The Upside of a Tradeof
For every new idea your
company wants to bring
to life, be willing to kill
an old one
Most companies, products, and services start
out simply. It’s rare that the frst version of
something is more complicated than the second.
But once a company starts saying yes to one
good idea after another, it starts accumulating
scars. And scars they are. When companies decide
to do something and it works, it usually doesn’t go
away. Ideas turn permanent. Before you know it,
things aren’t so simple any more.
Saying yes to more and more good ideas with-
out dumping some of the earlier commitments
invariably leads to a place of compounding com-
plexity. Too many good ideas eventually combine
to make one big bad idea.
You see this all over software today. Setting
after setting, preference after preference. Each
one is an example of a company’s refusing to make
a choice and ofoading the decision to the customer. It’s sold as customization, but it’s often
just one “also” after another.
By forcing a tradeof on every new “yes,”
you corner yourself into considering the value
of something. And only once you value a thing
accordingly can you make a better decision
about what is worth pursuing. It requires you
to reconsider: Is this still worth doing? Would
we be better of doing something else? That’s a
healthy exercise from time to time. The true test
of how bad you want something is whether you’re
willing to give up something else to make room.
So what did we end up doing?
The choice wasn’t obvious. It’s easy to end
something that’s a clear failure. It’s much harder to end something that’s doing fne or
better. The Distance was doing well. According to the number of weekly downloads and
industry data, it was in the top 10 to 15 percent of all podcasts.
My co-founder and I debated it, and we chose “or.” Ultimately, we felt The Distance
had had a great run, and that ending it on our own terms meant we could make room
for something new.
For the new podcast, called Rework, we didn’t have to hire more people, increase the
size of the crew, or attract audiences for two diferent podcasts. We’ve released three
episodes, and we’ve already more than doubled the audience we got for The Distance.
The next time you’re faced with this kind of decision, stop and think about the language. Instead of saying “Yes, we’ll do that also,” you have to practice saying “Sure, we
can do that instead.” “Or” always forces a choice, and that’s a good thing.
FOR THREE YEARS, my company wrote, pro- duced, recorded, and published a podcast called The Distance. Over nearly 60 epi- sodes, we told stories about small private companies that had been in business for 25 years or more. The premise was that here’s a lot to learn from businesses that have fgured out how to not go out of business. And there was. Then, earlier this year, while The Distance was still going strong, we had an idea for another podcast focused more
broadly on how to run a better business. One with our own point of
view, not just other people’s stories.
Awesome—time to launch another podcast! Wait, not so fast.
First we had to make a choice: We could continue doing The
Distance and start a new podcast. This would mean running two
podcasts. Or we could stop running The Distance and start a new
podcast. This would mean running just one podcast.
This is a scenario many companies confront. I call it “also/or.” These
two seemingly innocent words determine wildly diferent outcomes.
Jason Fried is a co-founder
of Basecamp (formerly
37signals), a Chicago-based
INNOVATE 94 - INC. - NOVEMBER 2017