Your stupid TODO list app is not “world changing”. Stop saying that.

One of the classics in the stream of unending stupid that comprises the standard-issue Silicon Valley groupthink is that a product or service is “world changing”. No it is not. By the time your revolutionary service-as-a-platform-as-a-service micro-macro-blog mashup has started looking for Series A, everything world-changing has already happened. I assume that people say this dumb shit because, as they are standing on the shoulders of giants, they’re suffering from hypoxia.

Consider Twitter. Twitter is held as yet another example in Silicon Valley lore of “small thing changes world”. Given as examples are how the term “hashtag” has deeply permeated pop culture, or its role in actual revolutions (Iran student uprising, Arab Spring, Libya). “Obviously”, the thinking goes, “if it gets used in something that literally changes the world, then it is by definition world-changing!”

Nope. You’re confusing things.

To continue to pick on Twitter, it is the end result of a very long, very un-sexy relentless march of progress. To make Twitter happen, we had to have a lot of things in place: a supply chain that puts hand-held radios in everyone’s hand. They have to be built in places where governments force wages down and keep regulation low. Raw materials have to be moved across the planet on cargo containers and by air. These assets have to be obsessively tracked and managed; even a small loss of raw materials or components can disrupt production. Once produced, we need to get them into the hands of users with the capital to buy them. We have to maintain the radio and telephony networks. We need bandwidth, peering, data centers. Data centers mean innovation in cooling and other physical-plant stuff. And on, and on. 

Without all that in place and working effectively, then Twitter wouldn’t work. Twitter is a side effect of the rest of “modern information society” or whatever you want to call it. Twitter – cleverly, no argument there – exploits a tiny niche at the very tail end of a massive amount of work.

No one ever really wants to do a startup to better improve supply chain performance. Why would they? It takes years to understand what a supply chain even is. It takes years to do lots of hard work to figure out what’s wrong, and testing your ideas can take a long time. It’s very hard work. Better to do a TODO list.

Better and easier to make predatory license agreements, or talk about your “incredible journey” after you’ve been acquihired by Google.

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