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This article continues the series about the connection between entrepreneurship and personal growth called Entrepreneurs Grow at Warp Speed.
Learn the pain of indecision
When you have a business, you’ll be punished for indecision. You’ll lose customers, miss opportunities, and struggle with lower sales if you don’t get your act together. Many would-be entrepreneurs can’t even get their first venture going because they waffle in indecision.
The consequences of indecision can shred your self-esteem. It’s easy to get down on yourself for not making clear, committed decisions.
I like that the rewards and punishments of business have trained me to make efficient but careful decisions. This skill benefits me in all areas of life. Even when I have to do something as mundane as buying a new appliance, I can leverage the decision-making muscles I’ve built from thousands of business decisions over more than two decades.
Many experienced entrepreneurs develop simple processes for making decisions efficiently. Usually they have a process for making low-priority decisions and another process for making important decisions.
The process for making low priority decisions is often just to rely on one’s gut instinct or intuition. Some people use simple heuristics, such as “Buy the best quality I can afford” or “When in doubt, sleep on it” or “Make the decision after exercising.” This works fine when the consequences of making a mistake are low. For some decisions like this, you could also ask the advice of a friend, check online reviews, or use a few other simple processes for making a decision.
In your personal life you probably use simple heuristics for making a variety of everyday decisions. As you gain experience, you’re likely to upgrade your heuristics as well. If you need a new appliance, you could walk into a department store, talk to a salesperson, and make a purchase based on his/her recommendation. Another heuristic would be to go online, research models in your price range, check customer reviews, select a model based on your assessment of customer satisfaction, and buy it from an online store.
What about big decisions? You could fill a library with the books people have written about how to make important decisions. What matters here is finding a process that works well for you under real-world conditions.
It’s easy to get caught up in analysis paralysis. As an entrepreneur you’re going to feel some pressure to make decisions quickly and get into action because opportunities have a limited lifespan. If you wait until you have perfect data to make a wise decision, the opportunity will be long gone. The real skill here is to get used to adjusting your decisions dynamically.
Big decisions are often not a matter of being correct or incorrect. They’re value judgments about which option is better. You get to define better.
A major reason for indecision is being unclear about what matters to you. If you don’t know what matters, you’ll waffle a lot because your priorities will shift too much. Conscious decision-making can be very powerful because when you make a decision consciously, you use essentially the same set of values each time. This gives your decisions some consistency.
For big decisions I normally use the core principles of growth — truth, love, and power — as my guideposts. I favor decisions that will help me grow. Since the nature of my work is to explore personal growth and share what I learn, my own growth experiences eventually become lessons and insights that I share with others. One of my best decisions was to align my work in such a way that working on my personal growth (which I love) also creates a lot of value for others, thereby producing a viable business model.
Note also that this means I’m frequently going to turn down so-called business opportunities that might be counter-productive for my own path of personal growth. I got into business because I wanted to grow faster. Whenever I’ve lost sight of that, I’ve made poor decisions that often lowered my motivation to work.
To make decisions based on truth, love, and power is fairly straightforward.
First, I take a step back and try to see the truth of a situation, as if it’s someone else’s decision. I put on my Vulcan cap (only metaphorically — I don’t actually own a Vulcan cap) and pretend to be Spock analyzing the details logically. I look at the external truth by going over the known, measurable facts involved. Often I’ll write them down. I consider the predictable consequences of potential decisions. If I decide A, then B and C are likely consequences. If I decide D, then E and F will probably happen too. Then I look at the internal truth, which includes my own thoughts and feelings related to the decision.
I try to be as objective as I can here. I think about the immediate consequences of a decision, and I also try to imagine what additional ripples might occur as a result of those decisions.
Yesterday Rachelle and I were at Starbucks with a friend, and we tried to predict some additional consequences of self-driving cars. Some seem obvious, like taxi drivers becoming obsolete. But what isn’t so obvious? A diner at a popular truck stop may go out of business because self-driving trucks won’t need to stop for food. A company that sells software to truck driving schools may suffer because we won’t need more truck drivers. Demand for artificial hearts will increase because self-driving cars will cause fewer fatal accidents, meaning that fewer human hearts will be available for transplants, so a parts supplier for artificial hearts may see its business improve, at least until we have android bodies.
It’s like a game of chess. Sometimes a move that looks only so-so at first can look brilliant a few moves later, and vice versa. To make more intelligent decisions, favor the decision branches that lead to desirable long-term outcomes and which have short-term consequences that you can live with.
Second, I look at the love aspect. What do I want? What would I love to experience? How do I define desirable? What do I want to move towards? What do I want to shed or avoid? What excites me?
I delve into the subjective side. I try to gain clarity about what it would be like to experience the full consequences of a decision. Usually I do this part by lying on my couch or going for a walk and visualizing possibilities. I pay attention to my inner reaction to each scenario. The key here is to visualize each major decision branch as a whole new world I could enter. I often refer to these as different quantum realities. I imagine what it would feel like to experience each quantum reality as if it were already here.
For a while there’s a negotiation between the truth and love sides. I go back and forth between these, looking for an option that satisfies both sides.
Third, I use the power principle. When I feel I have an option that looks good objectively and subjectively, I move into that new space. I immerse myself in the new decision. I tend to slam the accelerator at this point, which is often necessary to overcome inertia and get moving.
What if I’m not sure? I’m never totally sure. But when I catch myself waffling too much, I use some simple heuristics to make a decision. One heuristic is Embrace the New. All else being equal, I favor going in new directions. But the more important higher-level heuristic is to embrace learning and growth. Usually the newer path will yield new lessons, so it’s a decent short-cut to use.
Another heuristic I use is to explore and experiment. Sometimes the only way to understand the possibilities is to test them.
Last year I was gung ho about going nomadic. It seemed like a wonderful idea, and I felt reasonably committed to it. I took a test trip in January, traveling through Europe for a few weeks. I’ve done that before, but this time as I was traveling, I imagined living on the road long-term as a digital nomad. Instead of approaching the trip as a temporary vacation, I imagined that it was my primary lifestyle, just to see how it felt.
I didn’t like it, which surprised me. Socially and experientially it was fun and engaging, but I found it difficult to be productive on the road — or to even want to be productive during those weeks. I enjoy travel best when I do it as a temporary accent to my life, as a way to soak up new experiences. I’m happiest on the road when I don’t try to be productive.
I’m sure there are good ways to be productive from the road, but at this time I still want to immerse myself in the more focused productivity I can experience in my home office, where the environment is stable, quiet, and neatly organized and where I can use a large monitor instead of a laptop screen.
When I got home, I experimented in the opposite direction to see if that felt better. I upgraded from a 24″ desktop monitor to a 27″ 4K model to make my home office even better. I decided not to travel and committed to staying home for most of the year, so I could complete more projects in one place. That felt great — much more congruent than going nomadic — and I’ve loved the results thus far. My 2015 home office productivity has been terrific.
Many entrepreneurial decisions are like this. You’ll be gung ho about them at first, but give yourself permission to change your mind as you gain experience. When you’ve made a mistake, admit it and adjust course.
If you find yourself at a crossroads, don’t just stand there like a hapless dolt. If the correct path for you isn’t clear, then walk a few miles down one path, backtrack to the crossroads, and walk a few miles down the other. This will give you more information to decide.
Once I’m in motion towards a new direction, I make a lot of turns. I continue to assess and evaluate as I go. I sometimes do daily or weekly TLP check-ins (truth, love, power) to adjust course. If things go south, I’ll often quit and make a different decision.
It’s usually easier to make good decisions when you’re in motion. When you’re standing still, you have no data coming in, which makes it harder to decide. Making decisions from a standstill can lead to a lot of waffling because you’ll keep second-guessing yourself. In those situations it’s usually better to just embrace the new and go forward into something you’ve never done before. Learn by trial and error. Don’t even expect to be right. Just try to learn.
Which approach is better?
- Waffle about starting a new business for a year. -or-
- Start a new business, try to make it work, quit after three months, and repeat a total of four times in a year.
Obviously you’re going to learn more from the second approach.
If you stick with the first approach for too long, eventually it’s going to get under your skin. You’re going to tire of missing so many opportunities. You’re going to get sick of being broke all the time.
Sometimes you need to feel the pain of indecision to start building your decision muscles.
Learn the pain of perfectionism
If you’re a perfectionist, entrepreneurship will teach you to stop being one, unless you’re also a masochist.
I’ve received emails from people who’ve waffled for a year or more over which domain name to buy for a new online business they wanted to start. Since they couldn’t decide what to name their website, they didn’t start the business. They let that one simple step stop them.
Maybe this is an important decision, but clearly it would have been better to pick just about anything, such as I-have-no-clue-what-to-name-this-site.com, instead of doing nothing for a year.
