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Why can’t we take an entrepreneurial approach to some of our life decisions?

My theory that we spend too much time thinking through what we want to do as opposed to just trying things and seeing what happens...

Jack Mara     |     Jan 2, 2016


Startup founders are taught not to worry too much about the “idea.” What matters is trying different experiments in the market and pivoting until you find product-market fit. Spending too much time thinking through ideas is considered a waste. You take action and see where the journey leads. You do small experiments to see what sticks without worrying about the multi-year plan for any individual experiment. I recently started wondering if this mindset can work well with other decisions in life.

For example, I often speak with people who are thinking about applying to business school or are thinking about trying to start a company. In almost every instance, people are thinking through these decisions in an all or nothing sense. Either take the leap and spend a tremendous amount of time trying to accomplish the goal, or don’t do it all. This thought process makes “taking the leap” sound really scary. It’s a huge time commitment and it puts you all-in emotionally. This paralyzes people in continuous thinking mode. Why start a process that will suck up so much time and energy unless you truly know it is what you want? This causes people to spend years thinking without ever actually doing.

I propose a different approach – an entrepreneurial approach. Instead of thinking, just run a small experiment and see what happens. For example, if you are thinking about business school, devote just three hours a week studying for the GMAT and learning about the process. Don’t worry about going all in or committing to a time intensive journey. Just see what happens. By doing, you will learn something, something you will not learn by just thinking. Maybe you realize the challenge excites you. Maybe every second of those three hours is painful. Maybe it becomes evident you can crush the GMAT with limited studying, or maybe you suck at it. The journey of taking action will lead somewhere, even if that somewhere is “this is not what I actually want.” But then at least you know that it makes sense to move on, and you learn fast instead of just thinking about it for years.

The same logic applies to starting a company. Stop perpetually thinking about it and actually dedicate a couple of hours a week to trying. You will learn what it is actually like to start a company from scratch. Do you enjoy the challenge? Are you actually so passionate that you are willing to grind and grind for years? Is it easy to increase the hours because it is so fun and barely feels like work? Or do you absolutely dread making that three hour commitment each week? The journey will take you somewhere, just thinking will keep you in a perpetual holding pattern.

The problem is we are heavily wired against this theory. We are taught to set a goal and never give up. Once we start, we believe we fail if we do not follow all the way through. But if we just think about trying, but never actually try, we do not view this as failure. It is almost like thinking about it puts us in this imaginary protective bubble – we can justify that we can accomplish the goal if only we took the leap. If we never try, we trick ourselves into believing we never fail1. I believe our mindset needs to change. Instead of always thinking about trying X, we need to test it out and we need to be willing to run a test without an all or nothing mentality.

Entrepreneurship took a leap forward when entrepreneurs stopped focusing on intensely thinking through ideas and learned to just take action, try small experiments in the market and see what happens. Entrepreneurs stopped worrying about the failure of individual experiences and instead just tried ideas fast. Why can’t we learn to do this with different decisions in our lives? Why can’t we just try a small, low risk experiment to see how it goes, see what we learn and see where the journey takes us? Won’t we figure things out faster with this approach as opposed to always thinking and considering?

1One trick to making the “run small experiments” approach easier is to not even tell anyone you are doing these experiments. When we make announcements about what we are doing or what we are trying to achieve to our friends it raises the stakes. It makes us feel obligated to follow through and leads to thinking of ourselves as failures if we do not.

Written by Jack Mara - Please submit all responses to jackmara@10Thoughts.com

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