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Avoiding Imaginary Constraints
There is a difference between what you believe, and what you know to be true.
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Building and growing a new business is hard. You have very few advantages, and a lot of challenges that only grow everyday. As I like to say, it’s a miracle that any new businesses are ever created.
Despite those challenges, I meet many leaders that make the process even harder. They imagine there is a “right way” to build the business. Maybe they want to emulate other leaders, or maybe they have a clear vision in their minds about what the business should look like. In their minds, the business needs to be built a certain way.
For example, there are many founders who want to emulate Apple. They believe that the best way to build a company is to follow the Apple model of developing products in secret and then revealing them to the world in a massive announcement. Ignoring all of the obvious issues with that kind of approach, how many companies other than Apple have made that work?
Those people are creating imaginary constraints for themselves. There is no “right way” to build a business. If you take on such a challenging problem, but then limit the potential solutions to your idea of the “right way”, you are just making it even harder. In a competitive market this means you are just increasing your chances of failure.
When faced with a constraint, ask yourself: Is this something we believe, or something we know?
Things you know are concrete, factual constraints backed up by data. Things you believe are your opinions and preferences backed up by you. The only constraints we care about are the factual constraints.
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When put that way it sounds simple, but in reality the line between what you know and believe can get blurred. So, how do you tell the difference?
It might be a fact if…
You have real data. That might include market research, or 200 customer interviews.
There are laws limiting what you can do. Don’t break the law.
There are resource constraints. You can’t attend a $100k conference if you don’t have $100k.
It might be a belief if…
You have a very strong feeling about something that you can’t describe.
You explain it using anecdotes and stories.
There is no data to back it up.
Using this framework you start to realize that most of the constraints you can think of are beliefs and not facts. There are surprisingly few rules about how to build a new business (except laws - again, don’t break those). The sooner you realize that, the more creative you can be and the better your chances of success.
The idea that your business model has to be a monthly subscription? That’s a belief. Your focus on starting in the US market? That’s a belief. Your focus on selling for a specific price? That’s a belief.
What makes this harder is that our beliefs feel like knowledge. Often, they are informed by our experience which is the world we know. It’s hard to admit that your experience might not be enough, or that your worldview is limited. Our experience mixed knowledge and beliefs in a way that makes it hard to tell them apart.
At the same time, beliefs are important! Your beliefs make up your vision for the business. There are no facts about the future, since there is no data about the future. As a result, the future is the realm of beliefs and vision. The stronger your beliefs, the more concrete your vision.
However, that’s your vision. When it comes to constraints, focus only on the ones that are real. There are enough limits on your business without you inventing imaginary ones.
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