Tag Archives: troubleshooting

Hollywood and New Skills

It’s been about 4 months since I started my new business, and about 4 weeks since I quit my job to pursue my business full-time.

At first there were a lot of tears, fears, and uncertainty. It’s pretty overwhelming to not know where the rent is going to come from. I wasn’t very good at sales, but I had to sell if I wanted to eat, so I had to get up each day and try again.

Fast-forward 4 weeks

There are still a lot of tears, fears, and uncertainty. I still have to sell if I want to eat, and I’m still not very good at it. The doubt and overwhelming pressure still make me cry at least once a day.

See, in Hollywood, there’s a lot of doubt leading up to The Big Decision. But once you’ve decided, then actually implementing the decision takes only as long as one inspirational pop song. You try, and you try, and you get better, and better, and soon you’re ready for the Final Showdown.

It’s harder to live through it

We all know that that’s a technique Hollywood uses to compress the boring parts. But in your real life, alas, you don’t get to do that. Acquiring skills is more like the “Toepick” scene in The Cutting Edge: you’re going to fall down many times, people will laugh at you, and it doesn’t seem to make any difference at all.

I promise you are getting better. But I promise that it won’t feel like it for a while.

Resources for Further Reading
Mastery and the Average Factory Worker (PG 13: language).

Are your weaknesses actually your talents?

Figuring out your talents is hard. Crucial, but hard. Especially your major talents, the ones that aren’t just, you know, “I happen to do this pretty well” but that are “Oh my gosh! Did you really just do that? That’s amazing!” — the ones that you can make a living off of because you do them better than almost anyone else.

And the really frustrating thing is that your major talents may be the things that you think are weaknesses.

Let me ‘xplain….

A semi-irrelevant book reference

I’m was reading my copy of The Gammage Cup (not an affiliate link because this isn’t really a recommendation, just a point of reference. Although it is a lovely children’s book, and certainly wouldn’t be a waste of your time, if you’re into children’s books). And the main character, Muggles, is kind of the town dunce. Everyone’s very kind to her, of course, because it wouldn’t be polite to taunt someone who’s simple-minded.

…except, as you read the book, you realize that she’s not, despite what everyone, including her, thinks. She’s very practical and thorough, and has a great talent for metaphor and simile that makes her advice very poetic. The problem is that no one else in the village is used to thinking in terms of metaphor or allegory. So when she says (in relation to the puffed-up village leaders in their fancy clothes) “A trout made into fish cakes is still trout” — everyone just thinks that she’s stating the obvious, and sympathizes with her foolishness. And when everyone you know tells you that you’re foolish, well, of course you’re going to believe it.

Do you think you’re bad because you are? Or because they say you are?

Many times, when someone says that you did badly, what they mean is that you did it differently than they would have. The question is which method is better, theirs or yours?

In many cases, this is obvious. If someone says that you threw a free-throw badly, it’s pretty clear whether it was bad or not: if it missed the basket, you did it badly.

But in many cases, it’s not obvious. In writing. In relationships. In business. Elvis Presley was kicked out of his high school’s glee club because they said he’d ruin their sound. And it’s entirely possible that he would have — he does have a very distinctive voice, which wouldn’t necessarily blend well with others’ voices. But does that mean Elvis’ music is bad? 147 best-selling albums say it isn’t.

What works better?

Of course, just because no one understands you doesn’t mean you’re an artist. But even in cases where there’s not a clear objective test, you can still watch for tendencies.

Do you have an easier time writing emails than the person who’s criticizing your writing? Who has more miscommunications? Who takes more back-and-forth iterations to get their point across? That person’s probably the worse writer.

Who spends more time fighting with their friends or family? Who has more friends? Who has closer friends? If your relationships are more successful than theirs, why are you listening to their advice?

What you have to remember is that most other people don’t know what they’re talking about any more than you do.

Flickr used to be an MMORPG

Sometimes (what you want to do) and (what you think you want to do) are two separate categories.

For example, the people who started Flickr thought they were making a Massively-Multiplayer-Online-Role-Playing-Game, a la World of Warcraft or Everquest. They started building it, and added (as a nifty side-feature) the ability to upload and share pictures while you were playing.

Before long, they realized that (a) the MMORPG market was saturated (b) the photo-sharing market was underserved, and (c) their product was a lot cooler in the photo-sharing market than in the MMORPG market.

So they changed. In start-up terms, it’s called a “pivot” — you stop right where you are, and go in an whole new direction. And it’s totally OK.

Sometimes you don’t know where you’re going

Actually, a lot of the times you don’t know where you’re going. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start.

Sometimes you realize that you’re going the wrong way

This isn’t quite as common. But it’s no shame. Feel free to change what you’re doing if you find something better.

It’s still better to be going

When you were little, your parents told you that you should stay put if you got lost. That way someone could find you.

But you don’t do that now. If you get lost, you might pull over and look at your directions. You might drive around the block a few times, trying to spot your landmarks. But what you most definitely would not do is to stop in the middle of the road and hope that someone would point you in the right direction.

Business is no different. If you don’t know what you want to do, then make a guess and try it out. At least you’ll learn something.

Lack of Instant Success is NOT Failure

Last time, I used my new attempt at adwords as an example of how success actually works in the real world, ie slowly. (To date, it’s generated a total of 579 clicks, 577 of which were before I realized that I needed to adjust my settings to generate useful clicks. Which is to say, I’ve had 2 clicks.)

Have I failed? Well, certainly it didn’t go like a movie montage, where it’s an instant success, I go on to fame and fortune, and never have to work again (*sigh*). On the other hand, I didn’t lose anything (I lost $81, but that’s not going to break even me). There’s no teacher saying “Raina, you stupid child, can’t you get anything right? F- for you!”. There’s still a terabyte of Google Adwords Help I can read. I can try again.

  • My nephew, Dragon, has not yet stood up without falling down. Has his learning-to-walk campaign failed? Of course not! He’s still learning. Give him a break; he’s not yet two.

  • A teenager tries to park his car next to the curb, but starts turning too soon and can’t fit into the space. Has he failed? No… he pulls out and tries again.
  • The plumber comes to your house, replaces the leaky valve, and your hot water heater still leaks. Has he failed? No, he’s identified another problem that needs to be solved.

Issac Asimov got rejected several hundred times before he went on to become the most published sci-fi writer ever. Thomas Edison tried thousands of potential filaments before he hit on tungsten and invented the lightbulb. Look up Abe Lincoln’s political track record sometime.

I haven’t succeeded. I haven’t failed. There’s a status in-between the two, which we might call “Pending”. I’m pending. I’m trying. Despite what Yoda says, trying is a very important part of life.

You can’t judge in the middle

The thing is, it doesn’t even make sense to determine “success” or “failure” until you get to the end of the trial. When you judge in the middle, you determine that Asimov will never get published, Edison is on a fool’s mission, and Lincoln should give it up and start a store (oh wait, he already did that. It failed, too.)

Lack of instant success is not failure. But you can make it so, by judging someone or something to be a failure before they have a chance to try again. When you say “You failed!” to yourself, or your kids, or your classmates, you’ve declared an arbitrary end to the trial. You’ve decided, on the basis of the first iteration, not to bother experimenting any more.

By what right do you do that to someone else? By what possible logic would you do that to yourself?

What to say instead

“You failed” doesn’t help anyone. Can we replace it with my brother-in-law’s solution instead?

    What happened?
    Why did it happen?
    What are you going to do different next time?

Resources for Further Reading
This Ain’t Middle School
Pessimism Vs. Realism
Shipping Hurts
Why Courage

Success Isn’t Instantaneous

Taking a big step towards your dreams can be is really, really scary. You like the idea of success, but taking a step that might actually bring about success? No, that’s just terrifying. Trust me, I’ve been there. I was there when I started this blog. I was there when I got as many visits in 1 day as I used to get in a month (Thanks @daveseah!). I was there this last week, when I decided to launch an info product on how to design a marketing plan.

I have good news for your lizard brain — success doesn’t come like it does in a Disney movie. You may well have a Tipping Point. But what comes after weeks or months or years of hard work and dedication… is more hard work. Like last week, when I decided to launch my info product. I wavered back and forth and paced around the room and cried (yes, literally) before I went ahead and took action. I registered a domain name, set up the website, and….

realized that I have no idea how to use paid internet advertising. I have an adwords campaign. Setting one up is as easy as they claim. Setting up a good or effective campaign… that’s something else entirely. My results to date have been:

  • 670,454 impressions, resulting in 552 clicks, resulting in 3 orders… all from countries I can’t yet ship to. [campaign corrected to show ads only in countries I can ship to]

  • 17 impressions, 0 clicks [modified campaign according to google’s advice]
  • 5 impressions, 0 clicks [started over. Actually read help files]
  • 26 impressions, 0 clicks
  • 511 impressions, 0 clicks (2000% improvement!)

I’m sure I’ll get there eventually. And as long as my campaign sucks enough, it doesn’t cost me anything. And the really good news is that my lizard brain has determined that this is no threat, so it’s curled up and gone to sleep. By the time the incremental success catches up and turns into actual success, it will be too late.

So whatever you’ve been thinking about doing — it’s not as scary as you think. It probably won’t work anyway. So go ahead and try it.