Climbing the Wrong Hill

Note to my future self…

Last week I started doing some research on this concept of local maximum because I have heard people throwing it around in the context of startups and I will admit that I really didn’t fully grasp the implications of what they were talking about.

I remember learning about local vs. global minimums and maximums in math class but I felt that now could be a great time to brush up on that concept and add it to toolbox of mental models & concepts. While reading on the topic I came across this fantastic essay by Chris Dixon titled “Climbing the wrong hill”.

For me the key takeaway from this article is this:

“People early in their career should learn from computer science[hill climbing]: meander some in your walk (especially early on), randomly drop yourself into new parts of the terrain, and when you find the highest hill, don’t waste any more time on the current hill no matter how much better the next step up might appear.”

I think this also applies to startups. Sometimes it’s possible to get stuck in a local maximum and optimize on new features that will yield little upside (you’re approaching a local maximum). Instead, the best thing might be to look around and find a bigger hill to climb (another design or a completely different idea). This is obviously easier said than done but I think it’s something worth considering.

The hard part of following this advice is that, like the computer algorithm, you don’t know if you ‘re climbing a low or a high hill. I still don’t have an answer for this but I suspect that adding randomness by trying different things can help. Then again I still don’t fill this is enough. I will report back as soon as I know I am climbing the right hill(:

Now back to work…