Super Normal

Innovation often starts with the ordinary

I regularly get asked the question: What do you think of <insert social app here>? This question is usually followed up by another question which goes something like: How would you design a great social app?

Of course, nobody has ever actually asked me this. That’s because I’m the co-founder of Path, an abject failure that has been more humiliating and damaging to my reputation than anything I can think of. Nevertheless, I recently became aware of a book called “Super Normal.” I didn’t read it, but I have gained valuable insight from my superficial understanding of the philosophy it imparts.

Picture a bucket. No, picture an old-ass bucket, a real piece of shit. Now imagine it had a better handle and a spout and stuff. It’s still a bucket, but as the customer interacts with the bucket the familiar fades away and it something new is left over. The customer is delighted by this bucket that is no longer a piece of shit.

That’s Super Normal, folks. As I was trying to imagine this hypothetical bucket and apply the theory of Super Normal to my hobby as an investor and entrepreneur I had a eureka moment. Isn’t a social networking app just a shitty bucket when you really think about it?

What if you improved it by limiting your network to professional contacts? Hey, it’s LinkedIn! What if you could only post in 140 character bursts? Twitter! Filters for your photographs? Hello Instagram.

I wish I had known about this probably-great book when I invented Path. My twist was that you can only have 150 friends. It’s a little uninspired, I know, but you can’t tell me it isn’t Super Normal. If I had stuck with that, my claim that Path approaches anything close to unlocking massive value would be much easier to swallow. Perhaps it would even be true!

As a creator, I feel constant demand for innovation from the world. This puts immense pressure on the creative process and often times can have a dampening effect. When people ask me how I drove Path so far into the ground — unlike my opening question, people really do ask this a lot — I try to explain this to them.

But that’s all in the past. I can see it so clearly after reading the jacket of this book. Forget about spamming your address book, and laying off 20 percent of the company, and our recent round of investment from a company that literally caused a natural disaster.

Try this instead: a social network, but you can send virtual stickers that you have to pay for.

Thanks to Brit Morin, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sam Biddle, Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz, Kanye West, the staff of Pando, Edward Snowden, and the President of the United States for reading drafts of this.