It’s 1998. I am 4 years into my career as an interaction designer and find myself working at the BBC on a new service called BBC Interactive. It allows people access to all sorts of information directly from their TV using an interactive interface.
I am working on a project called BBC Wimbledon, which lets people watch multiple live video streams from different courts and stay up to date on news and scores through their TV. The first step of such a service is to build a pilot and show it at the tournament so the public can get a sense of what it would be like. The difficult bit is that very few people had ever made an interactive pilot demo which used outside broadcast video.
So, one morning I get to go to Wimbledon a few months before the tournament and talk to the outside broadcast team with a colleague of mine who is a senior computer engineer at the BBC. The idea is that he will talk to the outside broadcast team and then give me the live video in a format I can use for the prototype I’m designing on a computer hooked up to a TV, simulating the experience of using the service with a remote control on your home TV. All sounds great.
We turn up to the outside broadcast area, and are shown to a room with the source of the live video: a jumble of wires and cables, plugged into a video board that routed the video signal for live broadcast. At that point, the BBC live broadcast engineer told us that was it. That was the extent of the help he could give us and we should be able to figure it out from there.
My first thought was “Holy s#*t we are F##**Ked”
At that moment I had to rethink what I thought 'hard' meant. The computer engineer with me started to think. He had a PhD in computer science and years of experience. Within 3 days he had written a separate program that would plug into the software I was using so that I could access the live video feeds I needed to make the prototype work.
What did I take away from this experience? That hard is a relative term and that having the right team is far more important than having the perfect process.
Try this the next time you face a hard problem:
Think of all the people you know who have expertise or who might know someone with expertise in the problem you are trying to solve. Reach out to some of them via phone or email and ask for their advice. You may be surprised at how open and willing experts are will to share their knowledge.
You make your own best team, and this may or may not be your work team. While this feels odd at first, this is in fact the team that will make your career far more successful than any one team at any one job.
P.S. The prototype worked, and the next year the service was made into a real application which was available for millions of people across the UK.