How much would you pay?
How to go from a paperclip to a house. Lower power mode continues...
We’re in low power mode for another day or two due to spring break. Happy Easter to all those who celebrate!
Imagine you have a paperclip. Somebody offers to trade you a pen shaped like a fish in exchange for it.
A pen is worth more than a paperclip, right? You take the trade. Then, you trade the pen for a doorknob.
After that, you trade the doorknob for an old camping stove.
Then, you trade the camping stove for an electric generator, and you trade the generator for a keg of beer and a neon Budweiser sign.
You trade the keg and the sign for a beat-up snowmobile. Then, you trade the snowmobile for a trip to the Canadian Rockies, and you trade the trip for a used van, and you trade the van for a year’s worth of free rent at a duplex in Arizona.
Once you get to Arizona, you trade the year’s worth of free rent for the right to hang out for an afternoon with heavy metal rocker Alice Cooper. And then, you’re able to trade the Alice Cooper experience for a vintage KISS-themed snow globe.
The snow globe is an odd choice except that you already know an actor who has the world’s largest collection of snow globes; he’s willing to trade a speaking part in a budget movie he’s producing for it.
You take the trade, and by now there’s a bit of publicity, and you hear from the very small town of Kipling, Saskatchewan.
The town wants to host a celebration called “Kipling Idol” as a bit of a stunt. The speaking part would be the main prize, and they are willing to trade you a small, vacant, town-owned house in exchange for it.
You take the deal. And at the end of the day, you’ve ultimately, indirectly, traded a paperclip for a house.
More than that, you also get a TEDx talk out of it!
Years pass. At least 12 million people watch your talk. Among them is a woman in San Francisco.
She gets inspired and does her own version—documented on TikTok this time.
She starts with a bobby pin instead of a paperclip, and she makes 28 up-trades:
First for a pair of earrings,
then for a set of margarita glasses,
then for an old vacuum,
then up and up and up and up …
There are some detours, like when someone trades her diamond jewelry that turns out to be worth less than she thought, but she works her way back in.
There’s a series of old cars, and eventually a tiny house on a trailer—and finally, she trades the tiny home for a real house just outside of Nashville.
There’s a quote I like, from Reid Hoffman: “To scale, do things that don’t scale.”
I take it to mean: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Tackle a little problem in a manual way, because you’ll learn—maybe even get insights that help you later tackle big problems.
Trading a paperclip or a bobby pin isn’t a scalable solution to, say, the housing crisis. But, if you have time to go back and watch how each of the trades actually unfolds during these stunts, it’s educational.
Nothing is valued exactly as you might think it’s valued; nobody enters into the deals for the straightforward reasons you might think. But at the same time, everyone acts more or less rationally.
And at the end of the day, a Millennial and a Gen Z TikToker each became homeowners, well before they might have otherwise. Happy endings.