How much does a new domain name cost? How difficult would it be to change course if you screw up? Sure, you may lose some links if you switch domains, but it’s still better than doing nothing.
It’s okay to make a mistake and change your mind later. It’s not okay to do nothing for a year.
Look at the names of the Fortune 500 companies. Why is the top tech company named after a piece of fruit? Does the name Walmart make you excited to shop there? When you drive a car from General Motors, fueled by gas from Exxon Mobil or Chevron, does their amazing branding give you a titty hard-on?
What’s really going to annoy you in business is when you see people making fast, dumb decisions and passing you by. Other entrepreneurs will pick lame domain names for their websites. They’ll make ugly websites. They’ll pick the wrong technology to use. And they’ll make more money than you.
If you’re a perfectionist, let me give you a simple process for making decisions:
- Have a meal to get your blood sugar up.
- Select an option for your decision that you know is bad, such as naming your website StevePavlinaIsMyMaster.com, going out naked, or hosting your website with Hostgator.
- Now see if you can improve upon the decision from step 2 by coming up with an option that’s better. Use whatever option generating techniques you like, such as brainstorming lists of possibilities, asking people for suggestions, or consulting a Magic 8-ball.
- Keep repeating step 3, trying to progressively improve upon your previous best options.
- You can waffle as much as you want until you need to eat again.
- As soon as you put any food or drink (other than water) into your mouth, your last best option becomes your decision.
- If you cannot identify your last best option before you need to consume something other than water, then your decision is to go with your worst option from step 2.
If you can’t do this process without cheating, then maybe what you really need is to be told what to do. If you stubbornly refuse to make decisions for yourself, you can always work for someone who will decide for you.
I like that business rewards quality but punishes perfectionism. The ongoing pressure to make good decisions quickly can push you to grow much further than you otherwise would. I have made some truly horrendous decisions in my life, especially during my late teens, and being an entrepreneur has refined my decision-making skills far beyond the impulsive recklessness of youth, but without losing the edginess and stimulation I find so rewarding.
Learn the pain of denial
The rapid pace of technological innovation forces us to keep reinventing ourselves and our businesses if we are to survive and thrive. But when we’re faced with new opportunities and threats, it can be difficult to shift directions. Changing course often requires a tremendous amount of work with no guarantee of success. It seems easier and safer to keep doing what we’ve been doing.
As the saying goes, old habits die hard. But to succeed in business, sometimes old habits need to die, even when it seems like they still have a lot of life left in them.
Maybe Encyclopedia Britannica could have become Wikipedia. Maybe Kodak could have owned digital photography. Momentum can be deadly if you can’t get your business to turn when it needs to.
If you’re a taxi driver today, do you see that your business model is going bye-bye? Your customers are being snatched up by ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and within a few more years, you’ll have competition from self-driving cars as well. Do you really think that any sort of collective action can stop this? This would be a great time to start retraining yourself for a new line of work.
Entrepreneurship punishes denial and clinginess and rewards flexibility. If becoming more flexible, adaptable, and nimble appeals to you on a personal level, entrepreneurship can help you calibrate and fine-tune these qualities.
Change can seem threatening, but change also means opportunity. The forces that hurt many established businesses simultaneously spawn wonderful new business models for other entrepreneurs.
Does the rapid pace of change in the world worry you or excite you? Perhaps it’s a bit of both. The skills you’ll learn as an entrepreneur can help you see change as exciting and thrilling, even as you know that you’ll have to work hard to keep up.
Stop being a technology dunce
Technology in particular is becoming an increasingly important part of business. Some of the rippling changes we’re seeing in the world are unlike anything we’ve had to deal with before.
I cringe when I hear an entrepreneur say something like, “I’m just not very good with technology” or “I don’t really understand computers.” The worst part is when I hear this from someone trying to start or build an online business.
You don’t stand much of a chance competing in a world where technology is infecting every business if you think it’s okay to claim technological duncehood. Technology dunces get eaten, chewed up, and spit out in today’s world of business.
If you’re an entrepreneur today, you cannot afford to be a technology dunce anymore. Those days are gone. You may have been able to coast up until now, but the situation is rapidly changing. If your outdated business model isn’t under attack yet from other entrepreneurs with superior tech skills, it soon will be.
It’s important to recognize and accept that technology and business are married now. If you want to go into business today and succeed, technology will surely be an integral part of your roadmap.
