Eureka!

It is said that when Archimedes jumped in to have a bath, he realised that the volume of water that was displaced was equal to the part of his body that he submerged.  When he had this insight Archimedes jumped out of the bath screaming “Eureka! Eureka!”.

Eureka

In my experience, this is the complete opposite of what it’s like to start a business.  When starting a new business there is a lot of noise and it’s very hard to decipher the signals from the noise.

When you start a business;

  1. The problem that you’re working on is poorly defined (heck, you don’t even know if you’re working on a real problem).
  2. There are a lot of people who will tell you to stop doing anything unusual for no good reason.
  3. You’ll get feedback and criticism too early, which is meaningless in the long run.
  4. You don’t know who you’ll sell it to, how and how much for.

The list is endless…

But it really is pointless to wait for a perfectly formed idea, with an obvious business model, with a built in distribution network, which you will be able to execute without having to upgrade your skill-set (for example by learning code, or learning about manufacturing etc).

The reality is that the biggest and hardest step is to get started and having the courage to work on something which you believe isn’t right in the world.  Something that you think people will give you money for.

Initially it may seem silly to do this.  But if you’re working on something which you believe should exist, but doesn’t…

…and people are in denial about the problem or passive about the problem…

… then it’s likely you’re on to a winner.

Follow your gut!

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Scaling Down

Often people who want to start a business go away and sit in a cafe (by them self), think of an idea (by them self), think of a business plan (by them self) and figure out how they are going to “scale up” and “disrupt” their industry (all by them self).

During the course of a single cup of coffee they’ve convinced themselves that they are going to change the world.  They call this their “vision”, but actually it’s a hallucination.

The reason it’s a hallucination is because it’s impossible to predict how the world will react to your product or service.  The world is too complex to predict.  The products and services we all love and use got good by going through thousands of iterations.

They were all off the mark when they began.

 

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This is the original Amazon home page. It’s hard to imagine that Amazon once didn’t even have a “Prime” option and had absolutely no reviews!

Recently, an app I have been building launched some new features.  I am in the fortunate position of not just building software for medical practices, but being the user of the product in my own medical practice.

I had designed and created the wire-frames of the app myself, so I was incredibly eager to start using this new feature for the benefit of my patients.  But when I started to use it, I was incredibly frustrated!  

The reason I was so frustrated was that a button that I needed to click on regularly was on a page that seemed to make sense during the design process.  But when it came to using the app in real life, it turned out that the button was in the completely wrong position.  My frustration was so severe that even though it’s my own app, I refused to use it until I got the location of the button just right.  Until this was fixed I also refused to train up the rest of my staff to use the new feature.

The position of a single button, made the feature absolutely obsolete!

This really made me think.  It seems that if you can get something right on a small scale, that you can then scale up your solution and serve others.

But the opposite is not true.  If you’ve created a huge solution in an echo chamber, without getting input for things which may seem trivial to you, then your “disruptive” solution is unlikely to be adopted.  If the positioning of a single button can bring a whole feature to its knees then think of how many other things could go wrong if you’re not constantly learning and getting feedback.

The point is that you should always start small, get it right and then scale.  Doing the opposite will not work.

This goes against everything entrepreneurs want.  We want to create something big and have an impact.  We want to serve millions of users.  But the counter-intuitive fact is that if you want to serve millions, then you have to go through the journey of being able to serve just a handful of people well first.

Hater’s Gonna’ Hate

There’s something repulsive about professional critics.  Whether it’s a music critic or a food critic I hate them.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

There’s something obscene about a creator busting their ass off to make something special, only to be judged and critiqued by a no good for nothing know it all.

The most hilarious thing is that critics often give a critique which misses the point completely.

idiots

Idiots

The three buffoons above are food critics from UK’s Masterchef.  The professional chefs in the competition have to cook for these three so that they can whinge, complain and berate the chefs on national TV.

What’s hilarious is that the same dishes also gets tasted by Marcus Wareing (a two Michelin starred chef) who – every episode – disagrees with what the critics say.

But how can this be?  How can people who critique for a living disagree with a world-renowned chef?

Here’s why:

Critics have to have an appreciation for all approaches.  But in doing so they can’t really appreciate anything!

