How to win

Most people want an answer. How do I achieve X. How do I get Y.

This is still true with founders. And very true with first time founders. We’re trained to be answer finders and there’s more than enough content out there to suggest there must be ‘an answer’.

It’s understandable that for most people, this is a hard pill to swallow. To accept ambiguity when all you want is certainty.

A founder I work with shared this with me on the topic:

“Everything can’t make you win, but everything can make you fail”.

He was talking about the general challenge that you have to do everything to the best possible level you can. Have to try and make everything as near as perfect as you can.

You’ve got to get the best traction you can. The best financial plan. The best co-founder fit. The best market sizing. The best pitch deck. The best vision.

But the mental challenge is that none of these guarantee a win. Having everything done the best you can do it doesn’t mean you can expect the outcome you want.

Conversely, anyone of those same things, not done well, or not good enough, can be a cause for failure.

Should we just give up then?

Not trying to ensure success by using this as an excuse for ultimate failure is counterproductive. The challenge in actual fact, is staying committed to that standard of excellence in the face of likely failure. Committing to it for you and for the purpose of doing it in and of itself is a much harder mental skill, than committing for a longer term goal.

This is often the less discussed down side of goal setting. It negates the harder to find but more satisfying reward of doing for the doing, rather than doing for the anticipation of a future reward that often doesn’t come. Equally the constant and illusive end state often never arrives often creates these cyclical goals. The person on a new diet each week as they’ve failed to achieve their target weight the preceding week. These cycles contain periods of high intensity commitment followed by failure against some arbitrary norm, disappointment, quitting on the goal and then, perhaps, recommitment often with a new approach meaning you fail to realise compounding gains of sticking with the same approach over time.

It’s true in life as well

I’m increasingly convinced that startups are a structure that experience an accentuated and faster game in the fundamental rules of life. They experience maxims that are true over a longer period of time and realise them all in a very short period of intense activity.

Everything can’t make you win, but everything can make you fail is as true for life in general as it is for a startup.

You can do it all and never make it.

The satisfaction then must come from the journey and not just the destination.

I got a birthday card once. Normally they just take the piss out of my taste for a drink, or call me old. But this one, this one has stuck with me.

There was a drawing, of dog in a boat. Above it was written “He knows not where he’s going, for the ocean will decide. It’s not the destination, but the journey of the ride”.

Committing to the journey and not the destination when you’re action and goal focused is like coming off any addiction; hard, painful and likely to experience relapse.

Are goals redundant then in this case? Far from it. Having a goal or objective is positive. But not if, like I did, you see it as a cost. Something you’ve got to pay the piper for to ultimately get to where you want to go.

How to win? One of the main ways is to stay alive and in the race longer than everyone else. How to do that?

Make sure you’re doing everything you need to in order to win. But enjoy the satisfaction of that in itself, as even everything might not be enough.

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