Big Things Start Small…Sometimes?

I have always enjoyed the phrase “big things start small.” Simple, but powerful, it carries a message of agency and empowerment. To me, it has always meant that, though the finish line may be out of sight, everyone’s final race starts with one small step. And for years, I have broken down large, complex tasks into tiny ones – bite-sized opportunities to test assumptions and experiment over my ideas. 

This reminds me of an essay wrote over 2 years ago now, titled “we all start at zero.” 

I like to think of life as everyone starting in the same place. From ground zero. Of course, that is not true. People are born with advantages — money, looks, whatever it may be.

But for us commoners, plebeians, I think there is no use in complaining about others advantages or disadvantages to starting. After all, there will always be someone “better off” than you just as there will always be someone “worse off” than you. So instead of spending that time and energy wishing and dreaming — think of life like this:

Think of all things in life like everyone started at zero. That in order to rise to the top — things needed to happen. Something goes on between the bottom and the top. I call this thinking of life in terms of skyscrapers. Imagine all of us as skyscrapers.

The interesting thing about skyscrapers is that no one really cares about the 13th largest skyscraper in the world. In fact, people really only care about the tallest skyscraper. The number one.

I return to this idea today as I think more and more about how “starting small” really plays out in practice. I still believe in the idea…to take steps…to not confuse motion with progress but to always be moving.

But I do not think “starting small” is absolutely the best path forward in all situations. Especially, I do not think it is entirely true when it comes to company building. While I subscribe to some of the principles found in ideologies like the Lean Startup (MVP stuff), I recognize that these types of frameworks do not always work. Companies like Opendoor, Anduril, Blend, etc. do not start small. They start big. They start with lots of money and a big vision of how to disrupt a market.

They could not start small and I think it is important to recognize that starting small, with convenient ideas around you is not necessarily guaranteed or even your best shot at getting incredible results. 

Also published on Medium.