In 1980 (the year I was born), Bill Gates made a deal with IBM that would change his life. Neigh, change the world.
The deal was to build an operating system for the IBM PC.
What Gates suspected, but IBM did not, was that PCs were the future. And software, not hardware (e.g., computers), was going to dominate that future.
IBM, on the other hand, saw this as more of a ‘test’ and generally believed that the big behemoth computing machines that dominated enterprise was here to stay.
Gates, it turned out, was right.
As part of the deal, IBM agreed to pay Microsoft a licensing fee for every unit sold, but non-exclusively. That gave Microsoft access to a massive distribution channel AND the rights to resell that software to anyone else they saw fit.
As the popularity of PCs grew and IBM’s competitors started to build “IBM clones” to get into the market, they all turned to Microsoft to provide the operating system.
Although the deal almost never happened (which is another story), that one event altered the course of Gates’ life, the life of Microsoft, and the world.
Entrepreneurship is full of what LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman calls “big breaks.”
One deal changes the course of a company (Microsoft). One distribution channel (Jay Z). One Insight (Steve Jobs). One marketing campaign (Dollar Shave Club).
The Big Domino
Before I had read Reid Hoffman’s insight, I talked about the idea of the “Big Domino.”
An avid reader of history and business and business history, this notion that there seemed to be “pivotal moments” often struck me. I thought of these moments as “big dominoes;” events that starts a chain reaction of positive events – a virtuous cycle – that leads to outsized success.
While the concept is simple in theory, it’s difficult to notice in practice.
I, like so many others, can have a tendency to miss the forest for the trees. To get so focused on the immediate thing(s) that are on my radar that I neglect to look – or am incapable of seeing – that big domino.
As a result, I don’t start that chain reaction that leads to the virtuous cycle of success.
But that’s started to change as I’ve learned to ask myself on a daily – sometimes several times a day – basis, “What is the big domino? What is the one thing that if I get it right, changes everything? What opportunity is out there that I need to be focused on?”
As of this writing, the biggest blocker to my growth seems to be me. Or, more specifically, my personal fears, my inability to ask for help, and my unwillingness to look stupid in front of other people. And my difficulty trusting others to execute to my level of expectation.
Is it the big domino?
On a personal level, maybe. I firmly believe that if I can manage those things, then the next blocker(s) would start to come down dramatically. My quality of life would change dramatically. My business would change dramatically.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve committed to writing here daily through Q1 2021.
It’s an uncomfortable commitment because I have to publish, even though I find the work unfinished, the ideas unrefined, and don’t have the time to go back (at this moment) and clean them up.
But it addresses a fear and my unwillingness to look stupid in front of other people.
In business, I think the “big domino” is somewhat related; it’s building the distribution channel (or asking for help to build it 😉 to take SuperWebPros to markets all across America. To build a platform that makes it super easy for non-metropolitan businesses to be able to get fast, friendly, reliable web service.
More specifically, it’s to capitalize on the insight that technology + local market can be a force multiplier.
But, time will tell if I’m wrong.
Either way, just asking the question helps to focus energy, effort, and attention. It makes it easier to say ‘no’ to the things I reject as ‘small dominoes’ and leads to progressively better outcomes.
After all, the more you seek opportunity – and try to make yourself into the kind of person who can recognize and capitalize on it – the more ‘lucky’ you become.
I have no illusions of being a Gates/Jobs/Bezos/Musk.
But that’s not my calling.
And that’s ok.
Instead, my job is to identify my own sense of purpose and then figure out how to get the most leverage possible to realize that purpose with as much gusto as possible.
It’s not to find someone else’s stack of dominoes and play with them.
It’s to find my own “big domino” and knock it over.
Wish me luck.
What about you? What do you perceive as the ‘big domino’ in your life? What one thing/person/relationship/insight could radically change the course of your life and the world? I’d love to know.