Yesterday I read an excellent blog post by Chris Dixon: http://cdixon.org/2011/08/28/do-you-want-to-sell-sugar-water-or-do-you-want-to-change-the-world/
It reminded me of something I am seeing too often when I talk to people, especially younger guys who want to be entrepreneurs. I get the feeling that they put a value only on big ideas, big discoveries, big success stories. Everyone wants to change the world and if they can’t, it is seen as a massive failure. People want to be like Steve Jobs – wake up, imagine something, make it a smashing success and change the lives of billions of people.
I might be wrong, but I don’t think it works this way. None of the people that changed human history started their journey with that motivation. Einstein, Newton, Curie, Jobs and many others altered human history with their discoveries and inventions, but the climax was a result of many smaller prior efforts, some theirs, some by others, that built on top of each other. The big idea was just the spark that lit everything up.
I don’t want to imply in any way that people should not dream big. Just the contrary – people need to dream big and have an endless drive to make the world a better place!
My key struggle is with the concept that if something does not radically and immediately change the world, it is no good and is not worth the effort. For example, why should I write a unit test against that crap of old code or refactor it rather than throw everything away and write a "next–generation" app from scratch?
Solving a small challenge opens the doors for a bigger dream and bigger success. I can give an example from Telerik.
When we started the company 9 years ago, we did not want to change the world, and we couldn't do it, even if we wanted. All we wanted to do was make a super nice rich text editor for ASP.NET and make customers happy. Only because we were successful in this small endeavor did we have the chance to dream of something bigger – to solve people's need for a better ASP.NET component suite. The dream got bigger and bigger with time. We became more knowledgable as people, as an organization, lots of things crystallized in our heads and we were discovering how we could solve bigger problems.
But what I am getting at is that none of this would have been possible if we had not been able to solve the thousands of smaller problems that we faced every day since our inception. If we had not managed to solve those small issues, if we had not built the internal discipline to tackle hard problems, to not be afraid of change, to push the boundaries, to learn how to execute we would have never gotten a chance to be able to dream of changing the way people create software. If we had just waited for the super brilliant idea to hit us on the head and only then get moving, we would have never progressed. We would’ve kept on dreaming about changing the way people write software, but had no ability to make that dream a reality.
What I learned along the way is that you can’t have a goal to change the world. As Michael Jackson had put it – "If you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make a change." Changing the bigger world is not always in your control. Changing yourself and the people around you – much more so.
So, if you want to change the world, start with yourself, with your family, friends, colleagues - make them better. Show them that every small improvement in all facets of our lives matters, be it personal lives or work. Picking up the trash from the otherwise clean street, not throwing your cigarette filter in the sand on the beach, being nice to people, spending more time with your family, being helpful to others, planting a tree, writing a unit test, refactoring some old code, adding a small new feature – all of this counts. Might be small but when you multiply it by a few billion people – it changes the world in a big way. You know, the Butterfly effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect) – every action of ours has implications.
Do your best every day in big things and small – and this will change the world beyond your imagination. Even though the press won’t talk about it, everything you do matters.
As Chief Innovation Officer at Progress, Vassil Terziev is responsible for identifying growth strategies and new market opportunities, as well as promoting internal innovation.
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