The tools of progress

The extreme example of buy-in being free but not cheap is a gold rush.

In the year 1849 it’s free to buy into the idea that California contains more easily-mineable gold than “all the people in California could take out in fifty years.”

Around that time, a 30-year old named Samuel Brannan made a lot of money selling supplies to many who had bought into this idea.

His store made enormous profits by selling as much as $5,000 (about $120,000 in 2005 dollars) in goods per day to miners.

Source: This delightful PBS story about Samuel Brannan.

It’s easy to see this buy-in -> purchase dynamic at play with a physical quest like mining or panning for gold. The hat you’re wearing isn’t good for panning, so you buy a pan. The pocketknife you’re carrying isn’t good for digging, so you buy a pickaxe and shovel.

There are less extreme, and less physical examples:

  • Buy into the idea of leading product design with research -> buy learning experiences/products to get better at research.
  • Buy into the idea of meditation as an effective way to improve wellbeing -> buy a SaaS subscription and pay to attend a meditation retreat
  • Buy into the idea that indie journalists can speak truths that institutionally-employed journalists can’t -> pay for multiple Substack subscriptions
  • Buy into the idea that speaking is a great way to generate leads -> pay for a speaking coach
  • Buy into the idea that your business needs to have a compelling story at its center -> pay for help crafting that story

These all strike me as examples of buying into something bigger — bigger or more important than one company or person — and then buying things or experiences as a result of the initial buy-in. The things or experiences help manifest or realize the initial buy-in; the things help turn an idea into results. The things, it seems, are tools that operate in support of the idea.

If you read that PBS story linked above, you might notice that Samuel Brannan was involved in both the idea (“there’s gold in them thar hills!”) and the sale of the tools (“you’re going to need a few important things if you want that gold”). It’s easy to view Brannan as a greedy, morally-unconstrained huckster promoting a lie to enrich himself.

But I think it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of morally neutral or more-good-than-bad ideas out there for folks to buy into and opportunities to sell them tools that help manifest or realize or resultify their buy-in.


Series Navigation<< Buy-in is free, but it might not be cheapSharing with, and efficiency >>