I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Schlep


It was 55 degrees and I didn’t think I would last a minute in the water. Then I peed in my wetsuit and that felt kind of nice, and I think my hands and feet and face all went numb. But I never stopped being miserable.

And I’m miserable now. The IDEO CEO describes a “project mood chart” as a U-shape [1]:

The beginning of any project is represented by the upper-left of the U, where people feel enthusiasm. At the upper-right of the U, when the project is over, there is confidence … Design is “rarely a graceful leap from height to height.” At the bottom of the U, it’s easy to be discouraged and overwhelmed.

Not drawn to scale. The valley is actually much wider.
Not drawn to scale. The valley is actually much wider.

Bumpscientist Labs is awesome at cranking out great ideas. We’re also great at building prototypes. We love doing this because it stays on the safe left side of the U. We never venture off the precipice, into the Valley of Schlep, because why would we knowingly do something unpleasant?

When the flood of viral users fails to appear on our doorstep, we pick up a shiny new idea to feel excited about. Start over on the left side of a new U. Be excited again.

Then it got to the point where I ran out of stuff to build and had to start schlepping. Schlep is the unpleasant work that I avoid like the plague. Schlep is engaging with other humans, calling strangers, and begging for users. Schlep sucks.

Schlepping alone sucks even more. After the umpteenth potential customer declines (well usually they just ignore me into oblivion), I begin to question my sanity. Maybe I really have a market size of one.

The valley isn’t completely flat. Sometimes someone expresses interest and I get my hopes up. Then nobody does, and I’m crushed. It fluctuates.

But there’s something invulnerable about being emotionally beaten to a pulp. I used to hate talking to strangers, but now I go in with the assumption that they already think I’m a moron. I’m more willing to go out on a limb when I already feel like crap.

I didn’t die when I did my swim at Fisherman’s Wharf. I swallowed seawater every few minutes and drifted off-course and at one point I think I got seasick. But I didn’t die because I kept moving.

aquatic park

1. Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Crown, 2010.


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