Last week we launched our app Snippet. It was a crazy day. It got even crazier when Snippet jumped to #6 on iTunes Top Grossing apps in the books category. There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as shipping something. A year ago, it was just an idea, today it’s a real product with real customers. Go download…please.
“I’m sorry I could not have written a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time.” Abraham Lincoln
As we have been working on our product Snippet we’re coming very close to our launch. As that day draws near, I revisit a great piece I’ve read from George Lois on the benefit of short powerful writing.
Not long after President Lincoln delivered his iconic Gettysburg address of 1863 in under 3 minutes and in just 10 sentences (272 words he had written and rewritten and agonized over), he wrote a long letter, in tiny handwriting, to a friend. The apology above, the he didn’t have time to contemplate, correct, and edit his letter, is the most lucid lesson in good writing I’ve ever read. Keep it short, informative, concise, and literary, where every single word counts. But remember: it’s not how short you make it; it’s how you make it short.
In 1975 a Kodak engineer invented the first digital camera, which captured low resolution black and white images and transferred them to a TV. He then took his idea to present it. He had no idea what was coming when he dubbed it “filmless photography” as he demoed it to various people at the company. After taking a few pictures of the attendees at the meeting and displaying them on the TV set in the room, the questions started to roll.
“Why would anyone ever want to view his or her pictures on a TV?”
“How would you store these images?”
“What does an electronic photo album look like?”
Later the engineer recalled management’s overall take of his development:
“It was filmless photography,” he said, “so management’s reaction was, ‘that’s cute—but don’t tell anyone about it.”
It got snuffed. As brilliant as Kodak labs were in their hay day, unfortunately the real innovative products languished there. Later it was written about Kodak that:
“It seems Kodak had developed antibodies against anything that might compete with film.”
It would be almost 25 years before Kodak could find success in the digital camera space. It’s unfortunate, considering they had it in their grasp back in 1975.
The next big idea is most likely already floating around in your organization. The problem is not the absence of great ideas but the ability to know what to do with them once you’ve encountered them. Like the human body, organizations can have antibodies that naturally identify and neutralize foreign objects–even when they’re great ideas. As companies grow it becomes even harder for new ideas to thrive.
Over lunch I had one of my employees (he’s 22) pitch me on a new menu app idea of his. When he started, the rest of the team chuckled as he had already pitched them on it too. I love it. The channels for new ideas must be wide open. My job then is to figure out how to onboard the great ones.
What do you do with new ideas? How many new ideas—truly new ideas–are you encountering a week?
Change can be tricky. Even in startups where you typically have a whole lot more flexibility, change can stress some people out. When the railroads were first introduced to the U.S., some folks feared that they’d be the downfall of the nation. Here’s an supposed excerpt from a letter to then President Jackson dated January 31, 1829:
As you may know, Mr. President, ‘railroad’ carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of 15 miles per hour by ‘engines’ which, in addition to endangering life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside, setting fire to crops, scaring the livestock and frightening women and children. The Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.
Martin Van Buren Governor of New York