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.