If a chef has a raw vegan restaurant for example, a professional critic will likely come along and talk about how much they hate the food, the clientele who frequent the establishment and the lack of a wine selection.

But…

… for the people who want to go to a great vegan restaurant this place is probably exactly what they’ve been looking for.

So let’s make a promise to one another for 2019.  Let’s promise to be brave enough to not to listen to the haters, let’s be brave enough to hold a viewpoint, to have an opinion and create something really special.

The View From The Top

Gaia.jpg

In Greek mythology Gaia was the Goddess of the Earth and the mother of all creation.

Imagine someone born on top of a mountain (let’s call these types “Bureaucrats”), unable to get down (possibly because they need to keep paying for the mortgage they can’t really afford or the car they shouldn’t have leased).

Their view from the top will be warped.  They can only look into the distance and contemplate abstract thoughts.

The ironic thing is that even if they wanted to, they wouldn’t be able to closely examine the very thing they’re stood (or sat) on top of.

The only way to closely examine reality is to hike the mountain itself.  You may fall and get bruised, but your bruises and pain will guide your learning.

You cannot attain real knowledge without contact to the ground

The Greeks called it pathemata mathemata.  Or, “things suffered, things learned”.  Something mothers of young children know all too well.

Specifically Not Obvious

How do you figure out what advice to listen to?

Most of the advice that you come across from books, courses, teachers, articles etc is very general.

You know the type of advice intuitively as you’ve already heard the answers a million times.

For example, I recently came across an article where the interviewer was asking a successful entrepreneur; “what advice he would give to his twenty year old self”.  The answers he gave were general and obvious; “Work hard, stay close to family, be frugal….”.

The advice was so generalised as to not carry any meaning whatsoever.  It was literally the same as speaking without actually saying anything at all.  It seems that when advice is too generalised it’s too hard to extract any meaning and take any action from it.  This is probably the reason why the vast majority of “self-help” books and books on entrepreneurship are so bad.

The polar opposite of this type of advice is when you sit down with someone really close to you, who really knows you inside out and understands your situation exactly.

I remember when I was thinking about going to medical school.  The first people I went to get advice from was my father and brother.  The advice I got from close family members was certainly 10x better than the general and obvious advice I received from teachers or random doctors that I met.

The problem with family members and ultra close friends is that they give you specific and obvious advice.  Most of the time they say exactly what you thought they would say or give advice which may not be completely the truth, because they might be worried about hurting your feelings.

I think the holy grail of advice though is specific and not obvious.

Sometimes when you get lucky, you can get advice from someone who understands your position well, but is still removed enough to remain objective.  When you speak with someone like this it can lead you to re-examine things through a new lens which you hadn’t worn before.  It can help you re-assess your position and decide what the best way forward will be.

And isn’t this the reason we seek out advice in the first place?

What It’s Like To Start A Business

I received a letter from a fellow healthcare worker the other day.

She wrote to me regarding a patient of mine, demanding that I “do something”.  Her letter was, to be quite honest, rude and uncalled for.  She knew very well that I had already seen the patient, assessed the patient correctly and that the patient had the ability to make decisions regarding her own medical care.

This isn’t an uncommon occurrence.  I spend a significant part of my working day telling patients and other healthcare professionals that nothing needs to be done.  And that often doing nothing is more beneficial than doing something for the sake of doing it.

But why are patients and people in general like this?  Why, for example, does a patient with lower back pain for a grand total of two days turn up at my clinic demanding an urgent MRI scan, which would bring no benefit to the patient whatsoever?  Why do they get angry and upset when I explain that physiotherapy and lifestyle changes are the way forward?

I think there’s a simple answer:

The patient is worried that they are going to die*.

And who can blame them for having this outlook?  Most people from a young age have been conditioned to think that death is lurking right around the corner.

The thinking even in primary school was something along the lines of: “If you don’t do well in school, then you’ll end up without a job, then you’ll end up homeless and then you’ll die a sad and lonely death.”.

Of course for the people who made it through school and are not dead – which happens to be the majority of mankind – the above line of reasoning is clearly false.

