Two years ago I had a fuzzy idea for a small project that I was hoping to pursue. The gist of it was that I wanted to start an anti-consulting business to encourage start-ups to ask and address the ‘right questions.’
Yea yea, what was I thinking. But that’s the point of this article, I learned something from this pursuit, and it made me adopt a different attitude to how I now do things. I think this might also apply broadly to life in general.
Coming from a philosophy background myself, the rationale was that asking the ‘right questions’ is a much-needed exercise. Instead of giving small and medium enterprises a packaged solution, I thought it would be ideal to get them to ask the right questions and subsequently evaluate their condition and explore possible solutions. Such an approach, I thought, would inspire people to focus on the real deal.
The entire methodology, I have come to realize, was mostly based on a seemingly single essential question: why?
Essentially, the premise was that only a great business idea should be worth pursuing, the rest is useless noise. With a proper critical mindset, I thought a philosophical attitude that outright challenged a burgeoning idea we have can be demolished even before we move to perform market and feasibility studies. Why bother put effort into something that might be materially, physically, and psychically costly?
A proper Socratic method would save entrepreneurs and businesses the hassle of endeavoring into new projects by doing a philosophical SWOT analysis, one that examined the project from different philosophical vantage points: the nature of the project, the main objective behind it, the ethical problems ensuing therefrom, and the value-added.
A Socratic method properly employed is meant to reach a dead end. So while you might think this approach is similar to that of a SWOT analysis, it is not for the simple reason that under close Socratic scrutiny, every other project will be smashed even before you begin to seriously think about it.
I had a few people on board: software developers and consultants. They also thought it was important to challenge business ideas at a more fundamental level, to face the mushrooming of entrepreneurs and start-ups. More than 90% of them would fail anyway, so why not create an A-team that would put some sense into them? The best way to go about doing things is to bet for what is almost certainly going to succeed, and with proper questioning, we thought we could do that.
With time, however, this very same idea self-destroyed itself, because before we even take it further we had destroyed it following the very same method we were going to use on other businesses.
The project died out before we even started. Subsequently, I started giving it a thought to reevaluate the idea. I was now more concerned with the criteria to determine whether a business proposal would be successful or not.
I can go on and on, but it finally dawned on me that I was making two fundamental mistakes:
a) I assumed it would be easy to predict whether an idea would be successful without actually pursuing it
b) I was employing the Socratic method in a destructive rather than a constructive way
The way I thought about success was also erroneous. We often assume that success is the end goal of starting a business or any other activity we undertake (education, career, etc). So not only is it difficult to predict whether or not a project will be successful, despite all the data and market research you might have done. But chasing success only will make you oblivious to all the other fun stuff of any undertaking.
Also, failure is as central to pursuing an idea, as success might be. The journey is also as essential as any other aspect of starting a business. The only thing that you have to watch out for is not risking more than you can afford to lose. But other than that, my new approach focuses on ‘why not’ rather than a ‘why’ approach.
Ever since I changed the fundamental question, new opportunities seemed to emerge. If I had convinced myself that online philosophy classes are not worth pursuing because there’s enough free material out there, for example, I would have never ventured into the marketplace!
If I had thought that writing a book is futile because everything is already said, I would not have written Sardonically Speaking!
Instead, I now hedge my risk, and venture into any idea I might have. Starting a business is not an end in itself, it is a journey. And along the way, new bridges are built, and more opportunities pop up.
The real failure is when you don’t attempt to materialize your idea when you put yourself down and others via a defeatist attitude. A better approach is to test your ideas through, and along the way refine and hone them. You never know when your project might pick up, and your business will flourish.
If you want to keep up to date, or ask me any question, you can find me on twitter @decafquest.