Taking the First Step – Nika’s blog

Taking the First Step Blog

Taking the First Step – Nika’s blog

Taking the First Step Blog

Searching for the perfect project

… is a guaranteed way to never actually start one.

I told you in my previous blog that I realised that I needed to start hacking life — rethink what success means to me, and plot a course that would take me there. I knew immediately that in the process, I would have to find a project that would allow me to create something out of nothing and to be a platform for developing new skills. But I didn’t know what that project would be just then.

There were several things that factored into the final decision, which was to take on the kind of project that would also interest other people and that one could maybe make money out of. I’ve always known I wanted to tackle that kind of a project someday, but I struggled with what exactly it should be. I have thought about several ideas over the course of my life, but I rarely got to execution and never committed fully, as there were always some reasons that held me back. I’ve never had these reservations with my hobbies. But with potential business opportunities, I really wanted to be sure that I’m investing my energy into the right one. And now, I’ve come to realise that searching for the perfect project is the best way to guarantee that you’ll never actually start one. Let me show you why I think so and how I’ve finally found a project to invest my time into.

The instinct to search for new solutions and invent ideas has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. The earliest memory I have that supports this is when I was 6, on vacations at the seaside with my family. We were watching the ferries, and one of my cousins noted something about the amount of fuel they used. And it evolved into a discussion of cost and environmental effect, and my child me was shocked by it. I knew immediately that somebody should do something about it. I was in the middle of a busy stream of thought when a solution presented itself to me. It was brilliantly simple and so obvious that I was almost outraged that nobody had thought of it before.

Water. Why not substitute fuel with water? It is also a liquid, and it’s abundant. It was all around us in the form of the sea anyway.

I excitedly shared the solution with my family and they were less enthusiastic about it than me. They said that it wouldn’t work, and they just shook their heads at my ‘liquid is liquid’ argument. And then someone, I think it was my dad, explained to me that there are some important differences between them. Oh well! I was disappointed for a moment, but this problem would just have to wait for someone who knew more about liquids than me.

That was the first time I remember that I was trying to solve a major ‘pain’ that existed in the world. Fast forward a few years, and I was aspiring to solve a very personal ‘pain’ and I think that was the first time I actually thought about the technicalities of the execution.

I was in primary school and I often walked home from school. Some of my classmates shared the first part of the route with me, but last 700 m or so, I was usually alone. It was uphill and it felt infinitely long to a 4th grader. I had plenty of time for thinking and over a course of weeks, I developed an idea for a transportation device that would be powered by batteries and that would fit into my backpack. Something along the lines of scooters that were popular then, but without the handle bar. And preferably configured in a way that the feet would be side by side. Like a board with wheels on each end, and a third wheel for stability somewhere in the middle.

My grandpa had a bunch of tools and I was pretty sure he’d let me use them (and probably even help me), and that he’d likely have a wooden piece that I could use for a board. I could maybe use the wheels from my scooter or roller blades, and I was sure I could find some batteries and someone to help me with the motor and the electric stuff. The idea got quite elaborate, but it never made it past that phase because I was never actually willing to put in the necessary time when I got home. The ‘pain’ was forgotten then and there were so many things to do that were more exciting.

I also had ideas that were not connected to technology. I loved reading and I wanted to have a book that would have my name on the cover. One of that gorgeous hard-covers with 500 plus pages and fine paper. Notice that I didn’t say that I wanted to write a book — I wasn’t particularly interested in the writing part. I liked the part where I could choose the paper colours and the cover art and the font and then flip through pages and take in that smell of paper and ink. No surprise nothing came out of that project at that time…

But I revisited the idea many times, when I actually had the plot in mind and the willingness to write, however, my stories rarely made it to the 10th page before I would find major plot holes or things that I wanted to change. And the 500 pages, or at least 200 pages were so out of reach that I couldn’t imagine ever making it that far so I stopped trying.

Then there was the idea to install a micro hydro power plant in the roof drainage system of our house. It was a long shot that my parents would ever let me go through with that plan, but the project ended way before the prototype was developed, in an accident that involved a bike dynamo, screwdriver, and a pair of scraped sunglasses. Nobody was hurt, but I decided to abandon the project as it didn’t feel right anymore. Later, I also found out that we don’t get nearly enough rainfall for the idea to be feasible.

I revisited the electric generation theme during my studies, when walking was one of my preferred means of commuting through the city. I wanted to transform the movement of walking into electricity. There were several possible (theoretical) ways, the most obvious probably piezoelectric material in the soles of the shoes. But I was so busy with studying that I never really had time for that, and when I did have free time, I didn’t want to use it to do more physics to find a way for the idea to be technologically feasible.

And then I got interested into helicopters, and got an idea for a micro copter the size of a fly. Or a butterfly. But it would be a useless toy, and does the world really need more of those? I could make it controllable by something cool — like hand movement, and make it into a project for experimenting with controllers and more practical programming and signal processing. Or I could add a LED and make it pretty. And then have a swarm of micro copters. Controlled by AI so that they behave like active soft matter. The ideas were getting more and more complicated and went from something just out of reach to something that would require some serious work. And I didn’t feel like investing so much effort into something that is cool, but doesn’t really have a purpose.

So I turned the idea around and envisioned a heavy-duty drone for personal use. Drones were a thing then and I’ve seen some videos of a drone that was used to haul snowboarders over some snow-covered ground. Wouldn’t that be cool? And also useful, as the same drone could be used to get equipment to hard-to-reach terrain. I knew this could be a large project that would turn to something profitable, and I would have loved to take it on with a team of like-minded people. Which I couldn’t find, because all of my colleagues were engaged in studies, jobs, other activities, or just didn’t like the idea.

