To scale, do things that don’t scale. Also, 7 other things worth your time.
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.
The first uptrader’s name was Kyle MacDonald; the more recent one, who got the house just a few days ago, and who says she hopes to start over from scratch and do the same thing again, is named Demi Skipper.
I actually got pulled into Skipper’s story first, and then read back to see she’d originally been inspired by MacDonald. Then I got sucked into his TEDx Talk (which is pretty funny), next thing you know, there goes my afternoon.
But I’m glad about it. There’s a quote I like, from Reid Hoffman: “To scale, do things that don’t scale.”
I take it to mean: Act lean. 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.
Besides the fact that two “trade nothing enough times that eventually you get a house” stories are pretty cool, it’s the Hoffman idea that leads me to this story.
Because every time I’ve written about the affordable housing problem in our country, the comments and my inbox are filled with people saying yes that’s true, and trying to come up with solutions.
Trading a paperclip or a bobby pin isn’t a scalable solution, but if you have time to go back and watch how each of the trades actually unfolds during these stunts, it’s educational, to say the least.
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.
Call for comments: What’s the ridiculous, non-scalable thing that you’ve done … that left you utterly surprised that it actually worked? Did you learn anything as a result? Also: How many people think I should have included this definition of “scalable” higher in today’s newsletter?
7 other things worth your time
New York City will get its first female police commissioner after Mayor-elect Eric Adams picked Nassau County Chief of Detectives Keechant Sewell to take over the nation's largest police department. Worth noting: she goes from leading about 350 detectives to leading 30,000 police officers. (CNN)
Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty federal charges of violating George Floyd’s civil rights. He’s already sentenced to 22 1/2 years in state prison, observers think this could likely mean an additional five years or so. (AP)
“Alphabet Inc's Google told its employees they would lose pay and eventually be fired if they do not follow its COVID-19 vaccination rules, CNBC reported on Tuesday, citing internal documents.” (Reuters)
“The secularizing shifts evident in American society so far in the 21st century show no signs of slowing. … The religiously unaffiliated share of the public is 6 percentage points higher than it was five years ago and 10 points higher than a decade ago.” (Pew Forum)
A separate Pew research poll (I guess I wind up saving these) found that drastically fewer Americans find meaning or purpose in life through their work, in part because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. (Protocol)
President Biden nominated former Olympic figure skating star Michelle Kwan, 41, to serve as U.S. ambassador to Belize. Kwan is treasurer and a board member of Special Olympics International and has had several public diplomacy roles with the State Department. Also nominated: Caroline Kennedy, daughter of JFK and former ambassador to Japan, as ambassador to Australia. (Washington Post)
Kraft says it will pay $20 to 18,000 people who buy a dessert that doesn’t have cream cheese in it during the holidays, as a way to apologize for the national cream cheese shortage in the U.S. (Start by registering on this site this weekend.) (The Hill, Kraft “SpreadtheFeeling.com”)
Thanks for reading. Photo: Pixabay. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.