Why can’t I finish anything?

Perpetual beta. What is that all about? Is it just an excuse for not committing to an idea?


Is it the digital equivalent of the dog ate my homework? Has it made us lazy work-shy fops?

I have to say, I’ve been a huge advocate of the Kill Keep Evolve approach to designing products, services, campaigns and strategies. I loved the idea that I could bung a few half arsed ideas out onto Facebook for McDonalds when I ran their digital marketing and, like, follow the data, man.

But that was then. We were experimenting with the new media — back in 2007 when we minted this approach, Facebook hardly knew what advertising was and we made hay with the possibilities. It was an inventive time and the few amongst us who knew what social was and how to game it had a lot of fun making stuff that we never intended to be finished.

But then I woke up, Rip van Winkle-like, about a week ago and realized that its been 4 years since I’ve actually finished something. Signed, sealed, delivered, handed over, completed. Done. 4 years without closure. And it doesn’t feel good.

I know, stuff must get finished or we’d be wearing one legged trousers or prodding iPhones without screens, but I can’t be the only person to feel like life has been taken over by yet another misappropriated Silicon Valley Googlism — the perpetual beta.

Originally a term software developers used to describe the keeping of software or a system at the beta development stage for an extended or indefinite period of time, its transmuted into a badge of honour in product development, creative and strategy circles and its poisoned how we think. Its made us lazy and non-committal. We hide flabby ideas under the baggy sweatshirt of Perpetual Beta.

I’m guilty. In the words of London Mayor Boris Johnson ‘I’m pro having cake and pro eating it’. It seemed like a panacea to us beleaguered creative types when faced with ever shortening delivery times for work, clients who want proof and intransigent budgets — why place one bet, when you can spread bet at the same price?

Take everything on the wall you came up with in the brainstorm and put it online for the audience to sort out with their generous clicks, eyeballs and comments. Eureka! Job’s a good ‘un.

We all hit pay dirt. Perpetual beta became lean strategy, which in turn begat the popularisation of agile and the rest is, well, unfinished.

Its an addictive approach that driven by the idea of informed bewilderment that plagues modern digital thinking; there’s simply too much choice and we’re not sure what’s right or wrong any more, but we think we know or at least, that others do, so let’s trust them to tell us.

I’m left wondering if we’re entering an age where what we make and what we consume is increasingly characterised by its ‘unfinishedness’. And if we are, then it follows that as creators and consumers we’ll have to adapt to the uncomfortable truth that nothing we do will ever really be finished.