I recently read Ben Casnocha’s blog entry about entrepreneurial judgment where Ben quotes Marc Andreessen:
In my view, entrepreneurial judgment is the ability to tell the difference between a situation that's not working but persistence and iteration will ultimately prove it out, versus a situation that's not working and additional effort is a destructive waste of time and radical change is necessary.
I don't believe there are any good rules for being able to tell the difference between the two. Which is one of the main reasons starting a company is so hard.
I haven’t been able to get that quote out of my head.
Ideas as Time Wasters
I generally don’t have any problem coming up with business ideas. Most of the ideas completely suck and I understand that. And, I understand that the value of most ideas (mine or otherwise) is about negative zero; regardless there’s usually a germ of a potential business in many ideas. Granted, the ideas would have to be refined and rethought, but most of my ideas usually aren’t good enough for me to spend my time refining and rethinking.
Recently, though, I’ve had a dearth of ideas. I’ve tried to figure out why I used to fart ideas like I fart chili, but the farting has suddenly stopped. I think it’s because I’ve finally come to realize how much effort and time all of those ideas have usurped from my task laden days. I’ve finally begun to realize that my approach to finding a “good idea” just doesn’t work well.
A lot of people would recommend taking action on a somewhat good idea and go forth and morph. I like that approach, and the “take some action” approach has a lot of merit, but taking action and morphing can yield a big failure. And, the problem isn’t failure in and of itself; the problem is the resources (time and money) that failure extracts.
So what’s the problem?
One problem I have with simply choosing an idea to work on without doing any research or leg work and is that, at least for me, going forth does not equate to going off excitedly. In other words I need to believe in the idea. I need to believe there is, or will be a customer base for the idea. I need to believe the idea will be profitable. I have to believe in the idea in order to move forward with the idea.
Often I’ll have a bunch of ideas circulating in my head; I’m willing to kill some (or all) off, but I’m unwilling to latch onto any particular idea. Why? Because I’m unwilling to fall in love with an idea and waste my time and resources only to discover that it won’t pan-out in the end. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that realizes itself before any real action is applied. (Maybe it should be called “the bootstrapper’s dilemma.”)
And that’s the problem I’ve had with ideas lately. I’m no longer confident that I can tell which, if any, are worth pursuit. I don’t think it’s an issue of over-thinking or over-evaluation; I think it’s a simple issue of not really knowing or understanding how to properly evaluate a good idea.
What’s the solution?
Well, I actually don’t know what the solution is, but I’m going to try something different for a change. I think I’m going to do exactly what Eric Marcoullier did or what Paul Berbarian is doing (Paul Berbarian is fresh off of a failure and is looking for his next business idea); create a list of good ideas, get feedback, and then select one and go for it; really go for it – nothing half-assed. Just do it.