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I'm a big fan of mazes. I think they serve as great analogies for lots of more-complicated-looking situations.



Analogous phenomena

  • Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas
    • Friedman, the gambling industry's guru of casino design, established himself as such in 1974 when he wrote the definitive book on casino management. Over the next twenty-five years, he conducted research for another book, the epic 630-page tome boldly titled "Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition", published in 2000. There he calls casinos mazes and makes sure his clients know what he means by this: "The term maze is appropriate because my trusty American Heritage Dictionary says it comes from the words "to confuse" or "to confound" and defines it as 'an intricate, usually confusing network of interconnecting pathways, as in a garden; a labyrinth.'" Unlike Wynn, Friedman invokes confusion not to diminish the cunning of his own design but rather to characterize it. The architectural vision of confusion that he elaborates strongly resembles the "intricate maze" described in "Learning from Las Vegas" yet shares less with postmodern populism than with applied behaviorism. "Just as the Pied Piper of Hamelin lured all the rats and the children to follow him," he writes, "a properly designed maze entices adult players."
  • Balaji Srinivasan - Startup Engineering - Market Research, Wireframing, and Design
    • One answer is that a good founder doesn’t just have an idea, s/he has a bird’s eye view of the idea maze. Most of the time, end-users only see the solid path through the maze taken by one company. They don’t see the paths not taken by that company, and certainly don’t think much about all the dead companies that fell into various pits before reaching the customer.

      The maze is a reasonably good analogy (Figure 1. Sometimes there are pits you just can’t cross. Sometimes you can get past a particular minotaur/enter a new market, but only after you’ve gained treasure in another area of the maze (Google going after email after it made money in search). Sometimes the maze itself shifts over time, and new doors open as technologies arrive (Pandora on the iPhone). Sometimes there are pits that are uncrossable for you, but are crossable by another (Webvan failed, but Amazon, Walmart, and Safeway have the distribution muscle to succeed). And sometimes there are pitfalls that are only apparent when one company has reached scale, problems which require entering the maze at the very beginning with a new weapon (e.g. Google’s Pagerank was inspired in part by Alta Vista’s problems at scale, problems that were not apparent in 1991).

      A good founder is thus capable of anticipating which turns lead to treasure and which lead to certain death. A bad founder is just running to the entrance of (say) the “movies/music/filesharing/P2P” maze or the “photosharing” maze without any sense for the history of the industry, the players in the maze, the casualties of the past, and the technologies that are likely to move walls and change assumptions (Figure 1).

      In other words: a good idea means a bird’s eye view of the idea maze, understanding all the permutations of the idea and the branching of the decision tree, gaming things out to the end of each scenario. Anyone can point out the entrance to the maze, but few can think through all the branches. If you can verbally and then graphically diagram a complex decision tree with many alternatives, explaining why your particular plan to navigate the maze is superior to the ten past companies that fell into pits and twenty current competitors lost in the maze, you’ll have gone a long way towards proving that you actually have a good idea that others did not and do not have. This is where the historical perspective and market research is key; a strong new plan for navigating the idea maze usually requires an obsession with the market, a unique insight from deep thought that others did not see, a hidden door. You can often distinguish these good ideas because they require the explanation of an arcane acronym or regulation like KYC (Paypal) or LDT (Genomic Health) or OTARD (Aereo).

Online Mazes