Brokenness is potential energy

Paul Graham once tweeted, “Anything badly broken is a dam holding back a lake of unrealized desires. A startup that can bore a hole through such a dam can liberate all that energy.” I like to think of it more simply: sometimes the best way forward in life is through your own misery.

Some examples:

  • Oskar Barnack had asthma and couldn’t go outdoors for long periods of time, which is what partially drove him to invent a lightweight camera, the Leica.

  • Google Maps was started by 2 Danish brothers, Lars and Jens Rasmussen who were laid off from their startups during the dotcom burst. After moving back to live with their mother in Denmark, they realized they had a poor sense of direction and built a personal maps project.

  • Sophie Wilson, who invented the low-power chips we use today, failed out of the Math Department at Cambridge, so she switched to Computer Science, where she combined her mathematical and computing expertise to invent the chips.

  • Scandinavian nations pioneered wireless before many others out of sheer necessity — routing telephone wires through vast expanses of rocky, snowy terrain was difficult… The Nordic Mobile Telephony system, which was established in 1981, marked the re-conception of the phone as something that could — and should — transcend borders, and reshaped the way that people thought about mobile communications, from an implement useful in local markets, to a more general, universal tool. (Merchant, The One Device)

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