Live the Parable of the Stones at Startup Weekend


We all know Steve Jobs’ story — the main one, I mean. After co-founding Apple and later Pixar, being forced out of Apple and launching another computer business, NeXT, he eventually made a triumphal return to the company of his youth, building it into the global business, technology, design, and lifestyle enterprise that it is today.  In short, Steve Jobs knew something about startups, innovation, and reinvention.

But that’s not the story I want to share with you. In the now-famous “Lost Interview” of 1995, Jobs told a tale about his boyhood and an eccentric, 80-something widower man who lived up the street. Young Steve helped the old man with some chores, and they struck up an acquaintanceship. One day, the man invited Steve to his garage to see something. He pulled out a contraption with a coffee can, a motor, and a band between them. They went into the back yard to collect some dusty, old rocks, and put them into the can with some liquid and some gritty powder. The old man turned on the homemade rock tumbler and, as it shook to life, he told Steve to come back the next day.

When young Steve returned the following day, they opened the can and found, in 1995 Steve’s words, “these amazingly beautiful polished rocks. The same common stones that had gone in, through rubbing against each other . . ., creating a little bit of friction, creating a little bit of noise, had come out these beautiful polished rocks.”

The moral of the story was this. Most people fall into the trap of “thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work” in building a great product and a great company. The wunderkind genius has a light bulb moment, announces “hey, here’s this really great idea,” and then sends others off to simply make it happen. For Steve, though, the Parable of the Stones taught otherwise:

“[T]he problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.

“Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

“And it’s that process that is the magic.”

Most of us have some really great ideas from time to time, but we aren’t quite sure what to do with them. Having the right people around you, with different strengths and complementary skill sets, can turn a great idea into a great business.

That’s the whole point of Startup Weekend: You bring your great idea, and we’ll supply the magic. Your fellow participants will serve as the stones that will bang up against your idea, rub the grit on it, and polish it into a thing of beauty, all in the course of a single weekend. It’s time to write your own story. Come share it with us.