Have you ever done one of those “Escape Rooms?” I love them. They’re super fun. I love a challenging mental puzzle and those combine that with great entertainment, immersion, and total isolation from anything outside them, which are all aspects I enjoy. I love them enough that I geeked out about their creation for a little bit and ended up doing a bunch of research on how they’re designed.
It turns out that they’re really difficult and complex to design, but not for the reason you might guess. It turns out that the most common mistake is to make them way, way too hard.
This makes sense when you hear why. When people are designing any sort of puzzle, the natural thing that happens is the creator looks at the project and thinks “this is so easy a child could do it. Look how obvious the answer is. I’ve got to make it way harder – add in more red herrings, hide the solution better, put in more obstacles, etc.” So they do, and then it’s impossible to solve.
Why did the creator think it was too easy, then? Because everything is obvious in hindsight. All puzzles look simple when you already know the solution.
The creator knew the solution to the puzzle, so the puzzle looked easy. But making something difficult enough that it looks difficult even to the person with the answers means making it so challenging that regular people won’t ever get past the first step.
Despite this being untrue in the extreme, people have a natural tendency to equate something being difficult with that thing being valuable. This leads people down all sorts of incorrect assumptions about what jobs “should” be worth money and which “shouldn’t.”
I get why people do it. People value honest effort. They want life to be fair. In the minds of many, the person who ends the day the sweatiest should be paid the most, because they’re “working harder” than the guy in the 3-piece suit and the corner office. But guess what – value isn’t about how hard it is for you to do something. It’s about how much benefit it gives to the other person.
I’m going to tell you a strange but true cautionary tale. This is the story of a graphic artist I knew. He had always wanted to be a graphic artist – designing logos, websites, marketing materials, stuff like that. He loved it. So he worked tirelessly at it to get better, taking jobs for way less money than they were worth, because he wanted to improve his portfolio and skill set. He kept saying he’d eventually charge more, but right now he didn’t feel like he was enough of an expert to justify it. I told him he was crazy, but it was his business.
Years passed and lo and behold, the dude actually became absolutely amazing. His skills were honestly unparalleled. He was not only an amazing designer, but he knew every tool, every piece of software, every technical skill that was complimentary to his design. And do you know what happened when the people in his network, family and friends and friends-of-friends, came to him with work?
He did it for free.
I was gobsmacked. Why wasn’t he charging? Do you know what his excuse was now?
“I don’t feel right about charging them, because it’s so easy for me to do. If anyone brought me a challenge, something that was difficult, I’d charge them of course – but I don’t feel right charging a thousand bucks for something it takes me 20 minutes to do.”
I nearly strangled him. One of the best graphic artists I’ve ever seen and he was working in a bank to pay the bills.
Nothing was ever going to be a challenge for him because he’d spent all his time and effort becoming a master – and he didn’t charge when he wasn’t because he wasn’t. In his mind, the only things it was “right” to charge for were things where you gained no benefit personally (so he couldn’t charge while he was learning) and were also difficult to do (so he couldn’t charge when he wasn’t). See the problem?
He still works in a bank. Don’t be him.
If something is obvious to you, then you might instinctively devalue it. You might think that it would be wrong to offer it to the world in exchange for money, because it isn’t that hard for you. Just like the puzzle-maker, you think that because you see the solution immediately that it must not be that difficult for anyone else.
But someone out there desperately needs that solution and can’t find it on their own. They need you, but you don’t think you’re valuable.
Each thing that comes easily to you – think to yourself, “Who doesn’t find this easy?” That’s the person you need to help. That’s your client base.
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