Parisian Love, Tiger Woods, And Our Need To Hone In

Exactly nine days ago, millions of viewers were treated to a world first. I'm not talking about the Saints winning their first-ever NFL championship; I'm talking about Google running a commercial.


No doubt you'll have seen it already: the young man who spends a semester in Paris, forever changing his life. No doubt you've also seen the Tiger Woods and Sarah Palin parodies. Genuine or spoof, the commercials hone in on one of the fundamental characteristics of search: that search is a tool for us to hone in on the core of what is bothering, amusing, or intriguing us at any given moment.

We have to hone in when we search. By definition, we don't know where we're going -- otherwise we'd just go there. And so, like skiers tracking an avalanche locater beacon, we start with the general direction in which we think the answer will lie, and then use the tool to help us narrow it down.



Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending an all-day workshop with Eric Ries of IMVU and Startup Lessons Learned fame. Unsurprisingly for those who are familiar with Eric, the day was spent talking about lean start-ups: how to abandon the top-heavy, frontloaded, build-a-perfect-product start-up model for one that focuses on failing as fast and as often as possible, minimizing risk and testing against the only metric that matters: whether customers want what you've got. This process is another form of search, even more random than the budding Parisian's or the frantic snowsporter's. Tiger Woods might not have known which site to go to, but he knew he needed grille work on the Escalade. When you're in a start-up, you don't even know that. And so the entire process of building a business from the ground up is a process of searching: for the right product, the right service, the right market, the right business model.

With online search, we expect to have to hone a bit, and you'd think that our life experience (which time and time again reminds us of our complete inability to predict the future) would also prime us for the need to refine. But it doesn't. Somehow, we still hold ourselves accountable for our forecasts, our budgets, our predictions of market uptake and consumer adoption -- even in the conditions of extreme uncertainty that define a start-up.

I'm involved with a start-up virtual world at the moment, something with which I have no prior experience. We're using those lean principles: get the Minimum Viable Product into the hands of customers as quickly as possible, find out what they care about and don't care about, and then refine.

It seems to be working, but even if it doesn't, we can change tack so quickly that it won't kill us, unlike the traditional vitual world model: "40 people working 40 months to deliver a product."

How on earth, with the ever-increasing pace of development, adoption, and obsolescence, can anyone possibly afford to take that kind of 40-person, 40-month gamble? More importantly, why would you? Our first customers have become part of that search-and-refine model of business development, and I'm certain this early wave is getting as much out of the journey as others will out of the final product.

If there is anything Google has shown us in the past decade, it's that humans love to search. So look at the uncertainty in your business, and ask yourself how you can turn the need to "hone in" into a delightful collaboration rather than a frantic solo effort. If you can pull it off -- no matter what the final result -- your search will have been successful.

5 comments about "Parisian Love, Tiger Woods, And Our Need To Hone In".
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  1. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, February 16, 2010 at 2:31 p.m.

    Hello MediaPost reader!

    Thank you for reading my article. I was embarrassed and grateful to receive two emails from the MediaPost community this morning advising me that the correct phrase is 'home in', not 'hone in'. Being a stickler for grammar and punctuation myself, I'd like to raise the white flag, admit my mistake, and hope that you can see past it to home in on the point of the post. :-)

    Have a great day,

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 16, 2010 at 3:24 p.m.

    Hi Kaila,

    I, too, although known for my poor typing, have misused the tongue. So googled it.

    From the Language Log - 1/24/04

    "And as in usually the case with common eggcorns*, there is quite a bit of semantic support for the hone in on variant. There's so much semantic support in this case that hone in on is by no means implausible as a coinage on its own. Google suggest that the two variants are about equally common today, and the hone in on variant now occurs in places like MIT press releases and Washington Post presentations of Reuters newswire stories."

    * I never heard this word before

    The article goes on about the history of the phrase too boring for this purpose. Anyone who is interested can google it and then bing it for good measure. Have fun !

  3. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, February 16, 2010 at 8:24 p.m.

    Thanks, Paula! The evolution of our English language is endlessly fascinating.

    Did you ever find out what an eggcorn is? Or can we infer from the context?

  4. Joseph Rosenberger from WMC, February 17, 2010 at 12:50 a.m.

    PUHLEASE don't use the mistaken construction "hone in." It makes no sense, and is an incorrect and unfortunate conflation of the two phrases "home in," meaning to focus on a point or an idea, and "hone," a verb meaning to put a fine point on, literally, a cutting device like a knife or razor. One can "home in" on some point or specific concept but one cannot "hone in" on anything. I move that this frequent mistake be entered into The Chicago Style Manual or some similar authority to warn other writers of this pitfall.

  5. Stanford Crane from NewGuard Entertainment Corp, February 17, 2010 at 10:25 a.m.

    This model works well for start-ups and somewhat less well for a P&G type business. Scale is too important to the Proctoids, as is the all important marketing launch. Yet, they still do regional launches to "home in" on the message. (I wish I could have had Joe edit this before I sent it, but he is right.)

    The Japanese practice this in their consumer electronics businesses, flooding the market with every variety and concept, then letting the market decide which to launch globally. Sony's abandoning the OLED screens recently is an example of the practice. But, then a simple focus group could have told Sony that nobody will feel good about a screen, no matter how good, if an eleven inch one costs $2000.

    If we could only put a formula together our brethren at the Harvard Business School would be so much happier. Can we all agree that the less case studies you have to read the sooner everyone can get out there to achieve total omnipotence.

    Still, it didn't allow them to go from the Walkman to an iPhone.

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