Removing Failure is a Recipe for Disaster

Today, my Momentum Dash had a quote:

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

This question has the same danger as, “What would you do if money were no object?”  Sure, sometimes imagining a world without scarcity can open new mental vistas, but the lurking implication that activities would be easier or better absent risk is faulty.

I know, you’re supposed to get your answer to what you’d do in a risk free world and use that as a guide for what to do in this one.  But more often, daydreaming about the person you imagine you’d be if choices had no cost leads to lazy bitterness about the real world of trade-offs.  It lulls you into thinking that your goals would be better achieved with fewer risks and costs.  This is never true.  The only kind of person sturdy enough to handle big success is the kind who became sturdy by going through all the shit it took to get there.

Remember the scene in “The Dark Knight Rises” where Bruce Wayne is trying to escape from a hole in the ground prison?  He can’t make the jump as long as the safety harness is tied around him.  He’s only capable of his full physical prowess when death is a real alternative.  Like it or not, that’s the way it works.

So if risk and scarcity and challenge weren’t an object, what would you do?  Whatever it is, you’d do it at less than your peak potential, which is only accessible in the face of real hardship.

Don’t long for a frictionless life.  You’d atrophy.

Saving is the Easy Part, Creating is the Hard Part

I was invited to go on a news show and talk about lack of savings for retirement among young people.  I plan to propose a different angle.  Saving wealth is easy.  Creating it is hard.  Focus on creating wealth first.

Invest in yourself in ways that enhance your wealth-creation power, rather than socking dollars away in an account that you have no control over and hoping it grows 3%.

$100 put into a 401(k) is nothing compared to something as small as $100 spent taking a business owner to lunch and asking them about their business for an hour, for one easy, mundane example.  Invest in building skills, experiences, reputation, and relationships that enhance your ability to create value.  Think about that first.  It’s worth more than any institutional degree or investment account, and the best part is you don’t have to wait and hope it works.  You can control it.

You Can Outsource the Work but Not the Vision

I get a lot of ideas.  Most come as quick epiphanies that get me excited, and I know I don’t want to put time (or lack the skill needed) into carefully shepherding it to completion, so I think of a person who could and pitch them.

An app, an article, a product, an event, a video, or whatever it may be.  I pitch the general idea, hand it off, and excitedly wait for the result.  It almost never works.  Whatever comes back just lacks that ill-defined inspiration I had in mind upon conception.

I’ve heard coders say that, “I have a great idea for an app, can you build it?” is like an author hearing, “I have a great idea for a book, can you write it?”  Most will laugh because writing code is a creative process and the vision can’t so easily be separated from the process.

It doesn’t mean you can’t work with a ghost writer or hire coders to build something, but it does mean you can’t just hand them an idea and walk away.  You have to share and re-share the vision, and co-create it with them every step of the way.  If you’re not able or willing to do that, it’s probably a waste of time to look for someone to do it for you.  You might as well go out with the pitch, “Hey, think up a project and build it.”

This reality pains me.  I have more ideas than ability or time I’m willing to dedicate.  I want someone to do all these things, even if I can only commit to a few.  Scarcity is a bitch.

How to Be Confident (tell the truth)

A friend asked what gave me the confidence to pitch the first Praxis investors on our projected growth when there was no real way to prove or back the numbers, since we were building something brand new.

If I approached it from a place of needing to make investors happy, or make them believe in the credibility of my numbers, I wouldn’t have been confident at all.  It’s unlikely any amount of market research or experience I can compile will result in data with a higher degree of credibility than the investors themselves might come up with.  But I don’t like playing on turf I’m unfamiliar with, so I didn’t.

Instead, I focused on who I am and what I know.  I know the problem we’re trying to solve is real, and here’s my argument for it.  I know the solution we’re building is logical and valuable to people, and here’s my argument.  I know we’re going to build this one way or the other, and it will either work or it won’t.  If it works and these logical arguments prove valid, it will work big.  If not, it won’t.  I won’t stop until I get an answer.  If you don’t buy my arguments, no hard feelings, we shouldn’t work together.  If you do, you already know this has huge potential at least up to the numbers I’ve projected here.  If so, let’s work together.

This keeps me entirely on territory I know and will defend with skin in the game all day.  I don’t need to pretend to know or be anything I don’t or amn’t (yes, I said “amn’t”).

When you stick to your turf and don’t fudge in areas outside it, confidence isn’t hard.  People value self-awareness and honesty more than prediction accuracy anyway.

Not Good, but Not Stupid

I take a not-stupid approach to goals and predictions for big projects.

They don’t need to be good.  There are too many variables to reasonably expect good road maps.  If you think it’s good, you might have too many blind-spots.

But it can’t be bad.  If it’s bad, you’re nowhere near ready.  It doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be not-stupid.  If you can get it to not stupid, you can proceed and adjust as more information is revealed.

Put Yourself in the Pressure Position

Sometimes the answer to stress is more stress.

Sometimes when I’m in a prolonged pinch that’s causing consternation because my solution just isn’t getting it done, or not fast enough anyway, I ratchet up the pressure, stress, and need to solve the problem even faster.  And it does the trick.

Crisis mode triggers different parts of the brain than maintenance mode.

A small example is finances.  Several times when the budget is stressfully tight, penny pinching and shuffling do nothing to ease the stress, but making a commitment to even larger expenditures pushes the brain to a different level of urgency and expectation that results in your world expanding to accommodate the need.

If you can’t solve it on time and under budget with current resources, try demanding more and faster.  It might bring an epiphany on how to get the resources needed, instead of just pondering how better to use what’s already there.

Parody as the Path to Truth

Parody might be the highest level of intellectual engagement.

It lets you say things you otherwise can’t, engage secret thoughts in the open, and entertain ideas you don’t fully believe or disbelieve as if they are true.  The ability to take a conversation down a road of uncertainty without the need to defend the ideas seriously has huge benefits for intellectual exploration.  The removal of defensiveness through humor disarms the roadblocks to discovery.

For any idea, person, hobby, or topic, go find a handful of Twitter parody accounts.  You’ll find more truth and intrigue there than you will on the serious expert and pundit accounts.  I do this with sports all the time.  Parody sports Twitter accounts are 10x more interesting, informative, and insightful than real ones.

My goal is to engage more and more things at the level of parody until every great truth is equal parts profound and funny.

Preparing for Luck

People say be prepared for the worst.  But you should also be prepared for the best.

If you’ve ever been blindsided by a real or hypothetical stroke of great fortune, you know what it feels like to realize you were dreaming too small, not planning for success, and not prepared to utilize it fully if and when it appeared.

There have been a number of times when I was working away on something and someone posed a question like, “If you were offered $25 million for this, would you sell?”, or, “What would you do with a $10 million investment?”, or, “What would happen if you had 100x the customers?”

These options were not real at the time, but the mere suggestion made me feel like Adam and Eve, hiding in the garden after they realized their nakedness.  It revealed how unprepared I was for that level of good fortune.

Lucky breaks are rare, but what makes them seem rarer is the fact that most of the time, most of us are utterly unprepared to see and seize them.  Pursuing goals with a big bold end in mind helps.  If you aim really, really high, the opportunity to leap many times farther and faster won’t blindside you, because you’ll already have imagined it.  If you ignore the question of ultimate destination, big opportunities will be things you don’t know how to properly employ.

There is a danger in being prepared for lucky breaks.  You might end up getting lost daydreaming about them, or doing things that won’t work without them.  This is a trap to be avoided by constant, daily work at your goals, and complete acceptance of a version of the journey that includes no luck at all.

Assume neutrality, but always be prepared for both the worst and the best.

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