Josh Kaufman

Bestselling Author, Business & Self-Education

Hackers and Painters

“The way to create something beautiful is often to make subtle tweaks to something that already exists, or to combine existing ideas in a slightly new way. This kind of work is hard to convey in a research paper.

If you want to make money at some point, remember this, because this is one of the reasons startups win. Big companies want to decrease the standard deviation of design outcomes because they want to avoid disasters. But when you damp oscillations, you lose the high points as well as the low. This is not a problem for big companies, because they don’t win by making great products. Big companies win by sucking less than other big companies.

So if you can figure out a way to get in a design war with a company big enough that its software is designed by product managers, they’ll never be able to keep up with you. These opportunities are not easy to find, though. It’s hard to engage a big company in a design war, just as it’s hard to engage an opponent inside a castle in hand to hand combat. It would be pretty easy to write a better word processor than Microsoft Word, for example, but Microsoft, within the castle of their operating system monopoly, probably wouldn’t even notice if you did.

The place to fight design wars is in new markets, where no one has yet managed to establish any fortifications. That’s where you can win big by taking the bold approach to design, and having the same people both design and implement the product. Microsoft themselves did this at the start. So did Apple. And Hewlett-Packard. I suspect almost every successful startup has."

Paul Graham. Full text available here.

Published: July 23, 2006 Last updated: July 23, 2006

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