Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Naiveté is not a virtue, courage is

[Proceed with caution: I talk a little too much about myself in this post, and who wants to hear it, right? I've nearly deleted it because of that, but ended up leaving the post live as sharing this particular set of experiences still seems to be the best way to illustrate the point I was trying to make. I suggest you focus on the message, rather than how it's delivered; and feel free to skip!]

From time to time I hear or read that so and so had thankfully been naïve enough at the onset of their company, otherwise they would not have gotten into it in the first place.
Advice along those lines seems to be widely dispensed.
Take this article by an author called Nick Thacker, titled, “Why it’s OK to be naïve”; and I quote:
“If I had done my research first — uncovering what it would take to ‘break in’ to book publishing, I would have quit before I started. If you let the fear of the unknown (“could I make it in this world?”) stop you from even starting, you won’t start. Instead, choose to be naïve.”
I’m going to put forward that it is preferable to fully appreciate the risk one is in so as to prepare for it and hopefully mitigate it.
For example, as an outsider making a foray in the tech industry with no computer science experience, I constitute the quintessential embodiment of naivety; however, I’m making it a priority to gnaw away at my unsuspiciousness before I get in too deep.
I consider “understanding what I’m getting into” to be my best resource.

I went through much reading in order to overcome my initial learning curve.
I’ve had several web development projects commissioned so I’d go, in these “practice runs”, from getting spaghetti noodle code done for me, to being able to get agile/scrum implementations executed instead.
I’m currently diving deep in understanding the VC structure, the dynamics surrounding LPs, the life cycle of the fund, the minute variances of the term sheet, etc., so I can better appreciate the implications of asking for funding.
I’ve read Ben Horowitz’s book and I cried. That book stripped me naked and took my innocence away. It got to me deeply on an emotional level. And it made me less naïve.
I’m arriving at a point where I’m getting closer of coming face-to-face with grasping “the true-world reality” of creating a high-growth company, as opposed to be delusional about it.
I’ve already shedded a considerable amount of naivety. I now look at the idea of doing a startup with a dose of awe, fear, reverence and humility. I’m a far cry away from my initial naivety-laden “Oh yeah, let’s do a startup.”
In other words, I’m taking the time to find out what I’m getting into.
And there is the real danger of someone packing it up at this point, because “they've seen too much”.
But the true underlying causality here for the abandonment of the pursuit is courage — or rather, the absence of it, hence we are back to the Ben Horowitz philosophy (read the book if you don’t know what I’m referring to).
I’m going to guess here that if Ben Horowitz could go back 15+ years, and if he then had the option to fully know what he was going to be facing ahead of time so he could better prepare for it, he would choose that option over going into the situation naively. And he would not have backed down from having acquired the knowledge.
Again, I'm guessing.

Anyway, asserting a “need to be naive” does not take care of the real problem, in my opinion. And it fosters a lack of preparation which can prove detrimental.
There is another benefit of facing what’s coming to you head on with courage: it makes you feel alive!
From my own empirical knowledge, I can say this is true.
You could say I’m an old-school construction worker. By this I mean, when I started there wasn't as much emphasis on safety, perhaps. We now thankfully live in a different world. But I’m used to it personally, and I’m not afraid of a risky setup.
I make sure all proper safety measures are taken for my employees, let’s be clear on that, but I reserve the more dangerous setups, if there are any, for myself.
And these are usually the times when I happen to feel the most alive. There is nothing quite like it.
But if I were naïve about what it is I’m up against, I would undoubtedly fall off and get hurt, or die. The key is always to be aware of the actual danger, and be prepared. (It would factually be more correct to say, "over-prepared".)
And just like on TV, folks, don’t try this at home, but the point I’m contending here is that fully appreciating the situation one is in so she can prepare for it and mitigate the inevitable pitfalls — while it requires courage — very likely constitutes your best bet of success; and it does make you feel very alive, as a side effect.

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