On Feedback and Data Gathering

Expressing an opinion is free.  Everyone will tell you they think your idea is good.  That’s not the same as giving up something to read it or listen to it or purchase it.  Focus groups, surveys, polls, and research can’t tell you as much as putting a product or idea out into the world.  In a marketplace where people have to trade-off other opportunities to take advantage of what you’ve made, you’ll learn more about its value than any test-case or lab experiment.

It doesn’t mean you can’t gather some facts or be informed.  But it’s more important to have a sound theory, and a clear bet on what gap you’re filling or value you’re creating than it is to have a lot of cost-less expressions from disinterested parties of whether or not they imagine it will be valuable.

Do it if it’s valuable to you and if you believe in your unique vision.  Do it if the process of answering the question, “Is this a good idea?” is exciting in and of itself.  Do it if you’re willing to fail to get the answer.

Opportunities That 98% of People Should Take But You Shouldn’t

When you start to find your groove and get a lot of stuff done you will be in high demand.  You’ll compile a network of interesting people.  You’ll have no shortage of projects.  Inevitably, a phenomenal opportunity will be presented to you.  One that would be a no-brainer for anyone to jump on.  Except you.

One of your defining moments is likely to be the day you say no to an opportunity that almost everyone else would and should say yes to.  If you spend your life doing the sensible thing that everyone else is trying to do, and taking every opportunity that others say they’d kill for, at some point you will stop being you.  You’ll be the sum of “good” decisions in the aggregate.

This doesn’t mean you should turn down every good thing that comes your way just to be different.  You’d probably better take most of them.  But there will be rare moments when you know in your gut it’s not for you, even though everything about it seems amazing.  A simple but effective test is to let yourself really and fully imagine saying yes.  Imagine how it plays out, how it feels, how it challenges you and makes you grow.  Then imagine yourself saying no.  How does it feel to say it, and how does it feel to live without doing the thing?  Which one resonates with you more?  Which one aligns with who you are and makes you feel more at peace?

When others would freak out to discover you said no to it, but you know for sure it’s not right for you, you’re probably on the path to your sweet spot.

Why Do Kids Do What Their Parents Do?

Why do so many children follow in their parents professional footsteps?  Investigate professional sports, or entertainment, or entrepreneurship, and you’ll find a large percentage of those making a living there had parents who did the same.  I do not discount the role played by heredity.  Nor do I overlook the effects of learning from parents how to ply the craft, or connections parents can provide.  But I think there’s something else going on as well.  Kids who grow up with parents that do X do not feel the need to seek permission to pursue a career in X.

If I asked you in all seriousness if you want to change life direction and become a rock star you’d probably laugh.  You’d laugh because you see rock star as something outside the realm of possibility for you.  Even if you have some musical interest or talent, you’d feel sheepish about attempting to reach rock star status.  You’d probably want to hone your skills in private for a very long time before unveiling them to the world, and even then rock star might seem too distant a target.

But I bet your response would be different if you had a parent who was a rock star.  Even if you’d not spent much time on music or asked your rock star parent for advice and connections, you’d view a music career as a real possibility.  The things you’ve seen people close to you do are possible.  They’re matter of fact things that don’t seem all that lofty.  Kids who grow up around actors aren’t embarrassed to make head-shots or go to auditions.  Kids with athlete parents aren’t intimidated by tryouts or the idea of being team captain.  I suspect it’s more for this reason than pure nepotism that even mediocre performers often have careers in entertainment when they’re related to a star.  They simply don’t fear the things required to step out and give it a try.

Most kids feel the need to ask for permission pursue big dreams.  They think they need to be invited or discovered.  If you’ve never seen someone who does it except on TV it seems far-off.  If you’re familiar with it, it automatically becomes a part of your set of options and you need no one’s permission to pursue it.

The first hurdle to doing anything is knowing you don’t need permission.  Bring your heroes down to earth.  Remember they’re just fallible, searching people.  Imagine what their kids must think of them, as kids always see the weak and mundane side as well as the great.  Expand your set of options beyond that which is familiar; or rather, make all options familiar.

Floating Downstream is Not an Accomplishment

“Tell me something you’ve accomplished.”

A friend said he always has trouble getting an answer to this question.  People think and think, and are unable to come up with an accomplishment.  He probes a little.  He asks if they graduated from high school.  Everyone says yes.  He asks why they didn’t mention that.  “I just didn’t really think of it I guess.”  They didn’t think of it because they didn’t accomplish it.

To accomplish something implies a goal, a series of willful actions, and a resulting effect.  It implies a conscious challenge or obstacle, and conscious effort to overcome it and reach the desired end.  High school is nothing like this for almost everyone who stumbles through.

Most people don’t really choose to go to high school.  It’s just sort of the default.  Most people don’t really fight hard to graduate.  It just sort of happens.  In fact, it requires more conscious effort to not go, or not graduate.  Schooling is, for the student, mostly a passive process.  It’s something that happens to them and around them.  They get poked and prodded and punished and rewarded as they’re corralled through the maze.  Many go through the whole experience half-asleep.  If you don’t actively resist, you get spit out with a diploma at the appointed time.

No wonder people don’t think of graduating high school when asked to share something they’ve accomplished.  The ability to alter your world and drive cause and effect is empowering.  It’s hard to forget when you’ve generated something desired.  Children don’t take any special pleasure in things that just happen to them; they delight in things they cause.  Randomly give a baby a toy and they might enjoy it, but there’s no comparison to the beaming pride on their face when they finally reach a hard-to get object after repeated attempts.

For many, the chances to really accomplish something are few until they are released from the pretend world of schooling and into the wider world.  No wonder many struggle with a low sense of self-worth, or high demand for externally provided direction.