I was once working in a hospital that was desperately short of doctors to cover the night shift. The hospital somehow managed to find a senior doctor to cover one of the night shifts to oversee the work of the junior doctors, admit new patients and ensure patients were safe over night.
Usually the doctors that are hired in short notice get generous hourly pay because the hospital needs the doctor, but the doctor doesn’t need the hospital.
When this particular doctor arrived to start his night shift he was very angry because he was promised hot food and a place to eat. Because the hospital didn’t organise this for him, he got up and said he was going to leave. The nurses begged the doctor to stay, but he drove off while all the nurses looked at each other in horror, realising that there was no senior cover for the night.
What’s the lesson?
The person who has the most options always wins.
If you have no or few options in life, then by definition someone has power over you.
A lot of decisions in life come disguised as logical and “safe”. But they often bring with them hidden pitfalls and loss of optionality.
The person working in a “safe” job in an office making a steady income for example is counter intuitively a lot more vulnerable than an Uber driver.
The Uber driver can earn the same amount as most office workers. Granted, he may have more variability in his take home pay month to month, thus making his job “unsafe”. But when the office worker gets fired in his mid 40’s with no transferable skill set he is in a lot of trouble.
The Uber driver by contrast will be able to detect if his livelihood is at stake early and retrain / develop his skill set before getting laid off. By working with the “safe” company the office worker gave up optionality later in life without realising.
Moral of the story:
In the majority of decisions, the decision which will provide most optionality is the correct one.
*Money is attractive to people as it represents pure optionality. You can do anything you want with it. But only if you own the money outright. Money often has strings attached – either you owe it back, or someone gets a portion of your company or even worse you trade a portion of your life to get a paycheck.
In a startup this matters. If you take a loan or you raise money, all of a sudden you’ve lost optionality as the people you took money from want it back and often with interest. This limits your ability to innovate and explore different options.