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As a software development professional in a fairly conservative large-firm, I always had a much more action-oriented bent, as my job was fairly stable and all that mattered was doing as I was told and completing tasks that were germane to the career of a benevolent dictator (i.e., my boss' boss). Now that I'm no longer working for "the Man", I find it just as important to use the left side of my brain and wrap my head around this whole "vision thing".

Which do you think is more important for software product development in a small, yet feisty start-up: Knowing the path or walking (or running) it?

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Vision is best left to the boss – Aditya P Apr 20 '11 at 4:59
@AdityaGameProgrammer - So great ideas can't bubble up from the bottom of the pyramid? – Marc Apr 20 '11 at 5:03
"When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way" That said, +1 to AdityaGameProgrammer. – Gio Borje Apr 20 '11 at 5:37
@Gio: Very elegantly stated, but there are actually more than just one set of eyeballs in an organization and, unless he's cock-eyed, both of the boss' are looking in the same direction! Several different sets of eyes can better see the whole playing field. – Marc Apr 20 '11 at 6:08
up vote 7 down vote accepted

You need both.

If you don't know where you want to go, you're not likely to get there. But you also need to actually get started, and to take every step along the way.

But as you make that transition from corporate drone to entrepreneur, you shouldn't think that you either remain an obedient servant or become an omniscient dictator. Neither is particularly useful in a startup.

You are now working for your customers, but just doing what they tell you is a road to ruin. Study them, serve them, be inspired by them. But make the thing that you think you need to make, and frequently try it out to test both your thinking and your making.

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+1. Knowing the path sure helps but it will get you nowhere by itself. Walking blind on the path... well... are you really sure you actually are on the path and not headed for the cliff's edge ! – Newtopian Apr 20 '11 at 6:10
Great advice and very timely. Customers only care about execution and outcomes! – Marc Apr 20 '11 at 6:13
+1 for You make that transition from corporate drone to entrepreneur – Aditya P Apr 20 '11 at 6:40
I'm still on an action-oriented bent. I've had the good fortune to meet with folks from Union Square Ventures, Behance, and Etsy here in NYC and they're mostly members of the action-orientation school of start-up bootstrapping. – Marc Apr 20 '11 at 7:04
@Marc: I feel like they're perfectly complimentary. Our vision informs our actions; our actions inform our vision. Etsy seems like a fine example: they have a clear vision on both the product and the technical sides, one that pervades their very impressive amount of action. – William Pietri Apr 21 '11 at 5:24

It's nice to have visions, but they don't put bread on the table. In fact most often they lead to big financial losses as people end up chasing rainbows rather than creating practical products that can be sold to real customers for a decent profit in a reasonable amount of time.

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Most of the times these great ideas don't have great people backing it up strongly enough to see it through. Did you ever consider the attrition rate of idea person's in star-ups?.

There is a difference between pitching an idea and having a visionary bent . Your question raises valuable to whom?

  • The company ? ( who has the final word on that? )
  • The boss?
  • To you?

Unless you are co-founder the primary vision guy, its pretty much detrimental to the software product development company.

If you are the co-founder/founder/primary vision guy its a pretty much a given to have the visionary bent and rationale enough to be flexible when it comes at the cost of company's survival.

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Not so fast! Check out this link from a fairly well known VC here in NYC. He happens to be one of the guys who bankrolled StackExchange: – Marc Apr 20 '11 at 5:38

I'd agree that ideally you need both.

However, few people can excel at both, so a more practical approach is to mix people of different types within the team. The practical people will often reign in the more unhelpful ideas and will maintain focus, and the visionaries can inspire and unshackle the action-oriented people.

When talking about yourself, an individual, if you have the luxury/ability of fulfilling either role, then you must be what the business/your boss needs you to be.

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