Category Archives: Business

Don’t Stop Talking About Your Ideas

A tweet this morning pointed to an article titled “Stop talking about your brilliant startup idea!“, in which a fellow Melbournian writes (in summary):

Nobody cares about your idea.

Stop talking to your friends about your ideas.

Stop talking to customers about your ideas.

Stop telling me your ideas.

As harsh as that may sound, there is a better reason to “stop talking.” There’s plenty of scientific evidence on the notion of secrecy, which shows that people who talk about their intentions are less likely to make them happen. Derek Sivers wrote about it a few years back:

Once you’ve told people of your intentions, it gives you a “premature sense of completeness.”

You have “identity symbols” in your brain that make your self-image. Since both actions and talk create symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it “neglects the pursuit of further symbols.”

Having said that, I also think that “nourishment” of ideas has merit. Talking about ideas early-on, yet informally, is a form of “rubber ducking” that forces one to explain their thoughts to others. It not only helps in garnering feedback and involving like-minded collaborators, but it also helps in refining the concept in one direction or another. Such informal discussion, starting at 17th century coffee houses in particular, has been playing an important role in the cultural, social and intellectual advancements since The Renaissance.

The Ottoman empire expanded throughout Europe in the 17th century. From Vienna came the idea of a place where men could meet and discuss various topics over coffee or tea (Viennese coffee house culture). Adapted to Western culture, the Turkish “coffee cafes” became the place where friends met for a drink. The tradition of the Agora was moved from the public square to the center city cafe. Philosophers, poets, writers, and intellectuals of all types made these places their new meeting places. (source: Predecessors of Café Philosophique)

The coffee shops, taverns and pubs back then were a place where people could gather and share ideas. It was the “conjugal bed” where ideas could have sex, as Matt Ridley would say (his TED Talk). Shakespeare and many other laureates hung out at these places to discuss their ideas, encourage and critique each other, learn, and most importantly — listen. Without the listening part, it would all have been a huge echo chamber.

Coffee House

Today, new environments like Internet forums, online or offline social networking, co-working spaces etc. are filling the shoes. So don’t stop talking about your ideas. But listen more.

Reverse Schlep Blindness

Ever insightful, Paul Graham, recently wrote about Schlep Blindness, a phenomenon related to overlooking hard and unpleasant problems:

Why work on problems few care much about and no one will pay for, when you could fix one of the most important components of the world’s infrastructure? Because schlep blindness prevented people from even considering the [difficult] idea of fixing payments [that Stripe is doing].

I completely agree with Paul. However, I also tend to think that there’s a reverse schlep blindness at play in a lot of cases. Some startup founders often subconsciously ignore or avoid problems that seem too simple to solve. They would rather work on complex problems, requiring complicated architectures, plethora of ‘cool’ technologies and ‘beautifully’ intricate code, all of which few care much about and no one will pay for. Maybe it’s another form of schlep, a cognitive bias after all.

Yet another mobile website builder? Too simple to be “ground breaking”. Yet another Web form builder? Too easy, I’ll look naive. Yet another cloud platform for developers? A VPS is enough and there’s Heroku for everything else. Yet another blogging platform? Boring, most use WordPress anyways. A bingo card creator? Naaa.

‘Too simple to do’ doesn’t mean that it’s easy to build, easy to sell and unfeasible as a business because one might think there aren’t any paying customers for it. Such markets are often overlooked and eventually existing competition suffers a slow death due to lack of innovation and new ideas.

Hard problems are good, because both good and bad solutions to those tedious problems will result in learning, eventual innovation and disruption. Simple problems are good too, because their execution will require a radical (yet simple) solution, and that’s hard to do in itself.

RIP Steve

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

2005 Stanford Commencement Address

Steve Jobs
1955-2011