Rework: Scratch your own itch

I am continuing the summary series for Rework, written by 37Signals founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. This time I will skip a couple of sections-- "Be a starter" and "Make a dent in the universe". You can read the sections in the book. But to give you a short summary:

  • "Be a starter" simply champions the term "starter" in place of "entrepreneur" to refer to a new group people that are innovating and creating wonderful business ideas. "Entrepreneur", as the authors mention, smells like a members only club. It is "an outdated term loaded with a lot baggage." 
  • "Make a dent in the universe" brings up the sense of obligation most people have to make a difference. Make the change you want to see, don't wait for someone else to do it. It doesn't take a huge team to make that difference (i.e. Craigslist, Drudge Report, etc…).

Now to the central topic of this blog, "scratching your own itch" means making something you would want to use. It means solving your own problems. Solving your own problems means building products that correlate to you or your company's own needs/wants/goals. This saves you resources you would use to conduct extensive studies--there's no need for focus groups, market studies, or middlemen. You make all the detailed calls instead of "stabbing in the dark" at someone else's problem.

james dyson

Examples of people that scratched their own itches:

  • Inventor James Dyson-- While vacuuming, he realized his bag vacuum cleaner was losing suction power. Dyson came up with the world first bagless vacuum cleaner. 
  • Vic Firth played timpani for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and so wanted to make better drumsticks. He began selling drumsticks from his home's basement. One day he accidentally dropped a bunch of sticks on the floor and heard all the different pitches. Ever since then, "he began to match up sticks by moisture content, weight, density, and pitch so they were identical pairs." Firth's factory now produces over 85,000 drumsticks a day.
  • Bill Bowerman, a track coach, wanted lighter running shoes for his team and so went out to his workshop and poured rubber into the family waffle iron. Nike's famous waffle sole was born.
  • Mary Kay knew her skin-care products were great because she used them herself. She didn't conduct extensive studies to know the products were good, she just looked at her own skin.

When you solve your own problem, you know the value of its solution intimately. If it's something you'll be working on for the rest of your life, "it better be something you care about," the authors conclude.