Sometimes you have the benefit of having the time to prepare for something in advance. When this is the case, if you put in the time, you can greatly increase your chances of reaching a positive outcome.
At other times, you don’t have time to prepare. Something happens to which you need to react on the spot.
When this is the case, if you have been faced with a similar situation before where your natural reaction was already tested to produce a positive or a negative outcome, this increases the chance that you engage in a current response that produces a positive outcome. This is the value of experience.
If you haven’t been faced with a similar situation before, that is if you don’t have contextual experience, the best you can do is to think about what’s happening as calmly as you can in whatever time is available. This is hard to do because, when faced with uncharted territory for which we haven’t had time to prepare, our natural reaction is to let our emotions guide our actions.
However, if you can remind yourself that what is now uncharted territory will soon become charted, that is, if you can see the new situation as an opportunity to gain experience rather than a reflection of your abilities, you can greatly improve your chance of reacting in a way that creates a positive outcome.
Most abilities are just repeated experiences.
In order to become a professional in a given field, you need to start off by working very hard. The reason is that there’s a lot to learn and you’re competing with other people who are further along the learning curve than you are.
However, the more you learn in a field, the less there is left to learn in that specific field. Although learning never ends even in a specific field, the pace of learning declines.
In addition, many people who were further along the learning curve when you started off in the field drop out, and you surpass many others as a result of your hard work.
When this happens, somewhat paradoxically, you work less hard as you gain more experience.
However, this doesn’t mean that your output declines. To the contrary, since you’ve learned which activities contribute to what you’re doing and which don’t, you don’t chase after everything as you used to when you first started off.
So you get to work less hard, but more smartly, while continuing to see increases in your output.
This continues to be the case unless you decide to enter a new field. If you do so, you get to experience the challenge but also the joy of once again learning something new.
In school we’re taught to provide the right answers to given questions. We’re instructed to assume that the questions we’re asked are the right ones. As a result, school doesn’t provide us sufficient training in the skill of asking the right questions.
However, much of our happiness and success later in life comes from asking the right questions. Some of these right questions are universal for a given domain and some vary from individual to individual.
For example, in the field of happiness, I used to think that the right question is “what makes you happy?” I then discovered that, at least for me, the right question is “what’s meaningful without taking away too much of your happiness?”
In the field of success, asking yourself “how can I best apply my skills in the context of market realities to produce something that others want?” is a better question than asking “what am I passionate about?”
In the context of venture capital investments, the right question is not “is this a good idea?” but “what will this team do with this idea?”
In the context of building startups, the right question is not “how much money do we need?” but “what do we want to achieve before hitting profitability or raising more money, and how much money will it take to get there?”
You can make substantial progress in asking the right questions by consciously reminding yourself to do so. However, sometimes the only way to get there is to first ask the wrong question, arrive at the right answer but for the wrong question, and then learn from your experiences.