Katamari Damacy took the gaming world of 2004 by storm. It was peaceful, invented a completely new category of gameplay (3D reverse Tetris?), won every award, and was a wonderful commercial success — all in spite of a minuscule budget.
In short: precisely the sort of breakthrough innovation which we all dream of one day making.
♬♪ Katamari Damacy ♫ Doop a dee dooOoOOo ♬♪ Badum bum, bum-pa da dum! (video) ♪♫
Interestingly, it drew zero inspiration from the great games of the past. It was sparked by sculptures and picture books.
Takahashi, its creator, is more artist than game designer. His sort of artist doesn’t say, “I want to build a really big pillar.” They say, “I want to make the viewer feel very small.”
It’s the difference between starting with the features (“I want to build this”) and the value proposition (“I want them to feel happy about Y”). If we buy the idea that startups are meant improve people’s lives, the latter is the right place to start.
I imagine Takahashi starting by saying something like:
I want people to feel like the whole world is a part of them. It’s beautiful and fun and they can have everything. And it’s selfish. At what terrible cost will they continue to want it all?
But he hasn’t yet chosen a medium. He doesn’t know whether it’s going to be a painting or a building or a sculpture or a game or a wedding dress. He starts with the way it’s meant to affect their life and then backs the specifics out from there.
Too often, we have an idea for a mobile app (or whatever) and never stop to consider all the choices we forgot to make.
Let’s say we want to build an iPad app to help kids learn to read. As soon as we allow that innocuous idea into our heads, we’ve already implicitly decided that we’re going to be helping upper-middle class kids in the western world who are native English speakers learn to speak better English. Probably for their school grades. And that we’re a tech startup and will be selling it through the App Store.
But if we dwell a bit on the idea of helping kids to read, we might decide instead to start a grassroots movement of student volunteers. Or that we want to reach the developing world, which is heavily weighted toward Android. Or that we want to focus on kids without available parents, we’ve got to find a way to get it to them directly or via their schools. Or we might focus on kids without computers or internet and airdrop pamphlets. Or we could create a cartoon series on YouTube or go in-person or create the next Boy Scouts but with a focus on literacy instead of preparedness.
We might end up building it as an iPad app anyway. We might decide that’s the best market and that it best fits our goals. But lets not forget that we have options.
I like Takahashi. Mediums are tools, not constraints. If you want to affect someone’s life, start with them. The platform and features will follow. Make the rest of your choices in service to the real goal.
It reminds me of this Sivers video: