We’ve all heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20. While looking back is definitely clearer than looking forward, but are our perceptions of the past always completely accurate?
I often study the work of famous entrepreneurs, hoping to learn whatever I can from their failures and successes, but one very common thread among most entrepreneurs is that none of them completely knew what they were doing moving forward. Many entrepreneurs have an initial vision, but have to pivot and reposition their business and approach countless of times before they hit the ball out of the park.
No one can predict the future with much precision and accuracy. That’s why venture capital firms struggle to turn a profit, why weathermen are always wrong, and investing in the stock market is a giant guessing game.
Life and entrepreneurship especially is riddled with unknowns. By definition, being an entrepreneur means that you are doing something that no one has done before, creating and shifting markets in completely new ways.
But yet, for some people, we feel like we need to have all the dots connected moving forward.
When I first started studying entrepreneurs, I used to think that I needed to figure everything out before starting my first company, driving me to read as many blogs and books as I possibly could. I would try to learn as much as I could about what works and what doesn’t in order to build a strategy that won’t fail.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to ignore the advice and lessons from entrepreneurs, because mentorship and guidance is invaluable. I’m simply saying that you don’t need to have everything figured out.
Sometimes the best place to be is knowing you have no idea what you’re doing and go for it anyways (tweet that). That’s the only way to figure out definitely whether something works or not. Don’t be afraid that you are too uninformed, too under-qualified, or inadequate of making a significant change in the world, whether it be starting a company, running a nonprofit, or anything else along those lines.
An entrepreneur, at it’s very core, is simply someone who makes things happen by taking risks.
I’ve shared before that in my younger days, I thought I didn’t like reading.
It wasn’t until I nearly turned 18 that I found my love for reading books about real life situations and perspectives.
This year, I’m going to try to read as many books as I can. Books are pretty much a compilation of a person’s life work and life lessons, and by sitting down for a couple of hours and fifteen dollars, I can get a glimpse into a successful person’s process.
Even if I only get one thing out of a book, it was worth it.
In a casual conversation I had a couple weeks ago, I was sharing some of the books that had completely changed my life, and one of my friends asked me how I had so much time to read so much.
The truth is, I don’t have time not to be reading. By reading the lives of people, I am effectively getting perspective from their lives about the challenges they faced and how they overcame the challenges. By reading books, I am actually helping myself save time. I become more aware of the problems and the questions long before they come up in my personal life.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that I go out and read every single thing that I can find. I’m a big advocate of watching what content you consume. My focus then, is taking the time to figure out what I am learning from each book that I read. Reading reviews is a helpful way to determine whether a book will be helpful for me or not.
In the wise words in Letters from a Stoic by Seneca the Younger,
You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.
Everywhere means nowhere.
When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.
And the same thing must hold true of men who seek intimate acquaintance with no single author, but visit them all in a hasty and hurried manner.
Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong.
Oh. And follow me on goodreads.
Many of my friends have been going on diets lately, such as becoming vegan or pescatarian. Besides wanting to cook a steak and shove it down their mouth, I have also taken the time to consider my own diet.
But it also got me thinking about the content I digest. I’m constantly finding new books to read, new blogs to follow, and new TED talks to watch. And over the last year, I don’t know if I can really say that all the content that I consume has actually helped me to be a more knowledgeable and wise individual. Maybe it has, maybe it hasn’t.
But I think something I did realize was that knowledge isn’t how much content you are able to cover. It isn’t about how many books you read or blogs you follow, but knowledge is more of what you are able to share and produce. Just like with subjects learned in school upon your daily life, it doesn’t really help you to know something unless you are able to apply it and use it.
So while rethinking some critical things about the way that I consume content, I realized a couple of things, and that the content you consume can be seen in a similar way as the food you consume.
Disclaimer: The following is only meant to be an illustration, not a perfect translation of food groups. Nor is it meant to categorize every single type of content out there.
Practical Content – Bread, Starch, Rice, Pasta (carbs) This kind of content is generally things that are interesting to the average person, but also practical and applicable to everyday life. Things like learning how to do better work fall into this category. Also, the average TED talk that is simplified, inspiring, and relevant can be considered in this area.
Necessary Content – Fruits and Vegetables (vitamins) Necessary content is usually the content that contains the little details that may not be fun to read, but are necessary for the work that you do. Things like manuals, research, instructional material, etc.
Perspective Content – Meat (protein) This is the kind of content that helps build you as a person by slowly helping you to see new perspectives. These generally take a longer time of immersion and pondering before any kind of life change becomes visible, but it is always the investment for the long term that makes the difference. This is the stuff that you read about famous and successful people, or the long and involved stories and learning process that eventually helps you to grow as a person.
Entertainment Content – Candy (sugar) This kind of content is usually the kind that is at your edge of understanding and application; things that are generally “out there”. Reading them gets you excited and blows your mind, but ultimately it has little nutritional value in your practical, everyday life.
None of these are bad in it of themselves, but used together and in moderation helps an individual to really learn and grow.
We all learned this somewhere around elementary school.
I think I still might have a problem with this today.
I eat too fast, and maybe I don’t chew before I swallow. I just eat.
And then I start talking because everyone has to hear everything that I have to say, and a piece of broccoli comes flying out of my mouth into someone else’s face.
2014 is the year of learning how to listen more and talk less.
Eating with your mouth full isn’t simply an etiquette that applies to the dining table. It applies to your thoughts, your learning, and any other time you’re bringing new things into your life.
Talking with your mouth full makes your talk less coherent, less understandable, messier, and much less attractive.
Enjoy your food, your learning processes, and your thoughts. There will always be time to share.
One thing that business principles revolve around is the basic idea of providing value. All businesses revolve around the exchange of value.
Cost then, is merely the determination of value. If I price something at fifty dollars, that means that I am determining that the value of my product is worth the value of fifty dollars. In fact, by selling something for fifty dollars, that means that the value of fifty dollars is more valuable to me than the value of my product to me.
However, as Seth Godin comments, the internet age is now throwing a curveball into the game.
“In a competitive, undifferentiated market, the price will generally be lowered by competitors until it is just above marginal cost. Think about that… If it costs a dollar to make something, and your competitor is selling for $1.10, then in an efficient market, you have every incentive to sell your item for a penny less than that. It’s better than not selling it.
There are many implications of this, the first being the explanation of why so much stuff online is free. Free is a magical concept, the place where trial and virality live. If the marginal cost of a new user is virtually zero (and in an ad supported business, a new user is actually profitable, not a cost) then it’s no surprise that it’s hard to charge for your app when there are other apps that do precisely what yours does.
Big, established companies have traditionally had a difficult time understanding this concept. The market for ebooks, for example, ended up in Federal court because otherwise smart people in book publishing couldn’t get their arms around the idea that their marginal cost of an ebook delivered by Amazon was precisely zero. No paper, no shipping, no ink.” – Seth Godin
The reason that Facebook is able to offer a social network for free is because there is nearly no marginal cost for adding another user, and by adding another user, they have a larger collection of users that they can leverage for advertisements, publicity, etc.
As a new experiment on diplateevo, I have decided to give away one free book every month through a random drawing. It is called polyglot, and you can check it out here. I am doing this for a number of reasons.
- I want to provide a resource for people to learn more. By providing a free book, hopefully someone will be able to benefit from the wisdom written in the book. This will hopefully also be a way for my readers to expand their knowledge of what people are currently publishing.
- I want to experiment with the idea of giving away free books and see how people respond. I am interested to see what kind of community I can build by giving away free books, and have a better feel for what people need.
- I want to see how knowledge gets passed around. As part of the polyglot program, books that have been given out for free are encouraged to be continually given away and passed around for free. I am interested to see where my books will end up.
So go ahead and let all your friends and family know, and I will be picking the first winner next Wednesday!
Recently, a friend messaged me on Facebook, asking a question about pursuing his dream. It went something like this:
Friend: What would you consider more noble, right, and helpful for the future: working toward a passion and balancing work or sacrificing a lot of time for an excellent opportunity that will help you in the future (but it may interfere with your passion and work/life balance)? And briefly why?
Me: what do you define as an “excellent opportunity” and what do you define as “helping you”?
Friend: “Helping you” as in stable job and income flow, and “Excellent opportunity” as a competitive internship.
Me: haha as I thought. I mean it’s ultimately your choice.
Friend: I just rejected a competitive internship so I can pursue my research interest in cryptography and systems research, so I am not sure what I did was right.
This is a struggle familiar among all persons of the human race. Everyone struggles at some point with whether they should pursue what they love or pursue what is practical. At the very core, it is a struggle between security and risk.
And the thing is, people are constantly faced with such decisions nearly every day. Almost every decision has an option that appears to be more secure, and an option that appears to be riskier.
To my friend, it seems foolish to reject a competitive internship that is very practical and desired by many, and he is justified in thinking that way. If an internship looks good on your resume, will help you find employment in the future, and perhaps can provide you some money, it almost doesn’t make sense to not accept it. However, the part of being competent and wise person is knowing when to reject good looking opportunities in order to pursue prospects that are more appropriate for them.
My Old Model Airplane Hobby
Yesterday, I rummaged through my closet, pulling out my collection of airplanes that I had built in middle school.
In middle school, I used to build and fly wooden airplanes. It was a hobby that consumed hours of my day, and kept me from having a social life and perfect grades. Building and flying airplanes gave me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that appealed to me, and almost completely consumed me. I loved the feeling of completing a plane, winding up the rubber band, and letting it take off into the air, watching it circle around the gym.
However, by the time I reached high school, I stopped building and flying. It wasn’t because I got bored with the craft, nor was it because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped because I realized that there were bigger and better things for me, and that I had to let go of how much time I was spending on it.
It was a conscious and intentional step for me to say no to something that was extremely attractive to me in order to move on in my process. I don’t regret any of the time, money, or energy I spent on building and flying these airplanes, and I would love to have the chance to once again fly them with someone.
Being Competent and Rejecting Opportunities
Not all opportunities that present themselves to you are ones that you should take. Being able to decisively and confidently reject an opportunity shows that a person truly understands what they want, what their goal is, and how they are going to get there.
In order to navigate the decisions that you have to make and opportunities that are made available to you, there are three main elements to consider.
- Definite of Purpose – I need to know who I am.
- Knowledge of What One Wants and How One Wants to Get There – I need to know what I want.
- A Burning Desire to Possess it – I need to declare that I will get it.
The person who doesn’t know who they are, doesn’t know what they want, and doesn’t really want it is the person that will accept any random opportunity that comes their way, hoping that somewhere somehow, it will lead them to a better place.
But without the intentional drive and passion to get what you want, it’s easy to get lost and confused in the midst of all the tempting, shiny opportunities.
“The words you hear are what you start to think about. The words you start to think about in your mind will form your goals, beliefs, and ideas. These will move from your mind to your heart. These become an outward habit. These define your character.” – Anthony Arnold
Knowing who you are and what you want helps you to filter and process the things that you listen to and the things that you think about. And as these thoughts eventually determine your character, they also determine the way you carry yourself and how you relate to and impact the people around you.
That’s why you can’t just take every opportunity or thought that presents itself, you have to learn to filter and process what actually matters.