I started working on it immediately. I sent out customer interviews. I compiled an outline. I researched other offerings in the market… and then you can probably guess what came next.
“Ugh. Is there really any point in doing this?”
“I should be working on a SaaS instead.”
“This doesn’t feel right.”
“I need to go back to the drawing board.”
… ad infinitum.
I was ready to give up on this one, too, after only a couple of days. I kept thinking, “Some other idea has to be better than this, right?”
Well. Wrong. Despite many promising ideas, right now, there is no better option for a new project idea. All are equally good to me. Here’s why:
This week, I learned about combinatorial explosions. And understanding my problem as one of combinatorial explosion has turned everything I knew about my thinking on its head. This was truly a transformative revelation for me.
In mathematics, combinatorial explosions occur when the inputs and parameters of a problem combine to rapidly increase the complexity of said problem, such that the problem becomes intractable.
Put another way, it’s when a problem is so ill-defined that it becomes near impossible, or actually impossible, to solve.
A combinatorial explosion is what I was experiencing when I tried to come up with a “perfect business idea for me” by identifying which industry I wanted to work in, which business model suited me best, which problem I was interested in solving, which audience I wanted to serve, and so on.
My mistake was that I was trying to solve the problem (‘What business should I start next?’) in an algorithmic fashion; I was trying my hardest to funnel all inputs through all manner of parametric combinations until my algorithm spat out a perfect answer.
And, of course, that never happened. Despite coming up with tens of good ideas, I never had any conviction for them.
Because the harsh reality of combinatorial explosion is this: no algorithm can solve that problem. There are simply too many combinations that collectively tend to infinity. No human brain and no machine can solve for infinity.
There is no perfect answer.
What I needed to do, I have since learned, is apply heuristics to narrow the problem area. If you’re not familiar with heuristics, know that they are simply a means of enabling someone to discover something for themselves without guaranteeing a certain outcome (unlike algorithms, which do guarantee a certain outcome when applied correctly).
The way I understand it, if I search for a business idea heuristically, I can get 90% of the way to a ‘perfect’ idea for me. And for once in my life, I’ve come to accept that 90% of the way there is good enough. Perfect does not exist. So 90% perfect is what it shall be.
I won’t go through every single heuristic I applied, but they related to things like:
- what I wanted my day to day work life to look like
- what I want my income potential to be
- who I want to help with a business
- what size team I will need to build
So, with these lessons in mind, I did not go back to the drawing board. I did not try to reinvent the wheel. I did not abandon the project my dog chose for me. Instead, I recognized that to avoid combinatorial explosion, I have to apply meaningful heuristics and then concede that the idea I come up with is probably as good as any other idea I’ll come up with using that process. And, indeed, I am now getting my head down and getting on with it.
Here’s my first progress report and plan for the coming week: