On seeking a category

A new ice-cream shop opened up downtown. Do you want to go?

Every word in that sentence is easy to understand. We know that a ‘new ice cream shop‘ is a bit like the other ice cream shops in our experience, except a little different and probably better.

And where know where downtown is.

That’s a different question than:

Have you subscribed to Prodigy? (1989)

Want to see my iPhone? (2008)

Did you hear that podcast? (2004)

Do you know how to program an Arduino? (2016)

When you ask a question about a new entry that’s also in a new category, you’re now trying to do two things:

  1. Explain what the thing is. What it rhymes with. What it does. What the parameters are, whether it can be trusted to work, whether or not you’ll feel stupid doing it…
  2. Ask whether your friend, now that she vaguely understands what the thing is, even wants it.

I’ve been living in this state of mystery for three decades. I’ve been asked by generous and interested folks, “what’s email?” as well as, “what’s a cd-rom?” and now, “what’s the altMBA?”

First you need to explain the category (which is never glib or easy) and then you can help people figure out whether they want to leap or not.

This is one reason why competition is such a gift. If you have competition, now you have others helping you explain the category. With competition, you can say things like, “We’re like Uber, but without the scandals.”


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