After the invention and refinement of the steam engine, the whole world changed. No longer were we held back by the biological limits of muscle tissue. Horse power was replaced by horsepower. Many entrepreneurs rode this wave of change to great wealth and success. Many businesses that stubbornly resisted these technological shifts were trampled and forgotten.
What the steam engine did for our muscles, computer hardware and software is doing for our minds, and communications technology is doing for our voices. Once again, we’ve pushed past the limits of our biology.
If you want to be an intelligent entrepreneur today, then get with today’s program. Ride this wave of change for your benefit and the benefit of your customers. Enjoy the fun and excitement of being swept up in it. Don’t wallow in horse dung.
If you understand the tech side of your business well enough, you can leverage technology to great effect. You can make your business do things that would be otherwise impossible. And you can free yourself from a tremendous amount of drudgery that is simply no longer necessary in today’s world.
If you have strong enough tech skills, you won’t need a job to cover your expenses. You can still get a job if you want, such as for personal growth reasons, but you won’t need one. You’ll be able to leverage your tech skills to earn all the money you need to survive and thrive financially.
Almost all of the money I’ve earned in my life has come via the Internet, most of it in the form of passive income that continues to flow whether I keep working or not. I used my tech skills to solve the income problem, so I didn’t have to waste my life working for someone else just to pay for my rent, food, etc. Computers and software handle most of the marketing, distribution, and income generation aspects of my business. I mainly do the fun and creative parts. When I don’t want to work, the business largely maintains itself, and income continues to flow.
Did this require some kind of extraordinary genius? Of course not. Among people with strong tech skills, it’s commonplace. Many people have been doing this since at least the 1990s. I started on this path in 1995.
If you don’t know how to get today’s technology to solve the income problem for you, you can learn. It’s even easier today than it was when I started. Today’s computers and software are much more powerful, and the Internet is a whole lot bigger and more accessible.
I love, love, love that business rewards good tech skills. This encourages me to keep learning and growing. New tech knowledge is exploding and recombining much faster than my ability to keep up with it, and that’s wonderful because everyone else is in the same boat. We’re all dazed and confused by the pace of change, and that’s why there are so many opportunities and possibilities out there.
To solve the income problem without getting a job, you only need to find one combo that works. And when it breaks down, there will be countless other combos that will work even better.
Business will punish you for being technologically lazy, ignorant, or confused. The game is always racing ahead, and if you fall behind, you’ll be left behind.
One reason to participate in the game is that you want the extra pressure to stay close to the front of this wave of change, and you dislike the idea of falling behind. Another reason is that you like using technology to take care of your needs instead of having to work so hard to meet those needs yourself.
During the summer I toured the largest data center in the world, which just so happens to be located in Las Vegas, only 15 minutes from where I live. Apparently Nevada has the least natural disasters of any U.S. state, which makes it a great place to host a data center. I got to see the actual servers running major Internet operations, including eBay, Amazon, Disney, Microsoft, and more — rack after rack of servers processing millions of transactions in a climate-controlled environment. The place had multiple redundant air conditioning units, each one the size of a small house. It had redundant power systems. It had two metal roofs, each one capable of withstanding 200 mph winds. It had armed guards and security checkpoints.
It was great to see so much modern technology in person. It struck me that every server was an automated money-making machine. Thousands of businesses were leveraging these servers to do their bidding. Only decades earlier such operations wouldn’t even have been possible.
My business is nowhere near that level, but it still inspires me to see what’s possible as an entrepreneur today — and to think about what will be possible in the years ahead. Even my tiny little business does things that would have been impossible a generation earlier. Thousands of people all around the planet will read this article only hours after I finished writing it, with some of them starting to read it only seconds after I click “Publish.” How cool is that?
If being an entrepreneur today doesn’t make your heart sing now and then, then stop wallowing in the technological dung heap, and do whatever it takes to bring your tech skills into the modern era. We all have to learn this from scratch as babies, but if you remain an ignorant tech baby, you’re like that black stuff in The Matrix — you know, the slime that’s created when dead bodies get recycled and fed back to the living intravenously.
I love the evolving relationship between technology and personal growth. Many years ago, you could say that personal growth was married to psychology. But today it’s fair to say that personal growth has already divorced psychology and is now engaged to technology. Pretty soon personal growth and technology will be married. You should attend that wedding.
If you’re an entrepreneur today, don’t be a technology dunce. It’s not cute. It’s just stupid.