Study the hard while it’s easy.
Do big things while they’re small.
The hardest jobs in the world start out easy,
the great affairs of the world start small.
So the wise soul,
by never dealing with great things,
gets great things done.
– Tao Te Ching, Ursala Le Guin Translation
I took a personality profile called Strengths Finder six years ago and I’ve found the results of it to be accurate and useful. One of the recommendations that stuck in my mind was for “Strategic”, one of my signature themes.
“Make sure that you are involved in the front end of new initiatives or enterprises. Your innovative yet procedural approach will be critical to the genesis of a new venture because it will keep its creators from developing deadly tunnel vision.”
This always made me wonder: why is strategic thinking better earlier than later? After all, strategy can be re-evaluated and changed at any stage of an endeavor when new intelligence has been revealed.
The poem, “Consider Beginnings,” by Lao Tzu brings this into sharper perspective. Beginnings are a point of massive leverage.
A Fighter’s Path
When I exited the Marine Corps, I wanted to pursue fighting professionally as a mixed martial artist. I asked my coach in Hawaii, “I can go anywhere in the United States to live and train, where would you go?” He recommended two gyms: one in Portland, Oregon and one in Athens, Georgia. I chose Portland simply because it was closer to my family.
I trained very seriously at the Portland gym and made rapid progress in my skill set. However, during that period, the coaching there was really inconsistent. The head coach stepped out and spent most of his time traveling. I gleaned what I could from a myriad of coaches at an affiliate gym. Additionally, most of the expertise in these two gyms was around grappling, so I started training boxing at yet another gym.
Looking back, it wasn’t a great choice for an aspiring fighter. I know of several more fighter focused gyms in other parts of the country where I would have had the coaching and resources available to match my commitment.
If I were to counsel my younger self on where to train, I would recommend putting a lot more thought into that decision. If I had taken a more methodical, strategic approach, I could have found several better options that didn’t have any of the pitfalls I experienced with a couple days of forethought and research.
In the end, I didn’t enjoy fighting like I thought I would. And I’m glad I ended up at the gym I did- that choice has shaped my life. However, I know that if I had taken more care at the beginning of my odyssey as a fighter, I would have progressed much further.
The Next Product
Two years ago, I made the decision not to work on a product until I made certain improvements in our primary web development business. It was a hard choice. Part of my rationale for doing it was that I wanted to re-position so that our consulting work would give us intelligence to develop products in the same market.
Recently, I realized that we’ve re-positioned successfully, but I’m not quite in position to identify pain points around software in our target market. And I really want to work on a product. So I decided to build one as just a little side project to feed my soul.
I’m at that beginning stage and considering how to maximize the leverage that I can draw from it.
- I’m starting by being very methodical. I’ve established goals for the product and used these to create a matrix to assess opportunities on.
- I’m also dedicated to pursuing more research and testing before pulling the trigger with marketing or development. Most things don’t work and I want to do what I can to cull out dead options early. Investing days in research and testing is worth weeks and month down the road.
- I’m looking for products that will leverage strengths and past experience.
- I’m investigating products that have quick feedback loops, where decisions and growth can happen at a decent pace.
- I’m looking for competitors that show signs of unhappy customers or are lone entrants in the market.
- I’m gathering resources and allies to employ.
- I’m also thinking about the end game. What will happen if it’s successful? What will happen if it’s not? What are the options there?
My father showed me how to build a fire when I was a child. You gather all your wood and kindling before hand. You start with a small bit of highly flammable material like dried moss or grass. Then you build a tepee around it of twigs. You build on that with slightly thicker twigs and on that with thin sticks before graduating to full sized sticks. Everything builds on that original tepee shape. There will be natural gaps for the fire to sip air and the heat generated in the beginning always has fuel above it. The fire erupts to life within a couple of minutes. Then you just take the remaining wood and logs and arrange them to take advantage of a strong flame.
All of the work is in the preparation, in gathering and arranging materials for the flame you know will come. Once you strike the match, the fire takes care of itself.