Why You Ship
Many subscribe to the myth of “the one.” We see this in the idea that there’s a single love interest waiting for you—should you just search in the right place. This notion also seeps into the way we look upon what we do. Many believe they are destined for a certain kind of work, and that they won’t find happiness until they are practicing within this one magic vocation.
The notion of a single right fit seems improbable. For example, what happens if your still unmet, but “perfect,” love interest is living in a remote village in Nunavut, and you feel little inclination to leave your hometown of Seoul, South Korea? Such a scenario would seemingly lead to a world filled primarily with single people—which doesn’t seem to be the case. A more sensible argument might be that there are many viable options, with varying levels of suitability. There’s little way of gauging what, or who, is suitable for you, though, until you’ve tried a few alternatives.
Big decisions are often made in circuitous ways, and require more time than you might like. Although you want a definitive answer regarding which course to follow, the variables are simply too great in number to properly consider. Some of your peers will share stories about what worked for them, and authors will write books aimed at reverse-engineering others’ successes. However, what worked for them might not work for you (and vice versa).
Certain situations involve a high number of questions about direction—and come with associated doubts. For example, artists, inventors, and writers must perpetually wrestle with whether they are on the right track. Pollock toiled for years before his large-scale paint drip canvases brought him attention. Jobs and Woz were goofing around hacking phones (to get free long-distance calls) with little knowledge of what was to come. And my bet is that J.K. Rowling had some strong doubts about her vocation when publishers were rejecting her manuscripts en masse. You can look back and see how these moments eventually led to breakthrough; however, when you look forward the view is rarely ever as clear.
Let’s say you’re contemplating startup ideas. Doing so is fraught with questions: Is this idea right? Will people pay for what we’re making? Are there better opportunities for us to consider? Should we keep our company’s offering broad, in order to allow others to define what the technology could be used for? Would we be better off to concentrate on a smaller segment of potential users? The list of such questions goes on, and the only right answer one could give to any of them is: Maybe.
Although some make better hunches than others, most all of us are acting blind to some degree or another. The number of calculations required to answer any of these directional questions definitively is simply untenable. And what very few want to admit is that when it comes to success, a great deal of luck is involved. Sure, you’d be unwise to bank your approach on just, “getting lucky,” but you’d be equally foolish to think that achieving success requires absolute foresight of what’s to come.
Some espouse focusing on one specific area; others claim that a series of seemingly disconnected interests/pursuits are to thank for their eventual success. There’s no shortage of opinions and approaches—and those who can benefit by selling their unique brand of “clarity.” Nevertheless, every argument made for one way of acting can be met by others that contradict these approaches. You might fare better by accepting that there is no map—and that you’ll simply need to chart a course of your own.
You’ve likely heard that Jobs-ism, “real artists ship.” I always interpreted those words as, “creative people need to temper their desire for perfection and get their products out to buyers before they’ve missed their opportunity to do so.” Over time, though, I’ve come to see this phrase more as a way to mitigate niggling worries that would otherwise slow me down.
You don’t know which path is right. The points you obsess over today might later prove moot; similarly, the choices you make flippantly might lead to breakthrough. No matter how much you want an answer, you aren’t going to get it—at least not until further along. Thus, you just have to keep moving—and that means shipping.
Maybe you’ve contemplated direction enough already. So, put aside all the deliberation, and instead take on a project, finish it, and move on to the next one—or the next stage. Go fast, observe carefully, and follow the data—even if what you find seems counter-intuitive. The lessons you learn along the way will be infinitely more useful to you than any imagined scenarios. Your imagination is built upon experiences you’ve already had; to solve ambiguous problems, you’ll need new data. This comes from action—which is surprisingly high-fidelity.