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Progress Through Little Bets

August 8, 2016

Here is a really interesting way to think about making change or progress in life.

“Invention and discovery emanate from being able to try seemingly wild possibilities and work in the unknown; to be comfortable being wrong before being right; to live in the world as a keen observer, with an openness to experiences and ideas; to play with ideas without censoring oneself or others; to persist through dark alleys with a growth mindset; to improvise ideas in collaboration and conversation with others; and, to have a willingness to be misunderstood, sometimes for long periods of time, despite conventional wisdom”

 – from Little Bets by Peter Sims

There are so many elements to that paragraph.  It is a lot to absorb.  It is asking you to consider doing a lot of things. We can each find words in there we feel uncomfortable with (“wild possibilities”, “misunderstood”, “persist through dark alleys”).  So what is the point?

I think there is something for each and every one of us in that paragraph.  After all, life is all about discovery.  Any change is hard.  Growth can sometimes be very painful.  It requires movement to get from where you are now to where you will be. Unfortunately, that movement is not always a smooth ride easily downhill. You are probably not going to get a gentle ride with someone else doing all of the hard work for you.

These are a couple phrases from the paragraph that I really like.

“To be comfortable being wrong before being right”

This is an especially tough excerpt from the quote above.  Who wants to be “wrong”?  And who wants to be comfortable with being wrong?  But if you think about it, whenever you learned to do something, you were “wrong” when you started out.  You just didn’t use that word.  I remember learning to drive a car and braking incorrectly so that anyone in the car got jerked back and forth.  Was that “driving wrong”?  Nope. I looked at it as I did not know how to do brake correctly yet, not that I did it wrong.  If you’ve played a musical instrument or played a sport, trying to master the basics took time.  The steps to get there were not the “wrong” moves, they were the steps on the way to becoming proficient.

So why not take the same attitude with a new concept or a new direction or a new idea in life?  “Heck, I am just trying to figure this out, so I might mess up”.  That’s okay, it is how we learn and move towards the right way.

“To live in the world as a keen observer”

I love that word “keen” in this context.  Here are three definitions of keen:

  • having or showing an ability to think clearly and to understand what is not obvious or simple about something
  • very strong and sensitive; highly developed
  • very excited about and interested in something

Why not try to be very excited and interested in something?  How about taking it to the next level and try to understand what is not obvious?  That really fits well with observing,  Think about it, we are all observers.  We love to people watch.  Many of us enjoy the beauty created by nature.  The buildings, paintings, poetry, music of others can be relaxing and awe-inspiring.  Why not try to be a little more aware, to be a more highly-developed observer?

“To play with ideas without censoring oneself or others”

Censoring oneself – We all have that chatter going on in our mind about why something is not possible.  We are great at censoring ourselves (‘that will never work”; “they will think I am a dork if I say that”; “no one will ever listen to me”).  We also find comfort in deflecting others (“they don’t understand my situation”; “what do they know”; “That’s not what I am interested in”).  Does any of that sound familiar?

The word “play” makes us uncomfortable in any “serious” endeavor such as at work or mastering a skill or creating a lasting relationship.  That is especially true when we use this definition of play: “engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose“.  If it’s not serious or practical, why do it?  Here is an answer. Perhaps if we thought of another definition of play, such as “free or unimpeded motion” or “an act, way, or manner of proceeding” we might not cringe at that word.  Play is just one of many ways to proceed.  It fits some of the time (and probably more times than we think it might).

The paragraph that started this post provides a formula for growth.  The essence of the book it is part of is that you only need to take “small steps” along the road to progress.  You don’t have to make giant leaps.  In fact, most successful people make these small bets, incorporating one or more of the ideas in that paragraph.  Small bets, small changes certainly make the task of growth or discovery seem more attainable.

I am really working hard on the first of the three I highlighted (To be comfortable being wrong before being right).  Building a business is not easy.  I come up with all kinds of ideas.  But sometimes putting those ideas out there to others is tough because I know they are not complete.  I fear they will get shot down.  Maybe someone else is already doing it.  If others don’t like my idea, then I might be on the wrong track.  Maybe I need to wait until the thought is “fully developed” because then others will like it or get it (unfortunately, “fully” developed) never comes.  So I am trying to be more open and authentic.  I am willing to be wrong to get to a better place.

Which of the phrases in the paragraph at the start of this post might you embrace as your “small bet”?

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