It’s time to find that raison d’être

Unusual happenings help you discover some innate truths. Midway through a conversation I had with a product leader from Silicon Valley, I noticed something while I was jotting down notes. For the questions I asked about her community projects and tech career journey, she took a unique approach—instead of starting with the success of the projects, she started by saying what instances and problems helped her take action. And, when the whole conversation continued this way, I was left with inspiring stories and a holistic view of Polina’s inspirations, mission, and plans. She quoted,

“Before sharing the mission, I’ll share the problem at hand”

Well, to think about it, there’s nothing very novel, but how many of us being product people use this approach in our everyday conversations or work? There are high chances we’re working on solutions, but do we also take enough time to reflect on what challenges led us to designing these solutions? 

This is where the concept of raison d’être comes in. In simple terms, raison d’être is the reason behind the existence of something. The assumptions that you test, the questions you ask to yourself, and the solutions you come up with—all of these form the reasoning behind your product’s existence. And, not just tech products, raison d’être can be applied to pretty much everything that you ideate and create, from community projects and podcasts, to a brand and company as a whole. You can even have a raison d’être for the ideals, traits, and stories that define you. 

This practice to begin with what you’re trying to solve and reflect on why it happened in the first place is a way of thinking; a mindset. If your mind like mine keeps bridging the islands of observations, then it’s going to be a complex game of archipelagos. But, there surely is a tried-and-tested way to keep learning the game and getting good at finding the raison d’être. 

Why do I need to do what I plan to do?

While it’s a no-brainer for everyone to say start asking ‘why’ for the things you do, it’s for ‘what’ you ask those whys and ‘how’ you visualize the importance of those whys. Most of us confuse end-goals with the inspiration or the drive to do something. During last week’s #YouBelongInTech by Twitter India, Debjani Ghosh, President of NASSCOM, in a fireside chat, told how ‘wanting a mentor’ is different from ‘why do you seek a mentor now.’ Most of us know we want a mentor (end-goal) and that’s not the ‘why’ behind reaching out to seniors. The actual ‘why’ is what problem you have to solve that you need a mentor’s guidance and support? That’s the real why for the outreach. 

So, instead of mapping out ‘I want to start a community’ or ‘build a product for freelancers’ as the raison d’être, let’s go a little deeper to state ‘I want to help myself and many product enthusiasts connect and exchange ideas’ and ‘I want freelancers across the world to track and get paid on-time for their work’ as the initial push behind our plans. Of course, keep your refining caps on! 

Am I doing what I need to do?

There’s a high chance that when we’re building or creating something, our curiosity leads to paths unprecedented, and we end up digressing from some foundations we started with. While it’s absolutely possible to stick to lines, you may also discover new paths to be in, which brings to the fundamental idea—experiment with your assumptions. 

Alex Cowan, a renowned entrepreneur, startup advisor and professor, says that he worries when someone mentions ‘…validate our assumptions…’ because then you’re fixating on checking the accuracy. That’s why assumptions for any project are essential, but only to experiment. Especially in a product environment, you focus on testing, iterating, and finding the outcomes not outputs. As long as some of your core values are preserved (this is why a check is done every time a diversion occurs), assumptions are likely to lead to surprisingly conducive outcomes, and if you’re preoccupied by proving the verity/validity of those, then you’re not really testing. 

Both these steps, carried out consistently, keep you discovering the essence of raison d’être of any project you undertake. And, as much as the outcome is important, the reason for creation and sustenance is crucial too. 

So, let’s keep reinventing our practices to stay meaningfully aligned with our purpose. It’s time to find your raison d’être!