Skate to Where the Puck is Going

Gretzky1

A famous quote attributed to hockey great Wayne Gretzky says “Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is.” It’s catchy – but Wayne never said it. The original quote is from Wayne’s father, Walter Gretzky. He said “Go to where the puck is going, not where it has been”. However, this advice was intended for a peewee hockey team, not hockey professionals. Fast Company published a wonderful article debunking the myth surrounding the quote.

Even though it may not be sound hockey advice, the quote lends itself well to the business world. A recent post by Venture Capital blogger Mark Suster uses the quote to address the slews of copycats in the world of startups. Read it. Here are the parts that stuck out to me:

“One of my most important messages was if you’re sitting around dreaming about creating an innovative startup don’t start by reading TechCrunch and thinking about how you’re going to copy all of today’s innovative companies. That’s too late. It’s the puck at your feet. Come up with your own novel thoughts.”

I subscribe to TechCrunch. Puck at my feet. It’s not bad to know what’s going on, but it might be poisoning my own creativity.

“Some people have pointed out that all of today’s “innovations” are just yesterday’s ideas rehashed such as Salesforce just doing Siebel on the web, Mint doing Quicken on the web, Quora copying Yahoo! Answers or Twitter just being a take in IRC that has existed for years.

In my view almost all ideas are derivative. Recreating and out executing a tired, old site in a new way is innovation in the way that Quora has totally redone how Q&A works. And Siebel on your desktop is not the same as Salesforce.com on the web. And, yes, somebody has got to kill off evite. But I think that re-doing a tired, old implementation in a novel way is very different than chasing today’s fad.

And when Google launched, while it was “search” they came up with a novel model for ranking results – PageRank. It was derivative but innovative.”

How do you get beyond the latest start-up fad? (Game mechanics, check-ins, social, badges) You go back to the basics – where is the pain? What unfulfilled needs do people have? What is the job-to-be-done? The market doesn’t have to be empty – like Google, you can do something better and achieve phenomenally successful results.

My closing thought is this: remember that there isn’t only one puck and we don’t live in a zero-sum world.

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  • Brooke November 12, 2010 at 10:08 am

    “It might be poisoning my own creativity” is something that sparked interest with me. I agree AND disagree. I think looking around at what are the innovations are in my field right now, helps me think about new ideas and often helps me feel inspired. However, I sometimes get bogged down by the thoughts: theses are the only good ideas; everything new has been done; I have no new ideas. When in fact, there are simple ways to reinvent the old that might come more easily to me if my mind was not filled trying to match or catch up with the others.

    We all have to stay caught up in our fields and look at where the puck is and try to follow where it is going. We also must make time to step away from what everyone is saying and to think of our own ideas.

  • Terence November 18, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    I have a dream of one day coming up with something new and exciting, the next Facebook, or Tickle-Me-Elmo. I am constantly looking for and trying to come up with something the public can’t live without. Mark makes some very valid points. Trying to recreate something that already exists can either be a match or a wildfire. There are so many factors that determine which it will be.

    One way my brothers and I come up with new ideas is to find things we need or want, but that aren’t available. Then we talk with each other and think about whether or not it is something that others would need/want as well and the practicality of pursuing the idea. Most of the time the answer is “Probably not a workable idea,” but getting in the habit of keeping our eyes open will hopefully eventually lead to the pot of gold.

  • John November 22, 2010 at 4:00 am

    Of course, you can be sure that Mark reads Techcrunch as well. While there’s certainly something to say about people copying the latest fads, there’s some real data suggesting that’s ok. The first comes in the research (which I’m too lazy to find right now) that shows that first mover advantage isn’t always the best thing. In fact, many of the best companies are those which entered later and learned from the first entrants mistakes. I guess Google could be used as an example to that.

    The next reason I think it’s ok is that many ideas are a conglomerate of multiple ideas that you’ve seen or heard about. The strength can come from an entrepreneur’s ability to merge multiple ideas into one unique offering. Often this merging also allows them to enter new markets. Nothing wrong with that.

  • David January 8, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    The version of the saying that has come down in my family concerns chasing dropped toothpaste-tube caps in sinks rather than chasing pucks on ice. There is a clarity to the moment when you clamp your hand over the drain and the cap meekly comes to you. I have always valued this metaphor as it suggests that we must sever our fixation on the weary patterns that stifle creativity and and be fully engaged in the process of achieving clarity and that which we inherently know to be certain paths to success. Indeed, if we can achieve such clarity, success will inevitably find us. Why waste energy chasing the cap?

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