Earlier today, I engaged in a conversation on Twitter about something that did not “seem fair”. The author of the tweet described a situation, and asked, “does this seem fair?” I engaged because I’ve met the author of the tweet before, and he asked a very legit question. He didn’t like my answer, but we engaged for half a dozen replies or so. Here’s what came to mind after our conversation.
We can all find ourselves in bad places. Not geographically, but mentally, financially, emotionally, physically, etc. It’s at those points that our tendency is to plop down and exclaim, “this isn’t fair.” And while we’ve all done that from time to time, I’d like to challenge everyone reading this post to dig deeper and ask a few questions. These are questions that can be asked really at any time during the life cycle of a startup, and maybe even the life of the business.
It starts with this: you find yourself and/or your company in a very, very bad situation, whatever that might be. This would be the point, again, where you could say, “this just isn’t fair.” Having been in that type of situation a number of times in my career, I’ll encourage you to avoid the pity party, and ask the following three questions.
- What exactly is the problem?
- What must be done to relieve the situation?
- How did I get here?
I saved the last one for last for a reason. That was the gist of my first answer in the twitter conversation mentioned above, that this person who thinks life all of a sudden isn’t fair had to make any number of decisions in order to end up in this present situation. The sum of those decisions is how you got there.
As I said, I’ve made dozens hundreds of really, really bad decisions in my lifetime and in my business career, so I’m not making this stuff up. Let’s take one fairly recent example. I sold CWNP in August 2012, and agreed to work through a 90 day transition. That was a decision. The next decision was to dive into the Atlanta startup community, knowing that I had been out of that community for a decade. I knew I had a lot to learn and a lot of people to meet. My next decision was to start deductmor. That was not a good decision for at least 5 reasons. I decided to pivot deductmor from a B2C play to a B2B SaaS play. That was a big ball of bad decisions all rolled up into one. When I finally decided to shut down cd8a, that was the first time in over a year that I felt like I had made a reasonably good decision.
The sum of all those decisions is how I got here. I could easily have said “it’s not fair” at least 9 times since January 2013, but, again, I’ve done this (made crappy decisions) a LOT, so I’m used to re-evaluating my present situation and asking the 3 above questions to figure out what to do next.
The crux of the disagreement in our twitter discussion earlier today was that the person on the other end of the conversation didn’t think any bad decisions had been made. Rather, they thought the current situation didn’t “seem fair”. Well, you know what? Life is not fair. That’s a simple, cold, hard fact that we as humans this side of eternity have to deal with. But how we deal with it is what determines how well we can move forward, or sometimes IF we can move forward. When life doesn’t “seem fair”, we must take a cold hard look at exactly how we got to where we are today.
Our current situation is the sum of hundreds of small, medium, and large decisions. Most often, when we make startup decisions based on our emotions, those decisions are wrong. There are exceptions! One of my favorites which always comes to light when discussing customer discovery is Steve Jobs’ attitude that the customer has no idea what they want until we show it to them. Completely counter intuitive to customer discovery, but it worked. When we make decisions based on facts and numbers and research, we tend to make better decisions.
Regardless of how we make our decisions, they are our decisions, and the sum of all those decisions is how you got here, right now, today. Are you in a situation that doesn’t seem fair? Ask yourself – really, honestly ask yourself “how did I get here?” Then discover which of your decisions were good, and which were not so good and which were just plain bad.