Skip to content

Local Max Island

I heard this concept from Victor Cho at Intuit a few years ago and just read about it again this morning in Small is the New Big by Seth Godin.  The basic concept can be described in this picture.


Let’s say you live on the little mound at the bottom (Island A).  This is, in reality, where more products and services exist.  It might seem meager and lame, but to it’s inhabitants, it’s home.  It is safe and warm.  The population is enormous on Island A, so their isn’t much room, but it also allows its inhabitants to feel a sense of normalcy.  (If everyone lives here, it must be good).

However, it is obvious that island B has alot more room, resources and has a better view.  There are always examples of people who move to the bigger island.  Apple moved their with it’s iPhone and iPod devices.  Creative Labs is one of the first innovators of the MP3 player, but still lives on the little puny island A.

The problem for people on Island A lies is very simple.  It is a step backwards to go towards the big island.  The reason is the water that seperates the two islands.  You can’t teleport there.  You have to leave the safe comfort of your home and venture into unknown territory.  You have to swim!  And get wet!  With sharks in the water!  You could drown!  Holy Cow!

It’s no wonder that people avoid leaving home despite the obvious benefit of the better island.  This is the tragedy of the world.  We all see the bigger island.  We know it’s right there.  But we are terrified of the water and of taking a step backwards, so we wish to be on the big island, but we don’t summon the courage to be different and leave the little island.

Your product is on an island.  The question is “which island”?  And also, is there a bigger island you could be on?  There are people out there who know how to swim.  Do they feel depressed or empowered?  This is the billion dollar question.  If you want to succeed beyond your wildest dreams, you need to move to a bigger island.

Maybe this is wishful thinking, but I think if this picture can help one person to leave their Local Max Island then I will feel pretty fullfilled.

Published inUncategorized


  1. […] you can try and predict what will happen using these tools, but that leads me to questions about Local Max Island.  You can only predict what will happen if you don’t change anything […]

  2. […] contributed (if at all) to the winner?  Is the testing just improving our situation on local max island or is it potentially moving to the big island?  WHY something is better allows you to learn and […]

  3. […] An additional problem with this kind of testing is that it lends itself to incremental improvements and not revolutionary ideas.  I designed many experiments at Intuit for their websites including,, and  When you wanted to test a big idea, the entire page usually changed.  This made it difficult to understand what about the change was good and what was bad.  However, smaller changes on existing designs were easier to test, track and understand.  I still got to test some big ideas, but I didn’t get to increment those ideas.  This meant that I was stuck on Local Max Island. […]

  4. […] might say it was a better global maxima. I might believe that except that they took the new site down completely within 18 months and redid […]

  5. Glen, good read – but don’t you think this somewhere contradicts your post/thought about Consistency over change? How can you favor consistency and yet plan to take that plunge? Or probably, at times, you do go for a radical change, and then look for adding consistency to it. Food for thought.

    • Glen Lipka Glen Lipka

      No rule should be followed blindly. Read the book Practical Wisdom. Its a great explanation of how to have contradicting rules.

  6. […] 有人会说他们的决定是更好的全局最优解。如果不是他们在18个月之内把新网站撤掉,然后重做了一次,之后再重做一次,我也许会相信这个说法。由于人的问题,测试无法帮助这家公司避免上百万美元的损失。愚蠢的人类。 […]

Whatya think?

%d bloggers like this: