I started writing Tiny Improvements because of a minor fixation on exploring how small, incremental changes can lead to significant progress and personal growth. Today I want to talk about one of my favorite topics - the beautiful and thought-provoking Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, and how embracing its principles can revolutionize the way we approach building software products as engineers.
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Wabi-Sabi is the celebration of imperfection, transience, and the beauty of the natural world. It encourages us to appreciate the inherent simplicity of things, and to recognize that nothing is perfect, permanent, or complete.
For me, a great way to explain Wabi-sabi is with bluejeans - while there's nothing quite like a fresh, crisp pair of Levi's, they're also the most comfortable when they've been worn-in. The more you wear them, the more they become a part of you. Each little tear, stain, and crease tells a story.
There's a real beauty in that.
Wabi-Sabi is also about embracing the beauty of imperfection in ourselves, and the things we make. It's about accepting that we're not perfect, and that we're always growing and evolving. It's about embracing the beauty of the journey, and not just the destination.
Wabi-sabi in tech
As product builders, we can apply this philosophy to the products we build by embracing our code's imperfections, valuing iterative improvements, and understanding that our work is always evolving. By adopting a Wabi-Sabi mindset, we can foster a more compassionate, creative, and sustainable approach to software development.
In other words: revisiting and rebuilding features of your product as it matures is part of the journey. Embrace the process.
The principles of Wabi-Sabi can be used in software engineering to create create better, more resilient products while nurturing team and personal growth. By learning from the wisdom of this ancient philosophy, we can improve not only our code, but also our mindset, transforming the way we work and live.
If you spend enough time watching people use your product, you'll doubtlessly see someone using it in a way you never imagined or intended. There's an opportunity to learn from these unexpected uses, and to adopt new functionality, or just market directly to an audience you never considered.
My last startup was called smpl -- a SaaS which helped independent coworking companies run billing and member management for their spaces. We were super-focused on building features to help coworking operators, and nonetheless had a few customers pop up who were using smpl for entirely different businesses. Use cases ranged from rental art studios to repurposed restaurant spaces, temporary vacation offices, and subletting existing office space -- none of which were in our core focus, but all of which brought interesting and valuable perspective to our strategy for marketing and customer acquisition.
So as your push forward on your journey of building the next-best-widget, consider the value of embracing imperfection and the power of Tiny Improvements™️™️™️.
Finding opportunity in imperfection
- 📼 There's a great explainer video about wabi-sabi in tech from YouTube channel Cheddar, called How Footpaths Help Shape Our Technology.
- 🚘 In the classic car communtiy, wabi-sabi is most often celebrated by a different name: Patina. Car collectors often seek out cars whose age and history are visible in the wear patterns on their paint, chrome, and other visual features. There are endless guides on how to emulate age and patina on a car, but the real thing is always better.
Imperfect releases from me this week
- 📖 Over at APIs You Won't Hate, we're finally finishing up Surviving Other People's APIs, a book about how to work with APIs that you don't control. It's available for preorder on Leanpub - and is priced at $pay-what-you-want during the pre-order period. Thanks for checking it out!
- 🎙️ We also released a fresh episode of APIs You Won't Hate (the podcast) - Jazzed about API client library codegen, with Danny Sheridan from Fern. If you're interested in codegen, this is a great episode to check out.
- 🎙️ I sat down with Guillermo Rauch, founder of Vercel, to talk about his team's approach to Building Delightful User Experiences for the Software Engineering Daily podcast.