Then I had an idea to develop an app that would track your posture and that would tell you if you slouched. The motivation was personal, because I discovered that spending increasing amounts of time behind a computer resulted in back-pains. The complexity and the size of the project were just right to make it a one person project for after work. But do I really want to spend time on something that in its concepts supports people to be lazy? I mean, do I really need an app to remind me to straighten the shoulders? If I truly wanted to have better posture, I should just be disciplined and do the exercises to improve it.

So I was strolling from idea to idea, always finding an imperfection that held me back to start a project that I thought had financial potential. At the same, those reservations didn’t apply to my hobbies. Remember the books that never got past page 10? My sister published her book through a local youth centre and I saw from up close what is involved in publishing a book and decided that I don’t really want to do that. But I ran out of books to read in our library, and decided to write something just for me, about themes that I liked. It turned from a single book to a trilogy and the first part took me more than a year, but it is finished and it’s perfect. (Well, it’s not perfect, it has plenty of room for improvement, but I like it.) And the second one is in the making, but it’s on pause right now.

But with the projects that I perceived as a business opportunity, I just couldn’t commit. My list of reasons just got longer and longer with each rejected idea. Through the process, I would see more and more potential pitfalls and I was ever more determined to find a project that would avoid them. I knew many people who have tried and failed and tried again several times before they really succeeded, and I’ve learned from my other life experiences that falling is ok, if you get up afterwards. But I just didn’t want to spend time on something that I knew had less than perfect foundations in the first place. So I kept searching.

I remembered a lot of my past ideas after attending the first of the lectures in Katapult, and I contemplated them again. None of it was perfect so they weren’t really what I was looking for for that project of creating something. But George Deriso, the amazing lecturer I told you about and an experienced executive, entrepreneur and consultant who has worked with businesses of all sizes worldwide, had an answer for that.

He told us a very plastic story about a hungry man who ate a bowl of rice. He was still hungry, so he ate another bowl of rice. And the third one. And then the fourth one, after which he was finally full. And he drew the conclusion that the fourth bowl was the one that satisfied his hunger, so he should’ve had started with the fourth bowl and satisfied the hunger right away. And it’s obvious that that logic is faulty — the fourth bowl satisfied him because it was the last bowl and he had eaten the rice from three bowls before that. You can’t just skip steps!

And I realised that me searching for the perfect project was trying to start with the fourth bowl. That what I’ve perceived as wasting time on other projects was in fact a learning process. And that I was basically setting myself up for a very painful failure — when I would finally have the perfect project, the chances were I would blew it.

So I needed to rethink my strategy. I needed to find a project.

One that I would enjoy, not too complicated, and one I could do within a timeframe of a few months. I’m not sure what came first, the 3 criteria or the actual idea of making a board game, but it all merged very naturally. And I have to stress that changing the criteria doesn’t mean I care less about my project and I’m going into it expecting to fail. It just means that I know that perfect projects don’t just come around when you wish for them, and that starting something is much better than waiting for something that may or may not come. It also doesn’t mean that I plan to abandon my project if I find a better one — nope, it’s mine now, and I’m determined to see it through and create something beautiful. It does mean however that I’m probably under a lot less pressure that I would be in the other scenario, and that I’m not that afraid to fail, so I’ll be a lot more relaxed about making important decisions. Which is a good thing.

Okay, so where did I find board games? They’ve been a hobby of mine for a few years now and creating them feels similar to writing, which is probably my favourite way to express myself. It’s also a passion that I share with my fiancé and a few other close friends, so I have a team and a support network of people I can talk to about games and count on them to playtest and be brutally honest about all of the things that they don’t like. (A big thank you to all of you 😉 ) It also means that we already have some knowledge on the field and the market, albeit from the user’s point of view.

The game that we are developing is a light and fast card game, where one drafts cards with huskies and equipment, and assembles their own personal husky sled, and then races with it through a vast snowy wilderness. It is called Hike! by a command that mushers or dog drivers use to get the husky sled going. It feels kind of appropriate in the context of our project too. The gameplay is pretty straightforward and intuitive, and there are not too many components. We’re talking Resistance-size box with cards and wooden or plastic pawns and cubes. This was perfect for prototyping — the first hand-made prototype with symbols and arrows on the cards was made in mere 4 hours and we borrowed the cubes from Terraforming Mars. We’re hoping it will also be good for production — we’ll be working with an established manufacturer who has been really helpful, but it nevertheless feels less daunting than having to prepare all of the files for say Shadows over Camelot.

I said in my previous post that I see myself in this hobby long-term. I’ve talked about that with others too and they feel the same way. We wish to create a platform through which we will be able to express ourselves through the development. It will be called SnowBoardGames and we will do our best to make it a synonym for high-quality games with great art that bring people together and whisk them into an adventure.

So no, the project I’m investing my time into is not some high-tech solution to the world’s problems, and it doesn’t have a message that would inspire crowds to unite against some greater cause. But it is a project that is mine — ours, and that we’re passionate about. It’s a way to express ourselves, a platform to learn, to grow, to master new skills and forge new connections. And we intend to use it in a meaningful way in its interactions with the world.

It’s been a long post and I’d like to say thank you if you stayed with me until the end.

I wish you a great day!


Here’s a link to our page, in case you are interested how our project looks: https://www.snowboardgames.si/

It’s still a work in progress but we’re getting there.

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