Don’t be the Pike

Things change, increasingly quickly. It follows that things that didn’t work in the past may work now and those that worked in the past may be unsuccessful today.

Investors and Founders have to form fast opinions but the tools we use, not least our experience, may be horribly out-dated; would I have ruled out the iPod in 2000 because MP3 players “have never taken off” in the past? WebVan burned through $800 million trying to deliver fresh groceries to your door, having watched that failure from afar would I have been conditioned to think Amazon Fresh and Instacart would not stand a chance. Kozmo failed spectacularly in 1998, but today, Amazon and Google are battling to provide same-day shopping delivery.

Paul Graham touched on this in a wonderful essay recently, including the reminder “When experts are wrong, it’s often because they’re experts on an earlier version of the world”. His essay reminded me of the ‘Pike Syndrome’ – despite the crappy resolution this is a 6 minute must watch for any innovator or investor:


The video is a great, albeit depressing, example of learned helplessness. The pike has learned that he can’t catch minnows – even though he once devoured them at will in the same environment. Even when the situation that caused him to be unsuccessful was removed and the minnows swam past him, he continued to believe he couldn’t catch them.

We need to remember to not be the pike on a daily basis, asking what assumptions we’re making and whether they are still valid. We need to remind ourselves that the world is changing fast and to not be prisoners of our own experience…