Shel Silverstein, Unimaginative Start-Ups and Houdini: Do Things that Don’t Scale

Recently I’ve been inspired by Silicon Valley guru Paul Graham’s seminal essay to “do things that don’t scale.” Fact is, if you start by creating a great experience, then work your offering/product backward, it can be terribly difficult for competitors to replicate — or even contend. So, ultimately what is Graham saying? Everyone can make something, but not everyone can provide an enjoyable and memorable experience. On the surface it seems such a simple dictum — but simple can be, oh so hard. Especially when it comes to strategic thinking. Sometimes you can get caught up in trying to out-think yourself, rather than simply allowing yourself to see what’s in front of you. I tell my team all the time, “Planning is not magic.” Our best work comes from slight perceptual shifts, not smoke and mirrors. Which brings me to a favorite quote from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends:  “But all the magic I have known / I’ve had to make myself.” There you have it. And I’d imagine Houdini would tend to agree.

Graham writes: “Nearly all startups have to (recruit users). You can’t wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them.” And that’s where you work your magic. It’s not slight of hand, but somehow showing your consumers their world from a unique perspective.



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