often resulted in a loss of control over the design and a decrease in the quality and maintainability of the code. Basic web semantics are losing out again to flash without substance, that is, in respect to the data and to interoperability of the web.

I don’t know that I have a solution to the confusion of languages, but I am willing to offer what I have learned. Most may not care at all or see any problems, but that’s not enough for me not to care. Someone ought to do something about it, and if no one else will, I will. Simple code and elegant approaches have the potential to unite the community with a common language based on standards. Let’s start with what works and enhance from there. Large agencies may not be in a position to make these changes. They may already be set in their ways and be less adaptable to change. It will take a passionate group of independent thinkers and doers, designers and developers, to change an industry. But change has happened before. It may yet happen again.