Failure Paralysis – The Thing that Holds You Back

We all have this friend: he talks about all the things he will do soon. He’s going to ask out that cute girl. He’s going to start hitting the gym. He’s going to ask for that big raise. He’s going to be more social. Yet, he never does.

Your friend is a victim of Failure Paralysis.

It’s clear that inaction guarantees a lack of success. No success can be achieved by doing nothing. You can’t even win the lottery unless you buy a ticket. This applies to anything: becoming president, getting a girlfriend, losing weight, seeing a movie, etc. The first step, is to start moving toward the goal.

This is the struggle every entrepreneur eventually has to overcome.

A lot of people talk about the uncertainty around taking that first step. The reality is that as soon as you take that first step, you’ll be hit with 100 new issues you never imagined. You can read all day about poker theory, but it pales in comparison to real playing experience. And yet, so many people get stuck in the theory-crafting stage of an idea. Move past this step.

To succeed, you must do. And not doing assures failure.

What are the odds that the idea in your head will become a million dollar company? Well, if you do nothing, the odds are 0%. If you start now, maybe you increase your odds to 0.1% – a literal infinity-percent better odds. The problem is that some people don’t want 0.1%. They want 99%. Thus, they wait while they do stuff to try to increase their odds. But isn’t actually doing it going to increase your odds too? When does the waiting stop and the doing start? Well, for most people: never.

Everybody has excuses to do something later. But only a few don’t let those excuses stop them. Kevin Rose famously destroyed his relationship to fund Digg. Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard for Facebook. HARVARD! Actually, so did Bill Gates for Microsoft. Michael Arrington, a now-famous tech journalist, abandoned a career as a lawyer to join the startup world. Even Jack Dorsey bailed (I use this term in jest) on Twitter to go do Square.

Did these guys fear failure? I’m sure. You can’t gamble your future and not be. But that didn’t matter — they ignored all the “sound” advice from their friends and family. I won’t get into each case, but history shows us that if each had waited an extra year or two to make the jump “safer,” they may have missed the boat entirely.

Later is the same as never. Now is the only acceptable time.

Your friends might buy your excuses, but as an Internet-Stranger, I’m going to say the truth: your excuses don’t matter. Results do.

  • Too tired after work? Suck it up or change your sleeping habits.
  • Credit card debt holding you back? Pay it off and quit going out.
  • Not enough time? Manage your time better and quit reading Reddit.
  • Can’t code? It’s OK to suck at it. Learn.

So, take a deep breath, and do something. Anything. Don’t fear failure. Fear not-succeeding.

Strong Visions Can Cloud Judgement

A while ago, I was involved in a start up venture. The company invested its future in social networking. We had a business model, angel investments, employees, contracts, marketing plans, and a clear vision. It was over two years ago, and it was before Facebook was truly a mainstream phenomenon. To be fair, if any new social network had a chance to gain any traction, then was the time.

Looking back now, I can tell you a million and ten reasons why it was destined to fail, despite having a feature list that, at the time (and even today), were far ahead of most of the competition. Perhaps in another post I can elaborate on the many lessons I learned from that venture, but not today.

A variety of news outlets and blogs have covered Google closing its Answers service. They also cover how Yahoo came in late and cleaned up.

Well, two years ago, while I was still in the planning stages of the start up, my friend (Brian-Ji) pitched to me the idea of an answers service. He pitched it very convincingly and explained why it was destined to become awesome and fill a currently unsaturated market. I cited Google Answers as a reason why it would fail, despite the fact that my start up was competing against Facebook and Myspace. But where’s the fun in being naive if you can’t be a hypocrite, right? We chose to stick with our original social networking idea and abandoned the seemingly random questions idea.

Upon reading the news of Yahoo beating Google down in under a year, I exclaimed to my friend how I should have listened to him. But this is the very next thought that came out of my brain:

Of course, had we done that, it would have been a lame social networking questions hybrid and failed anyway. Ultimately, it would have been a social networking site first, and an answering service second.

At the time, my mind was so pre-occupied with one idea that I couldn’t see the full value of another. And even if I had seen the value, I would have screwed up the execution. At least I recognize that today. Let’s call that wisdom.