Local maxima create value while iterating cheaply, but innovation requires the costly pursuit of global maxima.

Nat Eliason eloquently writes about the value of escaping the local maximum:

When you diversify your skill set, you define a new maxima and stop competing for the local ones determined by common skill sets.

—Nat Eliason

On the other hand Samuel Hulick does a fantastic job writing in praise of the local maximum:

Running up against a local maximum should be a goal, not something to be scared of. Infinite possibilities = no global maximum.

—Samuel Hulick

There’s a good piece by Rian van der Merwe that has a nuanced take on the local maximum and Apple’s approach to product development:

From an engineering perspective, variation is expensive, iteration is cheap.

First, spend as much time and money as you can afford on variation upfront, because if you move into the wrong neighborhood, it’s really hard to change that later on.

Second, don’t move to a new neighborhood until you’re absolutely sure that you’ve hit the local maximum right where you live.

—Rian van der Merwe

So the answer is, like my HR VP used to always tell me, “It depends.” If I were to summarize my findings: Local maxima create value while iterating cheaply, but innovation requires the costly pursuit of global maxima.


Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash.

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