On Tuesday, Outside Magazine published a fascinating article on their website entitled, “On the Hunt for America’s Last Great Treasure.” In it, the journalist shares a story of an eccentric millionaire who, confronted with a grim cancer diagnosis, decided to hide a 40+ pound bronze chest full of gold, rubies and diamonds somewhere north of Santa Fe, NM with nigh but a nebulous poem to guide the explorers’ ways:

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If you have a chance, I highly recommend a full reading of the article. But for our purposes, what you need to know is that the protagonist of the article is a man named Darrell Seyler, a former police officer who became obsessed with hunting this treasure trove a couple years back. The article follows Seyler’s exploits (many of which the journalist participates in firsthand) before widening the scope of the article to the larger community of explorers seeking the treasure — many of whom do so fanatically. By the end of the article, you genuinely feel bad about how these people have, in many cases, upended their entire lives hunting for the millions in gold and jewels stashed away in Forrest Fenn’s bronze box, all of which to date has been for naught.

At the end of the article, Outside also included a video interview with Forrest Fenn himself. In it, he provides a few nuggets of information regarding the whereabouts of his cache. When listening to him speak, I found a quote to be particularly resonant: “I think the problem that searchers make — they don’t dwell long enough on the first clue. If you can’t find the first clue, you cant’ find anything… You can’t start in the middle of the poem and find the treasure.”

While there’s no “X” in his statement, the sentiment certainly marks the spot.

Real life treasure hunts have little to do with enterprise solutions. And unless you’re playing a mobile game, it has just as little to do with mobile solutions development. But, the inherent wisdom in Fenn’s statement holds a valuable lesson for anyone in the business world:

The first step is the most important.

Most firms have an idea of where they’d like to go, whether that’s becoming the largest logistics company in North America, the top medical device sales outfit in the Western United States, the top software developer in the Southeast, or simply bringing an awesome idea to life such that a few dozen people have jobs they love producing a product they’re proud of. If you asked most companies where they’d like to be in 10 years, I’d wager most of them have a realistic goal and an over the moon goal.

Much as a treasure hunt, firms know the treasure they seek. The problem, though, is that there are a lot of steps between them and those treasure. To make matters more complex (and often more frustrating), there is no shortcut to the midway point. All firms start at the beginning, where “warm waters halt.” And only if they can make the right first step can a company get to where it wants to go.

For the mobile space, this could not be closer to the truth. No mobile solution that actually solves a business problem is stumbled upon. There are no shortcuts in the development process that result in the proverbial buried treasure. Only with diligent planning, research and a painstaking devotion to sound strategy can mobile solutions impact their intended market. Only through an obsession with design and user experience will you produce an app people actually want to use. Without firm discipline and far-sighted focus, mobile solutions will neither solve business problems nor deliver a real ROI.

Planning takes a long time and is often a buzzkill. You want your brilliant idea in development ASAP so it can launch ASAP. But, without a deliberate and careful “first step” — research, planning, strategy and design — there will certainly be no treasure waiting for you at the end of the development.

I will admit, the metaphor is a bit of a stretch, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate. Anything worth doing is difficult, and if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. There are no shortcuts to real solutions, only distractions along the way. By nailing the first step, though, the best firms among us can thrive, and ultimately, claim their respective treasure.

 

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