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Being an entrepreneur is a lonely place, especially if you’re the founder/CEO. Sure, you may have co-founders, but the reality is, there’s a lot of weight on your shoulders, a lot of pressure (self-applied or otherwise) to not drop the ball.
To combat this, we’re basically permanently in “problem solver” mode. Everything needs a solution. Which is a natural fit because most entrepreneurs are self-taught and love to learn!
“The widget sales page isn’t converting? Well how about imma throw myself in to a hole and RISE FROM THE ASHES LIKE A WIDGET SALES PAGE CONVERSION PHOENIX!”
Yes, it’s naive, but it’s also how we were able to make something out of nothing. We just figured it out. We’re really great at just figuring it out.
But here’s the thing: solutions aren’t binary. There aren’t “right” or “wrong” ways of doing things. There are just “ways”. Yet, we treat business problems as if they’re all just a series of variables that we just need to find the right combination of and BOOM! #winning
Startups are like kids
I’ve got three amazing kids. The other night I was chatting with my oldest (she’s 14) and she asked, “Dad, what’s the hardest part of being a parent?” My answer? “That you’re not a robot.”
I said it jokingly, but explained to her that so many times as a parent you ask your kids to do something and so many times they just don’t do it. They don’t do it how you asked them to do it or when you asked them to do it. And I explained that even after years upon years of making the best decisions we can as parents, there’s still not a guaranteed outcome. It’s all kind of a crapshoot.
Running a business is very much like having kids. You so desperately want to control all the variables. You run in the startup rat race because everyone else is too, so that seems to help solve for many of the variables.
You read every startup article you can and your “to read” list has a backlog of 1,000 articles that are sure to change your business. You follow, favorite and retweet popular founders and marketers and feel like you’ve done real work. Then after you’ve done that, you go get drinks at meetups for entrepreneurs.
Then after you’ve had your free drinks courtesy of Blorg.io you head home and read Lean Startup for the 9th time and go upvote some stuff about AI and machine learning on Hacker News because #thefuture.
You fall asleep after your iPhone hits you in the face lying in bed and then you do it all again tomorrow.
The echo chamber
You, my friend, are living in an echo chamber and you don’t realize yet, but you’re deaf.
In your effort to become an amazing problem solver, you’ve become the worst. You can’t see the forest for the trees, because you’ve completely limited the scope of your thinking to random things you read on the internet from other people just like you who are reading random things on the internet!
It’s a big nasty cycle of everyone regurgitating the same rehashed tips and tricks in the name of “content marketing” and #growthhacking and it just doesn’t make you any smarter or better at your job.
Every business is different because every problem is different. The way Joe solves problems for his customers are not the same solutions that Sally needs for her customers. Yet founders spend inordinate amounts time surrounding themselves with people just like them doing the same things over and over and expecting different outcomes.
How to get out of the echo chamber
Getting out of the echo chamber doesn’t make you a bad founder. It makes you an exponentially better one.
You know how all of your good ideas come to you in the shower? What if I told you that you could be in the proverbial shower all the time? Getting out of the echo chamber lets you do that.
Solving problems isn’t linear. Your brain doesn’t just run along the same path, connect all the dots in perfect order and magically arriving at an amazing solution.
You need input from lots of sources. In many cases, you actually need no input at all. Your brain needs a break. It’s why when you’ve been staring at a coding problem for four hours and then go grab lunch and come back you’re able to solve it in four minutes.
So, how do you get out of the echo chamber? There are two easy ways.
Get a hobby
Seriously. Something just absurdly analog. Take up gardening or woodworking. Make stuff out of concrete. Teach yourself jazz flute. Doesn’t matter. It just needs to be away from a computer or anything related to “businessing”.
Get friends who aren’t entrepreneurs
This is crucial. Living outside of Silicon Valley makes this really easy for me. None of my close friends are in tech. My friends are filmmakers, teachers, writers, florists and print designers. Their jobs are fascinating and we nevertalk about the tech world.
The key here is giving your mind a break and gaining input from seemingly unrelated areas.
Stop reading business/startup books. Most are 90% fluff anyways and they’re not covering anything new. Stop surrounding yourself with people and things that are just other versions of yourself.
Go be interesting. Not only will it help you actually run your business better, but when you’re done with that business or have moved on to other things, what’s left is that you’ll still be an interesting person and not just the shell of someone good at adding noise to the echo chamber.