It’s a nice concept, and something that designers will identify with. We like—often require—clear articulation of problems to solve, goals to strive towards, and a healthy obsession with being user-centered.
But, work is messy.
If strategy needs to be built on real-world scenarios, and a clear vision of what you aim to achieve, how can we accept anything other than true north? Anything else is just a deal with the devil. Right?
But consider building a strategy aiming towards magnetic north.
What is magnetic north? Geographically, magnetic north is where your compass points, aligned with the earth’s magnetic field. The north-ness of magnetic north may seem like “fake north”, since it isn’t geographically aligned with a point on our globe.
But magnetic north is truer than true north because it’s based on reality. Based on the magnetic pull of the planet we live on. It’s what powers our compass. Step back and think about the value of north, or any direction.
They matter to us because they direct us from place to place. Guiding our strategy. Deciding how to cross the ocean through a storm, or choose between climbing or going around the mountain.
In business and design—like in geography and navigation—true north is a fallacy. As long as our compass is powered by magnetic north, true north is irrelevant.
Because your product is in the real world, and it plays by the rules of the world. Part of the game is figuring out how to achieve success while managing the forces pulling on us.
No money. Wasted money. Too much investor money.
No customers. Too many of the wrong customers.
No team. The wrong team. Too big of a team.
No research. Bad research. Conflicting research.
No Process. Wrong process. Too much process.
No leadership. Bad leadership. Too many leaders.
No designers. Bad designers. Everyone’s a designer.
From my experience, designing solutions around these kinds of forces has taken as much—if not more—of my energy than designing actual products.
There’s strategic value in being less concerned with true north, and more focused on making things work while heading toward magnetic north.
Because magnetic forces are part of the ride. They aren’t evils that you need to fight off—they’re reality taking its tax on the privilege of being a part of building something great.