A good idea is a useful idea. Useful ideas come in three varieties: easy and obvious, hard and obvious, and hard and non-obvious. In the startup world people are no different than everywhere else- most of us come up with the easy and obvious ideas for startups: photo-sharing app, recipe aggregator, subscription service. Why? Laziness is not it. It is our method of thinking – by analogy. Reasoning by analogy saves time. But where the degree of innovation matters most- in startups – thinking by analogy is not enough. You have to think from first principles. Just like in physics. Science is counter-intuitive because you can’t discover much in science through analogy. Analogy only helps you understand science that was already discovered by someone else. If you wanted to reinvest nature thinking by analogy, you would get mythology; if you rethought it from first principles you will get the next some post-relativistic physics.
Obvious and hard – these are ideas that everyone knows are useful, but yet they seem to out of reach that indeed most people are blind to them. In fact, they are associated with mad scientists, and madness in general. To name a few: cancer vaccine, solar-powered cars, nuclear fission rockets. At first glance, these don’t seem like much of startup ideas. These could take a lifetime to build. But even a limited success in any of these fields is worth spending a lifetime on.
Non-obvious and hard – these ideas stem from obvious problems that solutions to which are not yet obvious. Back in 2002 there was an obvious problem – sending money to other people was difficult. The solution – sending money through email- was not obvious yet because email was just starting to be popular. Hence, Paypal was a non-obvious idea that was hard to execute. As you know, it took two companies to make Paypal work: Elon Musk’s x.com and Confinity. What are the non-obvious and hard ideas today? Look for unlikely combinations of technology: a childcare robot – the software that can understand a child plus the hardware of a delicate machine; a visual search engine – the software of data visualization applied to web indexing algorithms.
So, why are people “blind” to the non-obvious. These ideas sound a bit off. And that’s why other people won’t do them but you should.
Based on Paul Graham’s essay “Schlep Blindness” Via: Funders and Founders