Big things start small. Just keep pushing

Herbert Lui
3 min readAug 27, 2019

It’s an adage that guides how Amazon founder and prominent shareholder letter writer Jeff Bezos operates his businesses. He elaborates in an interview with CNBC:

“The biggest oak starts from an acorn. You’ve got to be willing to let that acorn grow into a little sapling, and then finally into a small tree and then maybe one day it’ll be a big business on its own.”

Bezos sees this analogy as an acorn, whereas investor Warren Buffett (whose shareholder letters might’ve been an inspiration for Bezos’s) sees it as a snowball.

A young Buffett would make his money first aggressively in a newspaper route, then by investing in dozens of small businesses. His processes and work ethic enabled him to invest and compound that capital into a billion dollars, and then more, snowballing into the wealth he has today.

Everyday, there are plenty of people of all ages at the top of the hill. They’re interested in packing snowballs. Some of them dive right in, grabbing whatever they can find and getting started. Others stand waiting, watching these keeners to see if they can make the same snowball faster or with less work. Many, seeing bigger snowballs, or ones that grow faster, get discouraged. They abandon their snowball, leaving it stationary on the hill. If they’re lucky and it’s big enough, maybe it moves slowly and gains steam without them.

The snow is there. Nobody needs permission to make a snowball. And yet, as Christopher Locke writes in his Cluetrain Manifesto essay Internet Apocalypso, “But it’s a long road from permission to practice, and there’s plenty of negative reinforcement in between.”

For example, on a hot June summer day in New York City, in 2008, Donald Glover would start rolling the snowball of his music career down the hill, with the release of his Childish Gambino mixtape, “Sick Boi.” It wouldn’t make the same impact that other mixtapes did at the time. The easy comparison would be with another recording artist who also acted —Aubrey Graham released his mixtape as Drake, “So Far Gone,” which would take over the radio. Glover had no such momentum, but he would not stop pushing it for years.

While Graham might’ve picked a wetter type of snow and made a stronger snowball to start with, Glover was relentless. His snowball wasn’t sticking yet, but it was moving, and that was enough for him to stay in the game.

It would be easy to distinguish Glover, to say, “He’s a genius, and I’m not.” But genius isn’t always the defining factor in how a snowball moves. It’s just moving it and keeping it going that’s the key. Glover’s vision for his work wasn’t always that clear to him. He says in an interview in 2013, “I don’t even really understand what I’m doing. I don’t. And I don’t think anybody great understands what they’re doing, hopefully. I don’t think they do.”

It would be easy to say, “Don’t get discouraged.” But the plainer, more effective, adage applies even when you are discouraged:

“Just keep pushing.”

Herbert Lui

Covering the psychology of creative work for content creators, professionals, hobbyists, and independents. Author of Creative Doing: