Human minds seem to prefer predictably. The back brain craves knowing what is coming even as our flighty consciousness seeks novelty. Talk about a tension that sucks. We’ve all seem just now much this is a recipe for misery when you live in a world with no predictability but easy access to low stakes novelty during the pandemic. We are twitchy, bitchy and miserable as we have no idea what our world will be like but we can dopamine drip our pleasure seekers with social media, food and substances for an enjoyable now.
I’ve written at length in this experiment about my frustrations with unreliability especially when it comes to my own body. It’s one of the hardest aspects of managing a recovery from an autoimmune disease. I need to be mentally strong enough to not let bad days shake my routines so I keep building towards the wider goal. I can’t be distracted by one data point. It’s about movement towards the goal. Ironically this is a skill I learned from startup life.
While the entire planet is getting a crash course in unpredictable futures now, startups are defined by their desire to solve problems that don’t yet have defined solutions. No one in a startup knows if the predictions will be right. If they are working on something that will have the intended outcomes is unclear. You work on faith. You trust that over a longer time frame the daily tasks and routines you push (sometimes we give them dumb names like OKRs to fake a sense of control) will actually get you where your mind’s horizon sees.
I sometimes wonder if those with religious faith would do better on average in startup life. We have some degree of comfort with the inscrutable. Mysteries are sources of joy rather than fear. We trust that there are things beyond our knowing and our control and yet we must live on despite that.
The obsession with data and trend lines and the potential for prediction, surety or knowing amuses me. Sure sometimes you can plan a lot. You should plan. You have some inputs that consistently deliver the predicted outputs. Your best guess are better than other people’s facts (thanks Spock!) But if it were all so neatly defined there would be nothing new to create. We wouldn’t be able to build value. It’s the undiscovered country that we seek.
In faith, in life, and in startups you must manage your squishy human mind that is constantly tortured by its own biology. We want to know and we want it to be predictable. But we also love the tickle of a new experience against our dopamine seeking biology. The spike of pleasure we find pleasure in the newness. That’s why we do it. And it’s on us to balance the tension between our need to predictably build and our addiction to novelty. Manage that and you may get far in your journey. Or it’s a miserable sine-wave that makes you nauseous as you go up and down trying desperately to bring the future forward between impulse and planning. It’s usually both if I’m honest. So if you don’t enjoy roller coasters I wouldn’t get on this ride. But if you do well you just might see God.