For those of you that haven’t seen The Princess Bride, you should. It’s a swashbuckling film with true love and true humour that still feels as good to see today as when it was released in 1987. Even better, it’s given me one of my all-time favourite reminders that I use at work all the time. When things get too confusing and a project feels like it has lost focus, run out of steam or is just plain failing, go back to the beginning – to your first principles.
In the movie, Inigo, a sword-for-hire, has received setbacks that threaten to undo his life’s work – taking revenge on the man who killed his father. Inigo has been defeated in a sword fight by a mysterious man in black, his best friend was beaten by the same guy and then his boss was killed. It seems like everything has fallen apart and so he goes to where his employer, Vizzini, always threatened to take him – back to the beginning. “The beginning”, as Vizzini saw it, was Inigo lying drunk on the bad side of town with no money and no friends. But, it’s only once he’s back at the beginning – drunk at the bottom of the barrel – that he can re-focus on what he wants to accomplish and what he needs to get there. Inigo realizes that the source of his misfortunes, the mysterious man in black, is actually the one person that will help him reach his objective.
This is not to say that mysterious strangers are always the answer, but it’s easy on projects to get distracted and find yourself unintentionally travelling in circles. When this happens, stop, take a breath and go back to the beginning. What is the objective? What’s the primary use case you’re seeking to serve? It’s only once you’ve done this that you’ll be able to move forward again.