Who’s Your First?

Do you remember your first kiss?

I can’t remember what I was listening to on the radio, but it sparked this question. I flipped through my memory Rolodex. That’s when the internal debate started. What counts as the first? Was it the boy I chased and tackled in kindergarten or was it the side-of-the-mouth kiss (clearly a miscalculation on the guy’s part) in junior high? Then, the Rolodex gets murky. What about the junior my freshman year who walked me to class? Eventually, he made me so claustrophobic I started packing all my books between classes to avoid going back to my locker. Or does the first kiss only count when it’s someone you’re in love, or my case, in lust with? If so, that jumbles things up even more.

That’s the tricky thing about the definition of “first.” “First” can apply in so many circumstances that it’s difficult to attribute it to any one event because the circumstances are rarely, if ever, the same. Your memories, whether it’s about your first kiss, your first car, or your first job, are wholly specific to you. They’re stories based on your definition.

It’s fascinating, then, that we are able to share group behavior and identify with different things even though our definitions vary. For instance, more than one person feels loyalty to the Apple brand, but every person has a different “first” Apple experience. It’s through these individual experiences that we find common ground. Even though the definitions vary, there’s still that endpoint where Apple fans come together regardless of where they started.

The “firsts” in your life are powerful moments that can define who you become. They’re your first exposure to something different, your first exposure to possibility. I suspect that’s why companies and individuals spend so much time worrying about first impressions. They know that outside things can influence that initial impression. However, I’m more interested in the “first” experience after the first impression. How well does it meet your expectations?

A year ago, one of my favorite bloggers, Kathy Sierra, wrote an excellent post titled Why marketing should make the user manuals. Comparing pre-sale marketing materials with post-sale documentation, Kathy highlighted the following:

Why do so many companies treat potential users so much better than existing users? Think about it. The brochure is a thing of beauty, while the user manual is a thing of boredom. The brochure gets the big budget while the manual gets the big index. What if we stopped making the docs we give away for free SO much nicer than the ones the user paid for? What if instead of seducing potential users to buy, we seduced existing users to learn?

The firsts in your life our great, sometimes even amazing, but if the second time always pales in comparison, you’ll spend your whole life chasing after firsts. Think about when you find an author you really like. Wouldn’t it be horrible if every author only wrote one good book and the rest were crap?

As fond as I am of my first kisses, none were particularly memorable or astonishing. The ones I remember most came after the first. Whether it’s a person or a thing, the first time can stick out in your mind simply for the sake of being first. The things that matter and have staying power are the ones that deliver the second, third, and fourth time.



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August 2007
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