I want to be a failer.
As I continue to try and identify what separates mediocrity from greatness, this concept of action and failure continues to bubble to the surface. Many people who I personally consider to be doing (or have done) great work, such as Tim Ferris, Steve Jobs, Clayton Christensen, Napolean Hill and Brad Feld all have similar philosophies about how action is a primary ingredient in greatness.
Observe the people around you. Some people never want to make a mistake. You probably know somebody like this. There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s actually quite a noble purpose. Nobody wants to fail. But this seemingly biological instinct to never falter is likely the exact ingredient that holds many people back from achieving their true potential. Not wanting to fail, by definition, brings with it a slower process of acting and decision-making.
On the flip side of this there is another type of person, he or she is likely someone who seems careless and rash. People feel that they don’t always think things through. They make decisions with confidence and conviction but are quick to change direction if things don’t go their way. They get shit done – even if things aren’t perfect. They are failers.
General Colin Powell expected his Commanders to make decisions with 40% of the available information. [1. His 40/70 rule stated that you shouldn’t make a decision with less than 40% of the information but that you should never wait until you have more than 70%.] The reasoning behind this is that the vast majority of the time, inaction is more toxic than the wrong action. And this couldn’t be truer with startups.
It’s far easier to continue to collect information than it is to actually put the rubber to the road and act. I’ve met so many entrepreneurs in the last couple of years who absolutely love talking about their ideas. They talk about the market research they’ve done, the feature lists and the prototypes. They talk about how they’re going to disrupt the market as soon as…they perfect version one. Or find the perfect cofounder. Or get the financing to quit their job. But often these are reasons to postpone taking an action that could have a negative reaction.
The truth of the matter is if this person would just act, they would receive the information they need to take the next step. Many people, myself included, have found themselves in the grips of analysis paralysis. It’s difficult when you’re trying to make a decision to try and determine how much information you need and where the important elements truly lie. But information collecting and analysis have diminishing returns after a certain point. It’s akin to trying to stare at a motor and determine what’s wrong with it – you’re just going to have to tear the thing apart and start inspecting the pieces one-by-one.
The hard truth is that the negative consequences of indecision will only compound as one moves further into the life of a startup. Running a startup requires the team to make hundreds of decisions every day ranging in consequence from easily-reversible to completely irreversible. Steve Blank has a fantastic mantra in his book “The Startup Owner’s Manual” that says a startup team should commit to making any reversible decision before they leave the CEO’s office.
Something magical starts to happen when you become a failer. You start to almost look forward to finding out you’ve made an incorrect decision because it provides data about the problem. By failing fast and often it helps you take your ego out of the equation. You begin to see patterns in your decisions and your instincts become sharper.
I don’t care who you are, everybody fails sometimes. The only way to not fail is to not do anything. Give this a trial run and for the next week: commit to making every reversible decision within 24 hours of identifying the problem or question (better yet, shoot for 24 minutes) and act immediately upon receiving 40% of the information.
Being a failer is likely the best way to avoid being a failure.