Douwe Osinga's Blog: Ideas and the curse of powers of 10

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ideas and the curse of powers of 10

Most people have lots of ideas. Some people even have ideas that are interesting and quite a few of those people start doing something with those ideas. Almost nobody finishes. Why is that? Simple. Each next phase in the execution takes ten times as long as the last one. When Edison said that genius was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration he was off by two orders of magnitude. Here's what you can accomplish with various amounts of (man) hours:

1 Hour
You go to a pub with a friend you haven't talk to for a while and after a bit of random chatting about the economy, the tech industry and possible changed personal circumstances and most certainly some drinks, you hit upon this brilliant, world changing idea. It takes you only an hour.

10 Hours
If the idea looks still OK in the morning and there's an app or website to be build, you can built quite a nice demo in the next ten hours. It has still a lot of rough edges of course, but if things are on track, it shows how the idea could actually work in practice.

100 Hours
Vision made clear to the onlookers, it is time to build a prototype. Leave out the edge cases, combine some great open source building blocks with creative commons licensed art-work and before you know it you have something. You show it to your friends and they say, awesome! ship it!

1000 Hours
But it isn't quite shippable. So you maybe get a friend enthusiastic and start working weekends and evenings to get it there. Or maybe you are bolder, quit your job, maybe find a backer and you double down to get to the first version of what now becoming a product.

10 000 Hours
Once you have a first version out there and you're starting to have an impact it is time to start building an organisation around the idea and the product. You need to branch out, maybe raise money, get more people involved and face the bureaucracy.

Why this isn't bad

Most ideas die in their march to become real somewhere past the 100 hours when things start to become rather serious. Once you hit the 1000 hours it really seems you're 75% done but in reality you're only really just at 10%. It might seem frustrating but really it is not. It means you can try your brilliant idea and find out after only 1% of the effort needed to make it into something really serious whether it stands a chance at all. Only by giving up easily on ideas will you have the time to cover enough attempts. And only by having enough attempts will you come across the thing that makes it big.

Of course 10 000 hours is only the beginning. It'll take about a million hours to go public and 100 million to built the next Google.

It works in the reverse too. It's hard not to wonder about companies like Dropbox, EventBrite or Evernote who built a great product but seemingly did so in that first 1000 hours and don't seem to have that much more to show for now that they're closing on a million hours. This in turn leads to people unhappy with products like Twitter saying, oh I can build a brand new Twitter in a thousand hours and all will be well.