Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Things don’t have to change the world to be important

In the wake of the news surrounding Steve Jobs’ resignation, the Wall Street Journal posted a list of Steve’s best quotes.  Among them, was this gem:

“Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”  [Wired, February 1996]

I latched onto this for a couple of reasons.  One is that Jobs’ keynotes and persona often come across as ego-laden and overplay Apple’s implementation of existing technologies as “world changing”.  I’ll leave that for the fanboys and haters to debate.

The more compelling reason this piqued my interest is that start-ups and the press that covers them (I’m looking at you TechCrunch) are obsessed with how these fledglings will change the world.  In fact, there are two boilerplate templates about how start-ups pitch themselves:

1.  Start-up X is the Y for Z.  For example, YouPud is the YouTube for corporate sexual harassment videos.

2.  Startup-up X is changing the world by …  For example, MyNicheNetwork is changing the world by creating an online community of people who are left-handed and right-footed.

I think number one is the result of laziness.  Not on behalf of the start-ups, but on behalf of the VCs.  I would venture to bet that this format was borrowed from Hollywood, where new movie ideas are pitched as similes.

But it’s number two that really annoys me.  In fact, it’s why I left YouNoodle in a huff.  I got tired of so many start-ups pitching themselves as “changing the world”.  Especially when they were targeting a very small niche, doing something that was easily emulated, or just copying another successful company.  If you are doing any of these, you are not going to change the world (at least in a positive way).

But even if a company really is doing something new, unique, and innovative, it most likely WON’T change the world.  There may be one company in a generation that really changes the world.  An you know what, that’s OK.  You don’t have to change the world to be successful, to make money, to impact the world.