Core vs. context, applied to people

Mike Crittenden
2 min readNov 2, 2020


Photo by Estúdio Bloom on Unsplash

The book The Unicorn Project by Gene Kim has a great section on core vs. context in business. Apparently it traces back to Dealing with Darwin by Geoffrey Moore.

Core creates lasting durable business advantage, whereas context is everything else. Core is what customers are willing to pay for, context is what they don’t care about.

For example, in The Unicorn Project, the company sells auto parts. That’s the core business. They also run a home-grown payroll system, which is context because customers don’t care about it.

The main point is this:

As we fund core features and applications, we need to make sure that context doesn’t kill core.

Say the that auto parts company ran into a situation where they were falling behind in the auto parts market because they’re working so much on the payroll system. That’s context killing core. That’s bad.

I started thinking about how this can apply to individual people, outside of the business context. Here’s my attempt at it:

Core is what contributes to my values, context is irrelevant to them.

For me, my values are growth and joy. So mine could look like:

Core creates lasting durable growth and/or joy, and context is everything else.

I like this because the original definition doesn’t say “never work on context.” It just says to “make sure that context doesn’t kill core.” So I can still zone out on YouTube (context) as long as I’m still leaving enough time and energy for the things I need for long term happiness and growth.

What would you say is your core? And what’s your context?

Originally published at on November 2, 2020.