January 31st, 2024 | By: Wil Schroter
Sometimes our greatest liability is our own experience.
We often look up to executives who have incredible experience in their fields, rightfully so, as these "Gods of Wisdom." We assume their years of hard-earned experience allow them to make forecasts and decisions that the rest of us would just be guessing at.
But what if that same experience worked against them? What if their pattern recognition actually created a dangerous bias that prevented them from innovating on past success?
Founders are pattern-breaking machines by definition. Our whole DNA is based on upending the patterns of the past and creating new products to replace them. So what if the least experienced Founders were the greatest assets of innovation?
We rely heavily on our experiences because, generally, they make our lives more efficient. If we know that every time we take a certain path home, we'll hit traffic, our pattern recognition kicks in, and we stop taking that route. It generally works well for us.
But what if that route we stopped taking changed since we made that decision? What if they widened the highway or improved some traffic flow? We'd be left with making a poor, slower decision based on our past experiences..
You know who wouldn't make that poor decision? The person who has never experienced that traffic because they were taking that route for the first time! They would be free of any of the biases of past traffic jams and, instead, only know current success. In effect, our experience and the bias it created prevented us from being right.
Last week I watched an interview with Tom Morello, the legendary lead guitarist from the heavy metal band Rage Against the Machine. The interviewer asked Morello, who graduated from Harvard as a Political Science major, how he became one of the most influential guitarists when nothing about his path had led him to become a musician.
He explained that he was able to become such an extraordinary guitarist because he never took what worked in the past for granted. Instead of trying to improve on the greats like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin or Eddie Van Halen, he said, "Why repeat what's already worked? You're only going to get more of the same result!"
Morello experimented with countless ways to get music out of a guitar, including doing entire solos with nothing but his bare palm and the jack that connected to his guitar (that's the way he plays "Testify" if you're curious). He broke entirely new ground not because of his experience but because he deliberately ignored experience in favor of getting something entirely raw and real.
You know how they say the best time to learn how to ride a bike, ski or ice skate is when you're a little kid? What they are really saying is, "You're too dumb to fail!" There's so much truth — and power — in that statement.
There's a moment in our lives where we haven't been broken yet. We haven't had our hearts broken, our spirits broken, or our bank accounts broken. Without any experience of the downside, all we have is the opportunity of upside, which makes us beautifully dangerous. We get on that bike, wobble and fall, then ride again. We do it because our hearts are aligned with our experience — that it's going to be great - because we don't know anything else.
As Founders, being "too dumb to fail" allows us to go places where more experienced people wouldn't think to go. We build startups without understanding if they can make money. We quit jobs without realizing what the impact might be. We do things not because we can, but because we should.
That kind of Founder, without the restraints of time, will continue to be the greatest asset in the startup ecosystem.
Don’t Work Long Hours, Work Efficient Hours As Founders, we should stop being "long hours" champions and instead start being proud of how much we can do in as few hours as possible.
The Emotional Cost of Being a Founder When we talk about building startups, we talk about lots of costs: Staffing costs, the cost of capital, cost per acquisition, and opportunity cost. But we never talk about the biggest cost – the emotional cost.
Who's Qualified To Be A Founder? (podcast) It turns out; anyone can become a Founder. Having the idea and vision for your Startup is easy, but building a business out of nothing, dealing with potential issues and challenges, and getting started aren’t as easy.
Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes Bizplan, Clarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.