December 15, 2019

Why start now: unknown unknowns

For most new things, you don't even know what you have to do to prepare. So the best thing to do to maximize the chance of succeeding your new venture is to start.

Why start now: unknown unknowns

Getting ready to start something is always exciting. You prepare and research every possible aspect of this new journey. And you are always almost ready to start. Just a few more days.

But in those few days, more undiscovered subjects come up. And you need to explore them as well, before getting started.

Sounds familiar? Almost everyone that created something has gone through this process.

Unfortunately, a lot of things that could have been created weren't created due to this process.

The issue is that this "prepare phase" can last forever if you are not disciplined. And this process that was supposed to prepare you for the big journey, is holding you back. The worst thing is that you don't even notice it that is holding you back. You are carried away in the illusion of preparation.

I consider this an illusion because, for most new things, you don't even know what you have to do to prepare. And this applies to almost anything. New business ventures, new jobs, new personal projects.

There are three kinds of knowledge for any given subject:

  • Known: All the subjects that you have studied and researched.
  • Unknown: Things in your never-ending to-do list, that you need to learn.
  • Unknown unknowns: All those things that not only you haven't researched them yet, but most importantly you don't even know that they exist.

Unlike school, real world is full of unknown unknowns. The majority of things that you need to do, fall into that bucket. And all the time you spend preparing falls into the first two buckets.

So the best thing to do to maximize the chance of succeeding your new venture is to start. Even if you don't "feel" ready. Because practically you will never be.

These unknown unknowns will reveal themselves in the journey and you can prioritize accordingly.

Even if you make more mistakes, that early start will give you the opportunity to focus only on things that are actually useful and not just potentially useful.

In software engineering, this is widely accepted. You just cannot plan an entire project from the beginning. The majority of the requirements will be in the unknown unknowns bucket. So after the initial scoping of a project, work begins and reviews for the direction of the project are regularly taking place to adjust according to the data at hand.

We shouldn't be extreme of course. There are a few things that need exhaustive preparation. If human life is at stake, exhaustive preparation is needed of course. But most of the people that are caught in this endless preparation trap are not handling human lives.

To recap:

  • You will never feel "ready". Stuff will just keep appearing and you will fall into the endless preparation trap.
  • Prepare for a reasonable amount of time. If you don't know what "reasonable" should be, set a time limit before start preparing.
  • Then just start working. Accept that you have an incomplete picture and most of the things that you need to know are in the "unknown unknowns" bucket anyway.
  • Even if you make more mistakes at the beginning, you will discover more "unknown unknowns" that you actually need to look into instead of potentially useful subjects.
A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.

- George Bernard Shaw

Happy beginnings!