The Missing Piece


My favorite Shel Silverstein book is called The Missing Piece. It’s about a crudely drawn, circle-like creature that appears to have a wedge cut out of it. The creature thinks that the wedge is its missing piece, and so it goes around looking for its missing piece.

And here’s the song he sings to himself as he goes:

Oh, I’m lookin’ for my missin’ piece
I’m lookin’ for my missin’ piece
Hi-dee-ho, here I go
lookin’ for my missin’ piece

[Spoiler Alert]

The Missing Piece goes around looking for the correct-sized wedge. It finds a wedge too small and a wedge too big. Finally, the creature finds the perfect-sized wedge for its body. But when the creature inserts the wedge into the “missing” section, it discovers some undiscovered consequences. It ends up rolling far too fast down hills and it can no longer stop to have conversations with other creatures or experience any of the things it had enjoyed in the past. And so the creature abandons the wedge that fits, and goes back to its search for the missing piece.

It’s part Zen Koan and part children’s book, but one with parallels I see all over the startup world.

In my practice and in conversations I have with many would-be entrepreneurs, I feel that many are “searching for their missing piece.” They lament that once they have a certain amount of money, or a certain amount of free time, or a certain partner with a skill set, then at that moment, they’ll be able to move forward with their business.

But unlike the crudely drawn character in the Shel Silverstein book, some use the missing piece as an excuse to abandon the quest. If you take Steve Blank’s definition of a startup, “a partnership or temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model,” the searching is an essential part of the equation. It’s the verb in the definition of a startup. Without that action, without that search, there cannot and never will be a business.

You won’t be “complete” when you receive angel investments, VC funding, or a successful exit. I keep hearing people say that once I get this or that, then I’ll be all set. But I think that’s exactly wrong.

In startups and elsewhere, the act of searching is the whole point. As long as you’re doing that, you’re on the right path.

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