<This is from the Tacklebox Newsletter. Subscribe with thousands of others here.>
My college basketball coach was a real asshole.
Note: I learned after college he isn’t actually an asshole, we’re close now, but that’s not as strong of an intro.
My coach did two things college kids don’t care for all that much — he told us the truth and he held us accountable.
One of my best friends was a talented shooting guard who never reached his enormous potential. This drove my coach crazy. One day after practice he looked my friend dead in the eyes:
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”
Coach leveraged mental and physical pressure to get to transparency around two key questions: Were you the type of player he could trust in any situation? Would you be willing to change your inputs to get better outputs?
If the answers were no, he wanted to know immediately so he didn’t waste time on you. It sounds harsh, but that’s how it was. He had limited bandwidth and wanted to use it on malleable players. And he didn’t have the patience to wait years for you to come around. As a side note, my friend eventually internalized the quote above and made it his life’s motto. He’s done more with his post-basketball talent than 99% of people I know.
What Covid-19 is doing to businesses reminds me a bit of my coach (and man I hope he isn’t on this newsletter because there is no way to not take that the wrong way). You’ve seen tons of tweets like this, and they’re true:
Covid is applying immense pressure and creating transparency into whether businesses were built for a world that wasn’t supposed to come until 2030 or not.
And while debating whether Peloton or WeWork or Zoom are built for 2030 is fun, you’re not the founder Zoom. You’re on this list because you’ve got a startup or you’re working on a startup idea, so those debates don’t move the needle.
The question to ask is, what’s this pressure mean to you?
Back to my coach. As you probably guessed, the guy ran a little… hot. On a Saturday afternoon during my sophomore year we were set to play a highly ranked team and we’d been playing great. But a blizzard had nailed the northeast and news came to my coach that it wasn’t safe to travel. My coach exploded. This was our chance — he couldn’t wait for a reschedule. “I don’t care where we play but we’re playing today. We’ll meet them halfway down the highway and roll the f*cking hoops out in a parking lot. We’re f*cking playing.”
Covid has put a giant gravity blanket of pressure on the world, and for founders this means one thing:
It’s time to roll out the hoops.
— — —
Actions vs. Rewards
This is the graph that matters right now. Think of each dot on the graph as a person.
Most people live their lives here.
Your actions are normal relative to everyone else’s, so your rewards for those actions stay in a tight range. They’re predictable. If you go to law school, you likely will be a lawyer. And you’ll end up with the rewards that most lawyers get.
There’s some variability, but far less than you’d think. A lawyer’s floor and ceiling are set. If you bust your ass and somehow beat out 99.999% of lawyers, you’ll hit the top of the reward threshold. You’ll have done some things that are unique relative to lawyers, and you’ll have done all the “lawyer things” better than every other lawyer. The amount of effort and skill are enormous, and you’ll have to be lucky as hell. Right firm, right bosses, right cases, right time (and 100-hour weeks for decades).
Then, you’ll shift the circle as far right as it can go, beating out millions of other lawyers to achieve Peak Lawyer.
There’s obviously nothing wrong with any of this. If you love being a lawyer, do that.
But the second you decided to be a lawyer, you banded yourself in a certain reward bracket, and no amount of effort or work will move you outside of the range until you stop being a lawyer. The same goes for most industries.
If the rewards for your industry — whether monetary, educational, lifestyle, whatever — don’t match up with what you want — things are about to get interesting.
— — —
A gaggle of cognitive biases keep humans from understanding the right side of the graph.
During normal times, Loss Aversion, the Ambiguity Effect, and others push most people to the left on the graph. When you layer on the pressure and uncertainty Covid has brought, the right side of the graph becomes more elusive. People who had the ability and appetite to try something unique and bold are opting for safety. And you can’t blame them. Layoffs and furloughs make decisions for you. They move dots to the left.
And that’s why this article exists.
A big chunk of people who were in the running for those dots on the right side are no longer going after them, and this is a big deal.
Humans overestimate the impact of our work, knowledge, and skill. We take credit when things go well and blame when they don’t. We shouldn’t. Luck, timing, and broader market forces often deserve a far larger share of credit than we acknowledge when we succeed or fail. This stinks, because it makes us feel like things are out of our hands.
I think of it like we’re surfers. Our ability gets us out to the wave, up and the board, and helps us surf. But without the wave, we aren’t going anywhere.
So you’ve got to look for waves. And right now, there’s a wave. You were competing with 100,000 people for a great outcome three months ago and now you’re competing with 1,000. You’ll almost certainly get better results if you do anything interesting today than if you did it a year from today.
Unique actions will be disproportionately positively rewarded over the next 6–12 months.
And though this can be hard to come to grips with, the difference in effort, skill, knowledge, and ability needed between these two dots is nowhere NEAR the difference in outcome.
You can pursue either dot with similar effort and ability.
So what do you do?
What to do? Act as if
Back to my coach. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got. You have to change your actions. And that doesn’t mean giant risks right off the bat.
My first suggestion for how to capitalize on this moment would be to act as if.
I was an awful student in college. I got lucky and got into a great business school and decided I didn’t want to blow it. So I started making the decisions I thought a great student would make. I sat in the front row, did all the optional reading, asked two questions per class, and made sure I had a relationship with every professor. I acted as if I were a great student, and it worked.
Now’s a great time to act as if you’re an entrepreneur with a bias towards action.
I interviewed the founder of Health-Ade Kombucha for the podcast last week. Her first step to building Health-Ade — a company valued at around a half a billion dollars — was to act as if. She started an entrepreneurship club with her two friends. Each week they met and discussed ideas. Then, they each got a few tasks for the week to test those ideas. An idea to cure baldness led to Kombucha, which led to Daina filling a dot way up there.
One more note on pressure.
My coach used pressure to get to transparency. That’s exactly what you can do now. But you’re getting transparency on your startup idea to answer the key question — is it worth your time?
Pressure forces customers to think about what’s important. If you’re solving a real problem for them, they’re more likely to try your product now than ever. If you aren’t, they won’t give you the time of day. People only have time for pain killers right now — not vitamins. Social ad costs have plummeted — down 50%. You’ll learn, fast, if your idea is worth building. That’s all you can ask for.
It’s never been a better time to test an idea. The right side of the graph is waiting for you.
Roll out the hoops.
And apply to Tacklebox if you want some help.
As always, reach out if you want to talk about this approach: Brian@gettacklebox.com