Hypothesis: To go mainstream, your core essence will likely be diluted

Ope Adeoye 7 minute read

Just musings here...

When an idea or principle is in it's raw form, the purity and intensity of it burns so bright that it inspires everyone it touches. After such an idea takes hold within a core circle of ardent followers and its originators and attempt to reach a wider audience (usually in pursuit of greater impact), the core essence of it is usually watered down.

Makes sense ainnit?

Imagine a nice fragrance. Essentially a bunch of gaseous molecules. The fragrance is always so strong at the point where it was "sprayed". As the gas molecules move out, so that more people can percieve it, the intensity of the fragrance diminishes until people on its extreme end only catch a wisp of it. But now, more people have experienced it somehow.

A few anecdotes.


In christianity, I have heard people yearn for that "old time religion". You know, where it's not all prosperity preaching and miracle peddling, but a guide on core principles of love, humanity and preparation for the afterlife. But you would agree that in the past 2,000+ years though, christianity is now quite mainstream. As it travelled from the original 12 (or 120) to the nooks and cranies of the planet as prescribed, something has happned to it. More are aware, but also most have moved away from its core essence and live mostly by the populist and convenient expressions of it. I don't think this only applies to christianity though, other practices that have managed to go mainstream also have in them the purists and the wider followership.

Music & the arts

Many stories and movies (like brown sugar for instance) have been made about artistes who tried to stay true to their music but remained "small" within a passionately invested base. And when they decided they have had enough and would like to "hammer" too or get their music to a wider audience, they have had to create "popular" versions of their art. Even locally, consider Iyanya from project fame vs and today's Kukere Iyanya. It is what it is.

Politics (and leadership generally)

Who remembers when Oshiomole was a firebrand activist? Who can relate that with the "go and die" saga after he became governor? Even within offices, you see people who used to be one of the guys advocating for changes by the system, once they get put in a position where they can then properly extend that influence, they have to constantly make trade-offs to be agreeable to more people. Impact is possibly wider, but what they've always been known for is diluted. I remember getting kicked out of the "Fifth Column" office mailing list (a secret mailing list of "da boyz in da switch") several years ago when I first made middle managment.

Even my career sef

I am going too far. Even me... I used to believe in the craft of software design. Make it perfect vs make it appeal to many. (though Stan and Essien will probably not agree with me, when they remember my defence of Windows over Linux distros back at Splashers). But since my comeback from dev to PM to whatever-box-I-am-in-now, I have learnt to go from a strong focus on engineering to trading off in the name of "product", to just plain selling out in the name of quarterly numbers. As I made this cross-carpet movement, I have seen the breadth of change I can execute get wider. But hey... I've sold out.

But, what does all this philosophical bullshit have to do with anything?


Maybe in product design: Once you achieve a base of users who love and use your product like it's their life's blood, you would always get to a point where you have to decide if you want to reach a wider audience or stay pure. To reach a wider audience, you'd need to ask yourself, what's the core essence of the product you want to hold on to as much as possible and what are those trade offs you are willing to make to reach a wider audience. Also, how do you then ensure that your core/purist users don't feel you sold out and disconnect? Plan that in. Plan how you would steadily expand and to what degree you would dilute the product's essence as you fan out.

Maybe in company culture: As a company goes from a few founders to become a larger entity with more revenues and stakeholders, more people will join, the core values that held the founding group together will definitely get diluted. New investors will dilute the original strategy. This is the price of growth. Therefore, every company needs to decide upfront how they would tackle this phase when it finally comes. Or if they'd ever let that phase come to them. Would they like to stay as a small team of "purists" with fewer stakeholders? It's a decision to be made, and it's outcome planned for. 37 Signals inspires me a lot. A lot. Small "family" business with a global voice. But without the attendant tradeoffs. At least not too much of it, I think. I wonder how they did it.

This has gotten longer than the few paragraphs I had planned to put down. Sorry, no vex.

Peace out.