There Are No Shortcuts in Product Development — or in Life

There Are No Shortcuts in Product Development — or in Life

In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a strangely ubiquitous pattern: an obsession with what I would call “advanced features”, and a nearly complete disregard of what I would consider “basics”. This all started when I downloaded a couple of new apps for my iPhone. While playing around with them, I noticed that the performance of these products was, let’s say, “less than optimal”. However, these products still had a large number of cool and exciting features. The problem was that the creators of these applications decided to build out slow bug-filled products with 10 features each instead of fast and polished products with only two features each.

While it would have been more prudent to focus on, and perfect, the two most important features in each of these apps, it would have certainly been less interesting and brag-worthy to do so. After all, dreaming up exciting new features is a lot of fun. It’s creative, it’s intellectually stimulating, and it’s exciting for friends and colleagues to hear about. However, it doesn’t matter how many great features you have in theory when they fail to operate successfully in reality. 

Unfortunately, this aversion to the basics can be seen in almost every part of our lives. We might pick up a popular science book on String Theory because it sounds fascinating, even though we barely mastered Classical Mechanics back in high school. We might start creating abstract Jackson Pollock-esque paintings before we can draw simple still-lifes. We might do one-legged bosu-ball squats instead of old fashioned bench presses and deadlifts. And so on.

But why do we do this? It seems to boil down to two things: social reinforcement and human laziness (the path of least resistance). After all, almost nothing we do outside of our bedrooms occurs in isolation. We are social creatures, and all of our actions happen to have, or are done for, an audience. The attention, acceptance, and admiration of such audiences are fundamental human drives – and praise might be the most powerful reward in human existence. Thus, much of our lives is devoted to gaining the attention of others through art, performance, spectacle or witticism. But given our thrifty nature, we want to make sure that we get the most attention and admiration for our “buck”. The less effort we need to expend, the better. Why spend five years getting gradually better at drawing a bowl of fruit when you can draw some abstract shapes on a canvas and get the same praise?

While our forays into “advanced” territory may seem innocent, they deprive us in the long run. This is because we become pseudo craftsmen at whatever we do. Every discipline has a hierarchy of skills, and the great masters were always forced to start with, and master, the most laughable basics. They might have started out washing brushes, mixing turpentine, and mixing pigment. Then, after a year or so, they might have moved on to cross-hatching, two-point perspective, and another fundamental skill or two. Finally, after a decade, they would get to the point where they would be tackling their own compositions. Picasso, after all, didn’t begin his abstract phase until well after he had mastered the basics of both drawing and painting. He put the time in to become an expert before he did his new flashy and talked-about works. How many of us can say the same thing? The support and attention of our social network are a double edged sword. They can keep us stuck in place just as well as they can push us forward. But at least we have plenty of apps and advanced features to play with while we run in place -- even if they don’t work quite the way they should. After all, nothing quite soothes like distraction.

Image: Paul Underhill

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

U.S. Navy ships

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
Keep reading Show less

Why so gassy? Mysterious methane detected on Saturn’s moon

Scientists do not know what is causing the overabundance of the gas.

An impression of NASA's Cassini spacecraft flying through a water plume on the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Credit: NASA
Surprising Science
  • A new study looked to understand the source of methane on Saturn's moon Enceladus.
  • The scientists used computer models with data from the Cassini spacecraft.
  • The explanation could lie in alien organisms or non-biological processes.
Keep reading Show less

CRISPR therapy cures first genetic disorder inside the body

It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.


"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.


If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."