Thinking in Small Bets
Some people leave their mark on the world through a single vision. One company, product or idea that they work on for their entire life. For Phil Knight this was Nike, for Charles Darwin it was the theory of evolution, for Martin Luther King it was American civil rights.
While I massively admire the dedication of these people to a single cause, it’s not me. For the last few years, I’ve tried to immerse myself in books like Angela Duckworths ‘Grit’ and the biographies of people who showed single-minded determination towards a singular goal.
I’ve tried committing to a single project, but I can’t, it’s just not me.
This week I’ve tried to make sense of my eclectic passions, YouTube, writing, software products, physical products, crypto and more through an article on thinking in small bets.
There are some times in life when you need to take the plunge. Committing to a life partner. Raising a child. Doing your first skydive. These are all occasions where you are either in, or you are out.
These occasions though are rare. But most of us think in this binary way about projects, passions, or hobbies. We think we have to carve out a vast amount of time to put our all into something, or it’s not worth doing. I call this ‘big bet thinking’
There is nowhere more proliferated with examples of ‘big bet thinking’ than entrepreneurship. The rhetoric is deafening. Eat shit for 3 years. Put your all in. Work 80 hours weeks. My YouTube feed is full of this big bet advice. We hear the success stories of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Gary Vee etc. we see how they risked everything and it paid off and we are told that if we are willing to expose ourselves to this level of risk, and if we commit to our mission, we too can achieve this success.
I’m not denying that going all-in on big risks is probably required to found a billion-dollar company, but when we are honest with ourselves, how many of us actually want to own billion-dollar companies? Most people want financial freedom, to be able to work on something they are passionate about, and to not get colon cancer. All these things can be achieved without having to make a big bet.
In fact, if your life goals aren’t completely astronomical, I’d argue you’ve got a far better chance of achieving them through ‘small bet thinking’. Let’s demonstrate this through simple probability.
The Creativity Faucet
Engaging in creative thought is the highest leverage activity most of us can do. If we can think up novel solutions to old problems or novel ways to express old thoughts or ideas we are standing ourselves in very good stead.
Visualize your creativity as a backed-up pipe of water. The first mile of piping is packed with wastewater. This wastewater must be emptied before the clear water arrives.
Because your pipe only has one faucet, there’s no shortcut to achieving clarity other than first emptying the wastewater.
Let’s apply this to creativity: At the beginning of a writing session, you must write out every bad idea that reflexively comes to mind. Instead of being self-critical and resisting these bad ideas, you must openly accept them.
Once the bad ideas are emptied, strong ideas begin to arrive.