Turning bugs into features

From a setback to an opportunity

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the idea of “turning bugs into features”. The phrase stems from concepts in software development — a feature is a desired functionality built within the parameters of specified requirements, while a bug is a flaw that produces unexpected, undesired, or incorrect results.

In short, turning a bug into a feature means reframing what’s commonly deemed to be an imperfection into a unique advantage.

Here are a few examples that pop into mind:

  • Imperfect Foods: Turning “ugly” produce that doesn’t have a place on grocery store shelves from waste into a socially conscious business with a $700M valuation

  • Subverting stereotypes: A mentor of mine recognized that business partners she negotiated against would initially underestimate her because of her appearance as a small Asian woman. She also happens to be one of the fiercest and most analytical negotiators on her team, so she leveraged stereotypes held against her as a Trojan Horse for her negotiating prowess

  • These incredible film photos: One of the things I love most about film is its serendipitous nature — you can try and ace the fundamentals, but you can never fully control your final image. I’ve been shooting film photos for over a year now (I wrote about why I love it so much here), and I recently finally got around to developing my most recent batch of rolls. The photos below are from this batch. The first photo came out the way it did because I accidentally opened the back of my camera, and the latter two because my film ripped and got exposed to light as I was unwinding it. These images are flawed by definition, but they bear an uncanny resemblance to the overly filtered photos of the 2010s that catapulted Instagram to fame. There were dozens of apps whose sole purpose was to overlay these photographic flaws on perfectly fine photos … in other words, turning a bug into a feature

If you couldn’t already tell, I’m an avid believer in the idea of turning bugs into features. For me, it means transforming setbacks into strengths, operating outside the parameters of expectations, and capitalizing on what others see as a shortcoming — things that empower me and that I want to enable in others.