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Weekly 3: Identify promising ideas

Summary: Look for early momentum. Focus on love -- not likes. Bet on people over ideas. (~5 min read)

Idea Journal Weekly 3

December 16 · Issue #65 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Look for early momentum. Focus on love – not likes. Bet on people over ideas. (~5 min read)
Note: Idea #3 is taken from a previous issue, and we’ve included it here because it fits well with the current theme: identifying promising ideas.

#1. "Small successes can grow into big ones, but failures rarely grow into successes"
In his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, author and entrepreneur Scott Adams reflects on his experience trying dozens of business ideas, and writes that a key predictor of a product’s ultimate success is the level of enthusiasm it generates in the beginning.
For Adams, this is true even when the quality of the initial product is poor: a reliable predictor is customers clamoring for the bad versions of a product even before good versions are invented. Over time, the products that inspire excitement evolve to have quality too.
He cites The Simpsons as an example of this tendency.
When the show launched it 1989, it was immediately a national phenomenon – even though the original artwork “looked amateurish” and the writing was bad slapstick.
Adams recalls that wherever he went, the show came up, with people asking: Did you see it?
The Simpsons was a hit despite its surface quality, and it grew to become of the most creative and influential shows of all time.
As Adams puts it, the pattern he’s noticed is things that will someday work out start out well; things that will never work start out badly and stay that way.
Overcoming obstacles is an expected and unavoidable part of being successful, but you shouldn’t stick with an idea for too long out of a misguided sense that persistence in itself is a virtue.
If the first commercial version of your work doesn’t excite anyone to action, you may want to switch to something else.
On the other hand, if your work inspires enthusiasm and some action from initial customers, “get ready to chew through some walls”: you might have something worth fighting for.
#2. Love is all you need
In Idea #1 above, Scott Adams suggests that early enthusiasm is a key indicator of future success.
But are all enthusiasts created equal?
For LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, the answer is no.
On an episode of his podcast Masters of Scale, Hoffman says that it’s better to have 100 people who love your product than a million people who only sort of like it.
If you want to achieve massive growth and scale, you need more than just your customers’ attention.
You want such die-hard fans not only for their loyalty and use of your product, but also because they’re more likely to tell others about it.
If each of your early users tells two friends some version of “You’ve got to try this,” and then those two friends each tell two of their friends, and so on, then your users effectively do the marketing for you and your product may be on a path to viral growth.
As Hoffman points out, this pattern of word-of-mouth marketing is true for any globally successful product, from software startups like Airbnb and Dropbox to the Cronut.
So what does this mean for you as a creator or company founder?
Hoffman notes that many founders fall into the trap of the illusion of scale: “the 1 million users who show up to use a flash-in-the-pan product.”
It’s counterintuitive, but to reach truly sustainable growth and scale, you first have to give up your desire to scale, and instead commit to making your product indispensable for a small group of initial users.
“You should almost have a willful blindness to growth and a monomaniacal focus on making just a few people really happy.”
#3. Believe in change to become better at predicting it
Entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham writes in his essay How to Be an Expert in a Changing World that when experts are wrong, “it’s often because they’re experts in an earlier version of the world.” 
If the world were static, then we could have increasing confidence in those beliefs that survived more experiences over time.
But the world isn’t static.
Graham recommends two ways to help protect yourself against obsolete beliefs:
Have an explicit belief in change: Beliefs about the future are “so rarely correct that they usually aren’t worth the extra rigidity they impose, and that the best strategy is simply to be aggressively open-minded.” It’s OK to have working hypotheses, but you should be disciplined enough to ensure they don’t “harden into anything more.”
Bet on people over ideas: Predicting the nature of future discoveries is hard. Predicting the kind of people who will make them is easier – good new ideas come from those who are earnest, energetic, and independent-minded. “If you want to notice quickly when your beliefs become obsolete, you can’t do better than to be friends with the people whose discoveries will make them so.”
Quote of the Week
“The question is where do we get our good ideas, and one way to get good ideas is to look where no one looks … one place where no one looks is things that don’t make sense, because they dismiss them.”
- Author and investor Adam Robinson in an interview on The Knowledge Project podcast
Idea Journal
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