ow many times has this
Your first impulse might be to think they weren’t listening.
happened to you? You
have a conversation with
people on your team about
building something. You
arrive at an agreement
about that vision. Then
they go o; to build that
thing. A few weeks later,
they come back to unveil what you agreed on—except it looks
absolutely nothing like you had discussed.
But chances are, that’s not the case. Most likely, they heard
you loud and clear, but they were seeing something di;erent.
It’s a symptom of a problem I’ve come to call the illusion
Here’s the problem: You have something in your head. I
have something in my head. Both of us think it’s the same
thing because we’re agreeing out loud, but inside—in our
own minds—we’re seeing di;erent scenes. I can see only
mine, and you can see only yours. This isn’t a public stage—
it’s everyone’s personal backstage. It’s like we’re each in our
own dressing rooms looking in the mirror and thinking we’re
seeing what someone else is seeing as well.
I first recognized this problem early on, back in 2007. We
were building Highrise, a small-business CRM. We split up into
a couple of teams and started working on individual pieces of
the product in isolation. The idea was our team would work on
our part, and the other team would work on their part, and we
would eventually meet in the middle.
But that would require each team knowing where the
middle was, and what that middle would look like. Since the
middle didn’t exist yet, both sides had to imagine it. And
that’s where the problem began.
Rather than building toward a clear, shared understanding,
the two teams built toward an illusion of agreement. Rather
than looking at sketches together so both sides had common
visual ground, we had access only to written descriptions
of the direction. Words—even carefully written words—can
be perceived in vastly di;erent ways. Drawings are more S H A Y A
JASON FRIED ; GET REAL
The Illusion of Agreement
Your teams assume they’re talking about the
same thing—until they realize they’re not.
definitive. It’s why architects gather around looking at
blueprints rather than reading descriptions of how a room
should be designed.
So, as both sides plugged away, it seemed like progress was
being made. But it was the wrong kind of progress. As the teams
got closer and closer to each other, the two sides didn’t match
up. They were like pieces from di;erent puzzles. What a lesson
that was. We ended up having to scrap many months of work.
Back to the drawing board we went. This time, we created
sketches. And that allowed us to build toward the same goal.
It was a bit of a gut punch. We’d built our first product,
Basecamp, by sketching out everything first. It worked great.
But then we had the sophomore process slump, thinking we
could do things di;erently this next time. We figured we could
skip some steps, take things for granted, and end up with the
same outcome. Turns out not. Making sure everyone could
actually see what we were working on together was critical
to the process. We haven’t made that mistake again.
Now we actively work to avoid these situations. How?
Whenever a few people are working on something together,
we always try to look at something visual, even if it’s rough.
It doesn’t need to be a fully fleshed-out design, but it at least
needs to be a sketch. Something everyone can see, understand,
and internalize. As Jonathan Ive, chief design o;cer at Apple,
said in a recent interview: “Things are exceptionally fragile as
an idea—entirely abstract—but once there is an object between
us, it is galvanizing.”
When you look at something real, everything gets much
clearer very quickly. You can freethink, you can brainstorm,
you can make decisions. When you finally shatter that illusion
of agreement, you can arrive at an actual agreement.
Jason Fried (@jasonfried) is
a co-founder of