Sunday, February 22, 2009

Better, not More

I had a discussion the other day with a friend who was a little dubious about the value of economic growth. Her perfectly valid point was, "I don't need more stuff". I agree, I don't need or want more stuff either. But I do want better stuff.

This highlights why I prefer the expression 'Economic Progress' over 'Economic Growth'. Growth seems to imply more stuff, and as libertarian (and sometimes too bitter for my taste) econoblogger Mish has said many times, there are tons of things we don't need more of. Progress, on the other hand, can imply quality.

One of my favorite quotes about products is one I heard from Paul Buchheit (the inventor of Gmail & founder of FriendFeed) when I went to Ycombinator's Startup School a few years ago. He said something like:

To create something fundamentally different,
try adding the words 'that actually works' to things that already exist.

As in Google: Search, that actually works. Gmail: Email, that actually works.

If you think about the companies that are succeeding and growing right now, very few of them are offering more of something. Google doesn't offer more search or more ads than Yahoo, they offer better search and better ads. Facebook doesn't offer more than MySpace does, or Friendster did before it. It offers a better way to connect with the real life people you care about.

37 signals has even built an entire philosophy and an extremely successful business around doing less, rather than more, with a cult following among web software developers. Their products are simpler than the competition, and yet do incredibly well, by solving their core problems incredibly well.

So no, we don't need more things, we need better things. Faster access to the internet, better healthcare, a public transit system that gets you where you want to go when you want to get there. Energy that doesn't require us poisoning our land and air to create it. Economic progress, not just blind growth.

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