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October 31, 2007

“You Can’t Cross a Chasm in Two Small Jumps”

This wonderful quote is attributed to David Lloyd George by worldofquotes.com. Henry Sinnreich, among other things the world’s foremost authority on SIP, told it to me at lunch yesterday at VON. It made my day.

Certainly there’s a place for incrementalism; lots of places, in fact. But there are destinations you can’t get to incrementally. Of course, if you make one big leap and fall short, you may end up in the chasm but that’s the way it goes.

How to cross chasms came up during a discussion with Henry on why VoIP didn’t morph into something much better than traditional telephony. VoIP has been an incremental approach to communication. It HAS brilliantly succeeded in lowering the cost of telephony which has actually closed a chasm as far as many poor people who need to communicate are concerned. Cost reduction is a prime example of something that CAN be done incrementally and doesn’t require a perhaps suicidal leap.

But new paradigms (to use a pompous word) are leaps. They get there or they don’t. The Macintosh was such a leap although it followed an earlier unsuccessful attempt by Apple (the Lisa) to cross the “computer for the rest of us” chasm.

Old companies, I believe, are incapable of such leaps. Not the prudent thing to do when all your assets may end up in a heap at the bottom of the chasm. Startups, on the other hand, have a much better risk/reward ratio when they jump. They start with almost nothing to lose; it’s very hard for them to be incrementally better than established competition with an existing brand and customer base; they can succeed (even though most don’t) by taking a jump the heavy weights can’t and won’t.

It’s also a hell of a lot more fun to jump than to creep. Just one more reason why I’m glad to be involved with startups again.

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