timothy falconer's semantic weblog
Big Fractal Tangle

making the trip

The danger in doing very new things is getting wrapped up in being first. Whether it’s “first mover advantage” or academic clout, we want to be the one and only, the one people talk about. Second place is “also-ran” at best.

Last night I watched The Endurance, which is about a guy named Shackleton who should have been the first to reach the south pole. He was one hundred miles away from his goal, after travelling fifteen hundred, then turned back because he was worried they’d run out of supplies. A few years later, two other teams beat him to it.

So the south pole was won. What does Shackleton do? He goes again anyway. The story of what actually happens on that second trip is worth the rental, but the point I’d like to underline is that he went back to be third.

Earlier, I wrote about the entrepreneur’s pit in the stomach, that nagging feeling that someone’s gonna get your ideas, steal your name, flood your market, win your customers. It’s a rough ride with a clenched jaw.

Here’s what I tell myself when the corners start to close in: we’re not selling an idea, we’re not selling a name, we’re selling talent pointed in a particular direction, and that’s a moving target that can’t be duplicated. We don’t gotta be first across the finish line, we don’t gotta sell more than Microsoft or Adobe, we just gotta realize our own goals, which are smaller.

Yeah, people will do the same things we’re doing. Yeah, some of them will beat us to market. Yeah, some of them have much bigger budgets.

So what! We haven’t done it yet. “First, second, third” is for armchair analysts and historians. The real value comes from simply making the trip. All the rest is ego.

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