Meet Platonic Brain, Lizard Brain’s ideal cousin

Watch Seth Godin’s talk on “Quieting the Lizard Brain” and you’ll immediately recognize that lump-in-the-throat anxiety that comes on the eve of “shipping” a new feature. Godin is right that we all get the opening night jitters and that only the bravest plough through and launch, lizard brain’s be damned. What Godin doesn’t mention is the Lizard brain’s cousin, Platonic Brain.

Spoiler alert: I’m no neurobiologist. I couldn’t find Platonic Brain’s neural neighborhood on a map but my gut (this I can find) says that Platonic mingles with Lizard at the hemisphere’s annual block party. I’m betting they’re neighbors because both keep us from discovering how good or bad our work really is.

Where Lizard uses dread, Platonic appeals to our higher angels with the promise of that perfect piece of code or flawless design if we just keep iterating. I like to imagine Platonic singing “Baby, let’s iteraa-aate” in a perfect Marvin Gaye falsetto but that’s just me. Platonic Brain promises and delivers endless perfection by never letting in those pesky users and their real world problems. Iteration, review and success are relegated to a closed loop where we are the only judges of our own work and, accordingly, of our own genius.

Sounds great right? There’s only one problem with this endogamic paradise: it kills any real innovation. In “Designed for Use“, Lukas Mathis writes:

Never assume you can apply a list of usability rules to a product and end up with something usable. Use common sense when designing user interfaces, but don’t rely on it. Know the rules, but break them if it improves your product.

Knowing the rules and then breaking them is a pretty damn good definition of innovation. Assimilate the field, apply an existing method to solve a problem and, if that method doesn’t work, try something new. Will that something new work? Will your innovation become the new way to do things? Lizard Brain says “fat chance, loser”; Platonic Brain says “of course, just let me tweak this one part”. But your users must (and will) have the final word.

So, enough iterations already: launch the damn thing and let the page views fall where they may. You may end up brokenhearted and you’ll definitely discover your work (read you) isn’t as brilliant or tragic as you thought but at least you’ll know. Better to have loved and lost… well, you get the picture.

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