Is patience overrated?
A common saying is that ‘patience is a virtue,’ but I wonder if anyone believes that anymore.
It doesn’t take much to realize that as a society, our attention spans have diminished, and there’s a constant push to fill our lives with noise and activity – from work, to vacations, to entertainment, ad nauseum. Personally, I often find myself flipping between emails, various lists, Netflix, calendars, Twitch, and random notes, in a blind flurry to make myself look and feel more productive.
I suppose the truest version of the saying would be, ‘patience can be a virtue.’ But the vacillating nature of this wouldn’t make for a very compelling t-shirt.
In particular, when I look at technology entrepreneurship, there’s a constant push to ‘always be killing it.’ Reading through [TechCrunch](techcrunch.com) or [Y-Combinator’s PostHaven Blog](blog.ycombinator.com), you get the sense that if you’re not ‘killing it’ that you’re missing out. Along with the need to be in a cliched ‘hot’ area like social, local, or mobile. Or ideally, all three at once, to form a Voltron-like trifecta called SoLoMo, which even HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’ had some funny social commentary on.
And because of all this, it’s very tempting to feel like you’re missing the boat if you’re not in the thick of it all, ‘killing it’, which causes a lot of anxiety to build up around your nascent or non-existent startup. But, I think here is where patience more important than ever.
For me, this anxiety is a new sensation because for the longest time, my role in startups was as the ‘business’ guy, and in this role, I didn’t have the ability to shape a product outside of data analysis or customer feedback. So my anxiety was slightly capped because I knew that I was only one part of a founding team required to get anything off of the ground. And this willful ignorance was blissful.
Then I started learning how to program. And, with no regard for efficiency only efficacy, my programming slowly improved. Like Voltaire said, “Nothing succeeds like excess.”
Finally, through a ham-fisted mashup of HTML, CSS, Python, and Django, I learned to duct-tape together startup prototypes. Nothing very technical, obviously, and if I’m honest, my documentation is still the only strong point of my programming; because I’m constantly trying to remind myself what the hell I’m doing. So I’m in no danger of suddenly revolutionizing robotics or any number of countless fields for which I never received a PhD. But, I did get to the point of being able to knock-up a proof of concept with a lot of time and effort.
And with this new, if slightly mediocre, ability, I experienced a new sort of anxiety around startups. The pressure to organically create a workable and scalable company seemed insurmountable when compared to the constant stream of million dollar fundings and the billion dollar acquisitions that dominate the tech headlines. And how would I know that what I was working on would be the Next Big Thing? Should I just make ‘Airbnb for X’ or ‘Netflix for Y’ and hope for the best? This seems like an act of futility, where I’d just burn a lot of time and energy.
So my new solution is to try cutting out a lot of the noise and anxiety by applying some methodology to what I’m working on. And so far, it’s been working really well.
The first part of my methodology is to slim down my prototyping options to my own fields of expertise and interest, and I’ve found a delightfully succinct way to do this is by asking myself a common YC interview question: “Would you use this thing yourself, if you hadn’t written it?”
The second, and more philosophical, part of this approach is to recognize the role of patience through the idea generation and customer discovery process. In essence, rather than rambling through ‘Netflix for Y’ combinations to instead focus more on having an open and inquisitive mindset to my surroundings. To this end, I started meditating and reading books on philosophy and Zen, which considers patience not only a virtue but a necessary pathway to enlightenment.
Or, I could just start playing the Powerball. Actually, I may start playing the Powerball anyway. Just to be safe.