494. Why Do Most Ideas Fail to Scale? - Deepstash

Keep reading for FREE

JOHN LIST

Most of us think that scalable ideas have some “silver bullet” feature, some quality that bestows a “can’t miss” appeal. That kind of thinking is fundamentally wrong. There is no single quality that distinguishes ideas that have the potential to succeed at scale from those that don’t.

JOHN LIST

2

8 reads

The world of scaling needs a “common sense checklist"

Most scaling failures are complicated. Identifying a list of potential problems before you scale up can improve the odds of success:

  • Use incentives that can scale. This applies to creating healthcare or education policy, trying to grow your startup, or just helping your community get along better.
  • Make all of your decisions on the margin. Don’t be a prisoner to looking at averages, as data is always presented in averages. Instead, a marginal way is to pick the low-hanging fruit right away, then scale over marginal people, not over the million people who have already consumed it in the past.

2

2 reads

Example of scaling problem

Example of scaling problem

Kmart used to be a highly successful discount department-store chain with over 2,300 locations in the U.S. Their famous in-store promotion was the BlueLight Special, where a great deal would be announced at unknown times. This helped them clear out unwanted stock and gave shoppers an adrenaline rush that made them spend more money.

Kmart headquarters tried to scale it up by deciding where, when, and what product would be placed on the BlueLight Special across all stores. But customers in one store had different needs than customers in another store. Centralising the special ruined the brand.

2

2 reads

Creating evidence-based policy vs. producing policy-based evidence

Moving from creating evidence-based policy to one of producing policy-based evidence is a call to researchers, policymakers and business people to consider the following: If scaling an idea, what constraints should be taken into account when doing the original research?

For example, in the Chicago Heights Early Childhood program, researchers created a pre-school in a low-income Chicago neighbourhood to see what would produce the biggest educational gains. They hired the best teachers for their pilot program, but at scale, they’d have to hire 30,000 less-good teachers to stay within the budget.

2

1 read

Voltage drop is shockingly common

Voltage drop is shockingly common

The voltage effect describes what happens when you move from the small to the large. Most ideas experience voltage drops, when a seemingly great idea loses power as it is scaled.

How to fail at scaling

  • You scale a program that was never tested.
  • Humans don’t scale. Any time there is a human at the centre of the program, it will fail.
  • Experts in their field assume that everyone else thinks hyper-rationally as they do, but people seldom think clearly in an area that is unfamiliar to them.

2

0 reads

Scaling considerations

Scaling considerations

When a small startup firm or institution has some success and wants to get bigger, they should consider the following:

  • Be as diverse as you possibly can, as early as you can. 
  • Types of diversity are observable characteristics, like gender and race and the socioeconomic status of how you were raised. 

This will allow for a much deeper and more diverse set of ideas and solutions to problems and, consequently, a more productive organisation.

2

1 read

The best and worst examples of the voltage effect

The best example of a product that scaled unbelievably well is Jonas Salk and the polio vaccination. He had an innovation, tested it out on his own kids, and then he ramped it up to test all kinds of different kids. It worked well and then leveraged the healthcare system.

The worst example is the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) program of Nancy Reagan. Police officers would go into school classrooms and teach kids about the dangers of drugs. The drug use didn’t fall and, in some cases, actually increased. The program was ineffective because it never had voltage to start with.

2

1 read

False positives are a common cause of scaling failures

False positives arise for many reasons such as bad measurement, wishful thinking or simply because the world is messy and it can be difficult to establish cause and effect.

One reason why we don’t make as big an impact as we should is:

  • We’re not really sure that this is going to ever scale.
  • We are unsure that this is the correct result.

Results should be tested with, for example, Benford’s Law, to see whether the data have been fabricated.

2

1 read

The upside of quitting

The upside of quitting

The secret to high-voltage scaling is understanding when to quit. People generally don’t quit soon enough.

Usually, when someone wants to quit, it is because something went wrong. But, you should think more about the opportunity I’m giving up if I stick with it. If the opportunity changes for the better, I should quit more often. 

If you’re considering quitting, force yourself to compare your performance with your peer group. Consider if you have a comparative advantage in this particular activity. 

2

2 reads

CURATED BY

bacal

Conservator for museum/gallery

Economist John List is trying to start a scaling revolution. He discusses avoiding false positives, the cause of a given success and optimal quitting.

Ready for the next level?

Read Like a Pro

stash-superman-illustration

Explore the World’s

Best Ideas

200,000+ ideas on pretty much any topic. Created by the smartest people around & well-organized so you can explore at will.

An Idea for Everything

Explore the biggest library of insights. And we've infused it with powerful filtering tools so you can easily find what you need.

Knowledge Library

Powerful Saving & Organizational Tools

Save ideas for later reading, for personalized stashes, or for remembering it later.

# Personal Growth

Take Your Ideas

Anywhere

Organize your ideas & listen on the go. And with Pro, there are no limits.

Listen on the go

Just press play and we take care of the words.

Never worry about spotty connections

No Internet access? No problem. Within the mobile app, all your ideas are available, even when offline.

Get Organized with Stashes

Ideas for your next work project? Quotes that inspire you? Put them in the right place so you never lose them.

Join

2 Million Stashers

4.8

Stars

5,740 Reviews

App Store

4.7

Stars

72,690 Reviews

Google Play

Ashley Anthony

This app is LOADED with RELEVANT, HELPFUL, AND EDUCATIONAL material. It is creatively intellectual, yet minimal enough to not overstimulate and create a learning block. I am exceptionally impressed with this app!

Shankul Varada

Best app ever! You heard it right. This app has helped me get back on my quest to get things done while equipping myself with knowledge everyday.

samz905

Don’t look further if you love learning new things. A refreshing concept that provides quick ideas for busy thought leaders.

Sean Green

Great interesting short snippets of informative articles. Highly recommended to anyone who loves information and lacks patience.

Laetitia Berton

I have only been using it for a few days now, but I have found answers to questions I had never consciously formulated, or to problems I face everyday at work or at home. I wish I had found this earlier, highly recommended!

Giovanna Scalzone

Brilliant. It feels fresh and encouraging. So many interesting pieces of information that are just enough to absorb and apply. So happy I found this.

Jamyson Haug

Great for quick bits of information and interesting ideas around whatever topics you are interested in. Visually, it looks great as well.

Ghazala Begum

Even five minutes a day will improve your thinking. I've come across new ideas and learnt to improve existing ways to become more motivated, confident and happier.

Read & Learn

20x Faster

without
deepstash

with
deepstash

with

deepstash

Access to 200,000+ ideas

Access to the mobile app

Unlimited idea saving & library

Unlimited history

Unlimited listening to ideas

Downloading & offline access

Personalized recommendations

FAQ

Claim Your Limited Offer

Get Deepstash Pro

BLACK FRIDAY

75% OFF | 1-Year Pro Subscription

Claim Offer