Some thoughts on the half-fast entrepreneur with half-vast experience. Any resemblance to the author or the reader is purely coincidental.
Not Too Slow, Not Too Fast, More Half-Fast
“Bees are not as busy we think they are. They just can’t buzz any slower.”
True for entrepreneurs with ADD as well. Equanimity and the resulting flow is more productive and than it may first appear. For my part I spend some days interrupting half-finished tasks to half-finish new tasks before I interrupt myself to… I am not too slow and not too fast, most of the time I am a half-fast entrepreneur.
Half-Vast Experience: Lack of Requisite Variety
How much experience is enough for an entrepreneur to proceed confidently? Sometimes proceeding confidently is what introduces risk. If you are a novice and know it then you are likely to proceed tentatively.
It’s later that you can hatch a catastrophe. Fred Brooks referred to this as the “Second System Effect” in “The Mythical Man Month:
“An architect’s first work is apt to be spare and clean. He knows he doesn’t know what he’s doing, so he does it carefully and with great restraint.
As he designs the first work, frill after frill and embellishment after embellishment occur to him. These get stored away to be used “next time.” Sooner or later the first system is finished, and the architect, with firm confidence and a demonstrated mastery of that class of systems, is ready to build a second system.
This second is the most dangerous system a man ever designs. When he does his third and later ones, his prior experiences will confirm each other as to the general characteristics of such systems, and their differences will identify those parts of his experience that are particular and not generalizable.
The general tendency is to over-design the second system, using all the ideas and frills that were cautiously sidetracked on the first one. The result, as Ovid says, is a “big pile.”
Fred Brooks “The Mythical Man Month” (emphasis added)
How To Avoid Becoming a Half-Fast Entrepreneur
I suppose the easy answer is “you’ll have to figure that one out for yourself.” But it seems to me that the key mistakes to avoid are:
- A lack of care given the stakes (this is why proof of concept models, prototypes, MVPs and other safe-to-fail approaches allow you debug aspects of your product and business. This is why serial entrepreneurs rely on premortems to anticipate problems by involving the entire team in anticipating potential problems and on post mortems (also called after actions or retrospectives) to do the same thing at each phase or significant milestone to make mid-course corrections based on experience.
- A lack of integrity or abuse of the trust your employees, customers, partners, investors, and other stakeholders have placed in you. In the end it’s these people who will bail you out if you have made a mistake in judgement as long as you have not abused their trust.
- A belief in “overnight success” (a lack of patience for success) that leads you cut corners. What I have observed is that those who take it slow and play the “long game” tend to do better in the long run. Those who have an early success by buying a wining lottery ticket or making a lucky move tend to repeat “all in” strategies that ultimately fail badly.
“I get a weird feeling these days. If a little knowledge is dangerous, a lifetime of learning is goddamned catastrophic. And so nothing gives me so much pleasure as doing business with old men. The survival of an intelligent, ethical man into old age is the testament of civilization.”
Michael Bowen in “Prick“
- half-assed is over a hundred years old. “American Slang” by Robert Chapman says it dates from the late 1800s. In the “Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Vol. 1: A-G” Jonathan E. Lighter cites “there goes our half-assed Adjutant” from 1863.
- half-fast: I cannot find a definitive first use; it’s credited to Louis Armstrong on some cites but predates him.
- half-vast experience: Tom and Ray Magliozzi, better known as Click and Clack or the Car Talk guys would work this phrase into their written answers and their radio who. See “Q: Is My Mechanic a Crook?” The needlepoint picture is from a blog post “Don’t Start Vast Projects with Half-Vast Ideas” by John Robinson
- hatching a catastrophe is the title of Chapter 14 in Fred Brook’s “The Mythical Man Month.” The reference is not to a sudden single event but the slide loss of control of project that continually slips. It highlights the lack of recognition of the severity of the problem and the lack of effect mitigation or recovery strategies.
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- Feeling Lucky Is Not a Strategy
- Learning the Right Lessons From Failure
- The Lucky And The Wise
- Larry Smith: Fail Fast, Fail Often, and Die
- Busyness Won’t Build Your Business
- Preserving Trust And Demonstrating Expertise Unlocks Demanding Niche Markets
- Honesty in Negotiations
- Overnight Success