Try More Things

Sometimes focus is the wrong answer

Ev Williams

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I’ve been thinking lately about how you decide whether to optimize or innovate. Not that you can’t do both at the same time — it’s really a matter of degree. But it’s an important matter of degree.

In Steven Johnson’s, Where Good Ideas Come From, he describes the idea of the adjacent possible, a term coined to explain the process of invention/evolution, which is basically that ideas, technologies, and species unfold one step at a time. For example, to get to humans, you needed to have the flatworm. And to get the iPhone you need to pass through the invention of microprocessors, the internet, glass, etc. Johnson:

The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore those boundaries. Each new combination ushers new combinations into the adjacent possible. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven’t visited yet. Those four rooms are the adjacent possible. But once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace.

I map this metaphor to the technology startup world in the following way: In the beginning, you’re trying to discover a room in this infinitely expanding palace that you can own—each room being the intersection of a market, a job to be done, and an approach to solving that need. Each of these factors needs to be right for a room to be one of the few that are viable out of the endlessly possible.

Once you find the right idea/room, you need to build your product (which you might need to do to some extent to figure out if an idea is viable), get people to show up, and all the rest.

If you’re successful at that, you have achieved the highly sought after state known as product/market fit.

Then what? Add more rooms.

Though the difference between no product/market fit and some product/market fit is night and day, having “fit” is not exactly a binary thing. It’s multi-dimensional. You can have strong fit with a segment of your market and weaker fit with another. You can have strong fit for one particular use case and no fit for another. The more superior your product is for more

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Ev Williams

Curious human, chairman @ Medium, partner @ Obvious Ventures