Principle #4: Until you break into the mainstream, focus your efforts on a single user group

Note: for the full essay click here.


From Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Gregg McKeown

Despite the number of times he repeats the importance of focus in his materials, the number one question Geoffrey Moore gets about crossing the chasm is Can’t we go after more than one target? His answer is unequivocal:

“Just as you cannot hit two balls with one bat swing, hit two birds with one stone, or brush your teeth and your hair at the same time, so you cannot cross the chasm in two places. We’ve already discussed this, of course, but trust me, one cannot make this point too often”

It is fatal to attempt diversifying your efforts before having first developed a successful, fully-implemented model with a small group of users.


The more opportunities that present themselves the more disciplined and focused you will need to become. There simply is not enough time or other resources to pursue several breakthroughs at once. The temptation to lose focus is very sneaky. It won’t come from laziness, as you might expect. Laziness may actually be a positive attribute since it discourages you from picking up new goals. The discipline to focus comes from resisting the enthusiasm to try new projects. Yes, this is an exciting time! There are new legal innovations every day. And that is a big distraction if you want your firm to implement something new.


Many companies and adoption initiatives fail because they spread themselves too thin instead of establishing a beachhead in one group. Crossing into mass adoption is similar to D-Day: you must muster all your resources toward a single, clearly-defined target. It takes courage to say “No” when other options seem equally attractive. But if you don’t take Normandy, you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to take Paris. Drawing on principle #3, you must actually cross into the mainstream before you can focus on developing mainstream usage.


Numbers can be deceiving

The only way to cross this chasm is to make a product #1 with a certain group. Being #4 in five markets is deceptive. If you’re in a law firm, this the equivalent of getting a few people in disparate practice groups to use a product. The mainstream does not want to try something new if it is #4. A practice group that is kicking serious ass through a new technology is an exponentially more influential story than a few scattered lawyers who sees a tool’s potential – even if the total number of users is the same. You don’t even have to be #1 by much. Just being a little bit better than the other options can lead to huge results.


Remember principle #1: the change agent is a marginal figure. The mainstream wants to hear about the product from others in the mainstream, from someone clearly biased toward new things. Even people who understand that an innovator’s primary goal is to improve the company will regard him or her with suspicion simply by virtue the discomfort-inducing nature of new ideas. The only way to get in a position where people are compelled to try the product is through word-of-mouth from their peers. And the only way for people to actually talk about a product is to have it be the #1 choice for a certain group. And the only time a product to gets to #1 in a niche is when the backers “commit to one – and only one – beachhead target.” (emphasis in original)

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