Yet the same thinking often persists and manifests itself in absurd ways later on in other parts of  their life.

riskysport

This is not what it’s like to start a business

I think a lot of people avoid going into business for themselves due to this reason.  Even though it would be better for themselves, their family and those they serve to go it alone, they don’t.  Or worse, they say “someday”…

The fear of death manifests, in the form of being someone elses devoted employee for the whole of their healthy adult life.  “I’m not a risk taker”, they tell themselves.

Look, I get it.  It’s fine if you are truly happy as an employee.  What I can’t tolerate is when people make up BS excuses for not doing something with no logical reason.

So how to think about things?  How do you decide what is truly risky and what isn’t?

The Two Types of Risk

I believe that there are two types of risk.

  • Compound Risk

This is the type of risk which builds up over time and then ultimately does result in poor life outcomes such as bankruptcy and death.  Ironically people take these risks all the time without any consideration for their ultimate effect.

For example the decision to not exercise today, or the decision to just have that pizza instead of sticking to the diet.  These types of risk compound over time and then one day give you a heart attack or stroke.

  • Simple Risk

These are risks that can be calculated and taken with no hidden / compound effects.  If for example you decide to buy a car with cash you can easily calculate if you can afford it and what type of risk a reduction in your bank balance will lead to.

The problem is that these two types of risk often become conflated. 

People think that starting a business is a “compound risk” instead of a “simple risk”.  When in fact starting a business has a limited downside and a possible large upside.  It’s a calculated, simple risk.  

Or people think that “eating one more slice of pizza “is a “simple risk” and not a “compound risk”.  They think that one more slice of pizza or drinking one more alcoholic drink is no big deal.  They fail to realise how the risk compounds with time and that that “one more” may lead to an unpredictable heart attack somewhere in the future.

This conflation of the types of risk is what’s happening in the patients who have back pain demanding that “something has to be done”.  They don’t realise that when a doctor has competently assessed you and has ruled out “red flags”, which could indicate a serious underlying issue, that the risk will not compound.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve had the back pain for a day or a year.  If the clinical scenario has not changed then the risk is still a “simple risk” and will not “compound”.

Yes, physiotherapy and lifestyle change is still the way forward.

*Usually men and women alike tend to think that they have metastatic cancer if they have lower back pain.  They fail to realise that they have developed the pain because their body is trying to signal to them that they have poor muscle development (usually due to being overweight and inactive).

When It Feels Like You’re Pushing A Rock Uphill

There’s a running gag in “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”.

One of the main characters keeps getting more and more fat in the name of “cultivating mass”.  He claims that he’s not obese, but muscular and strong.

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The reason the gag is funny is because there are so many people out there who claim they’re going to the gym, that they’re eating a healthy diet, that they’re fit.  But in reality they’re still their usual, unhealthy self.

This self-deception seems to come from adopting habits which superficially look like they should lead to a healthier self.  But whereas “Dry January” and grabbing a protein shake from time to time may seem like healthy habits, they often don’t lead to any significant changes in health and well-being.

When you try to reach a goal, whether that be in business or in life, it’s easy to fill your time up with actions which may seem helpful.  Many founders of companies are guilty of this.  They go to “conventions”, to “networking events”, they meet investors “just in case” they need to raise money.  It’s easy to fill your time up with stuff instead of doing the important work which will get s*%t done.

But how to decide what is worth your time and what isn’t?  I think it comes down to this:

Speed ≠ Velocity

The higher the speed, the more it may seem like you’re doing productive work.  But what happens if your speed is in the wrong direction?  What happens if you’re trying to get to London, but you end up in Leeds?

In physics, speed with a direction is called “Velocity”*.  

When you’re trying to get s*%t done, velocity and not mere speed is what counts!

The three points to remember when you’re trying to achieve something are:

  1. When you undertake a specific action you have to be able to measure the specific outputs you are hoping to see.  What specifically were you hoping to achieve by doing actions X, Y and Z?  If there isn’t a measurable, observable, repeatable outcome then it could be that you’re simply wasting your time.
  2. If you do a specific task, which leads to a measurable, observable, repeatable outcome then you’re not wasting your time.
  3. It then follows that if you modify or change your specific task, you will be able to achieve different outcomes if you wish.

So the questions of the day are; What are the tasks that fill up your day?  And what are the outcomes you are hoping to achieve with those tasks?

*Velocity is therefore considered a “Vector” in physics, i.e. movement with a direction.