“Next time you set out to build something, make a list of the things it won’t do before you list all the things it will do.”
You could call this a don’t-want list, or an anti-feature list.
Two types of don’t-wants
1. Things you definitely don’t want
These are pitfalls to be avoided. You want to paint a picture of both a positive and a negative vision.
Hayao Miyazaki made a list of wants and don’t-wants before he built the Studio Ghibli museum in Tokyo.
The “want” list is delightful…
This is the Kind of Museum I Want to Make!
A museum that is interesting and which relaxes the soul
A museum where those seeking enjoyment can enjoy,
those seeking to ponder can ponder, and those seeking to feel can feel
But I like his don’t-want list even more.
This is the kind of museum I don’t want to make!
A pretentious museum
An arrogant museum
A museum that treats its contents
as if they were more important than people
A museum that displays uninteresting works as if they were significant
Miyazaki doesn’t list details like building materials and dimensions. Instead, he captures the spirit and feeling of what he wants, in a way that guides every decision down the line.
I can imagine him walking into the finished museum and saying, “Yes, precisely as I envisioned.”
2. Things that are nice to have, but not necessary
Must-haves go on the want list; nice-to-haves go on the don’t-want list. Otherwise they’ll distract you from getting a finished product out the door.
For example, the 37signals team decided their app’s chat function would be plain text only—no bold, no italics, no colors.
When people asked why, they said:
“Would these things be nice to have? Sure. Would they be great to have? Sure. Would they be cool to have? You bet. But do they really matter? Nope. And that’s why we left them out.”
I also like the 5/25 rule, which goes like this:
- Write down your top 25 goals.
- Circle your top five goals—the ones that are most important to you.
- Cross off the other 20 goals. Ignore them until you’ve accomplished the top five.
Some people take the bottom 20 goals and write them on a new list: the “Avoid at All Costs” list.
I’m writing a don’t-want list for my book. (A novel; “chick lit”; work in progress.)
This book is*…
- Funny + fun to read.
- Sweet, like a rom-com. Indulgent. Comforting. Nourishing.
- Breezy (on the surface); thoughtful (underneath).
- Relatable. Capturing something true.
- Full of heart.
- Deeply satisfying.
*To me, at least.
This book is not…
- Particularly experimental or avant-garde.
- “Serious” literary fiction.
- My life story.
- A perfect encapsulation of:
- My views on feminism.(I’m still figuring those out.)
- My outlook on the world.
- Timeless. (It’s a product of the mid-2010s to 2020s.)
- An explanation of everything my character would have to do to resolve her issues in real life.
- True-to-life realistic. (Suspension of disbelief is required.)
- A promise that if you read this book and do what my character does, you will overcome all your issues (although I hope it helps).**
**It will at least entertain you, grant a wish or two in fantasy, and help you know that you are not alone. (And make money. I hope.)
 “Getting Real: Make a list of what it won’t do,” signalvnoise.com/archives2/getting_real_make_a_list_of_what_it_wont_do.php.
Image source: Peter Lee, “Leaving the Ghibli Museum,” flickr.com/photos/oldpatterns/4842130005.
 “It just doesn’t matter,” signalvnoise.com/archives2/it_just_doesnt_matter.php.
 “37signals lingo: cheap/expensive,” signalvnoise.com/archives2/37signals_lingo_cheapexpensive.php.
 Co-founder Jason Fried also said, “It is our job to be editors and museum curators.” (A nice bit of synchronicity with the Miyazaki story.)
Source: “37Signals ‘just says no’ to feature request: ‘please fix that security flaw,'” news.ycombinator.com/item?id=228255.
 The 5/25 rule is widely attributed to Warren Buffett, although apparently he never actually said it.
Source: “The surprising lesson this 25-year-old learned from asking Warren Buffett an embarrassing question,” cnbc.com/2018/06/05/warren-buffetts-answer-to-this-question-taught-alex-banayan-a-lesson.html