Monday, 5 August 2013

Thoughts for startups (no. 2)

Though this is really a follow-on from no.1 (isn't that always the way with thoughts?) we'll let it standalone.

"it ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble, it's what you know for sure that just ain't so"


"I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see."

The latter is from the lyrics of Amazing Grace, written by the reformed slave ship captain turned abolitionist John Newton and published in 1779.

The former is peculiarly self referential, as most state it is a quotation of Samuel Clemens (possibly writing as Mark Twain). But research has failed to find any such line in his writings nor any contemporaries attributing the quote to him. Now that's irony, Alanis...

But regardless of origin, the point made stands. If you make strategic decisions based on your belief that something is so when it isn't, you'll make bad to disastrous decisions - but if you make decisions that accept uncertainty, bad decisions will be less likely.

But John Newton's lyric brings other concerns. The implication is that previously there was held a misplaced certainty; this error has been uncovered and the truth is now known. But what if the truth now known is not entirely the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? What if, though different to the previous truth, it is equally incorrect?

Operating on the basis of uncertainty is a more sensible approach to strategy. It doesn't preclude the use of research, just an acceptance that research at best determines what has been, and never what will be and that truth is so very often relative. The future is certainly uncertain, and if you take that into account when making planning around your startup you'll tend to have better outcomes.