Great software is akin to brilliant mathematical equations.
You can intuitively tell it makes sense before you can describe, even to yourself, why it makes sense.
The speed of your thinking outpaces your ability to put all the implications of what you see in words. This happens when you first encounter F=ma or e=mc^2, and it happens when you encounter the browser, Google search or Bitcoin for the first time. To come upon something with such a massive ‘impact to words’ ratio has a profound impact on your life. Your world gets richer with such encounters.
Sadly, such experiences are a rarity. But when you do come across them, it’s because the creator found the essence of a really tough problem and whittled down these insights into an innocuous looking equation or piece of software. They might have spent years traversing through the hazy clouds surrounding the problem, removing them one by one through little experiments, till they could clearly see through to the elegant solution that is the essence of the problem.
Once in a blue moon, when someone is able to accomplish this, the solution is so simple and so profound that anyone who comes upon it can intuitively tell it makes sense. “Of course it is that way! Why would it be any other way?” they say. Building such an elegant solution, however, is a whole different ball game. One that takes a massive amount of patience, skill and an obsessive penchant for simplicity, to be able to see through the clouds, strip the inessentials and find the almost-mathematically-pure solution inside.
This is the holy grail for founders. Interestingly, once you find the holy grail, it can be implemented as an MVP, a la Workflowy, or as a finished product with massive implications, a la the iPad/Bitcoin. In both forms it gives the people who come upon it the exact same feeling of joy for discovering something so profound.
That.. is the only kind of software worth building.
And Steve Jobs would agree. (as published in Insanely Great):
“When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple,
you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem.
Then you get into the problem, and you see that it’s really complicated,
and you come up with all these convoluted solutions.
That’s sort of the middle, and that’s where most people stop…
But the really great person will keep on going and find the key,
the underlying principle of the problem
— and come up with an elegant, really beautiful solution that works.”