Ignore the Outliers

Last week it was announced that Facebook bought Instagram for around a billion dollars. Not a moment later, I started seeing articles along the lines of “how to become the next Instagram”. All of us doing creative work, by that I mean creating new things, be it developers or painters, entrepreneurs or designers, have heroes we look up to. They keep us inspired and hopeful, they’re shining examples of what it’s possible to achieve if you fearlessly risk it all.

One thing we often forget is the role that the tangles of chance play in our successes (as well as our failures). We look at breakout companies such as Instagram and Facebook, our immediate reaction is to try to figure out how they became so, and ultimately glean some secret that will help our self reach such heights. I think we should ignore such outliers. They’re products of a single point in time that will never be repeated again.

I think it’s more important to look at companies (artists, inventors, film makers) that tediously and deliberately got to where they are today, ones that have seen soaring successes as well as crippling failures. That worked on ideas over a long time and forced them to work. Apple and Google come to mind, or people like Ricky Gervais and Jackson Pollock. When you set your sights on people and companies such as this, there is much more to learn than by looking up to break away hits.

Graph from: shieldkitten