Imagine if you only got one shot: throughout your entire life, you could only watch one film, paint one picture, date one partner, choose one home, and tell one joke.
And the pressure of that decision: the self doubt, the endless re-starts. The risk for creatives! How could you create something unique if you only had one attempt? How could you justify being brave and novel and disruptive if this was it?
Trying to innovate in a one-shot world would be madness.
The state of the nation
And yet, every day, we voluntarily subject ourselves to that one-shot world precisely when we undertake our most valued pursuits.
We save up the runway to “do a start up” and go all-in. We quit our job to “write our novel.”
It is so precious and we are so protective that we spend far too much and far too long on it. And if it fails, we are too damaged to “risk” doing another.
But the reason these failures are so painful is precisely because we behaved as if we only had one shot: we over-commited, betting fast and hard. One-shot syndrome is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If it’s your last hand in an all-or-nothing game, you’ve no choice but to push your chips into the middle regardless of the odds.
The mistake wasn’t in your bet. It was in your choice of table.
Escaping the madness
I actually think the existence of this phenomenon is terrific news: it means we can make entrepreneurial failure less painful.
Have you heard of the pottery class divided in two?
One half of the pottery class was told they would be graded based on the quality of a single pot: their masterpiece. The other half would be graded purely on quantity: more pots equals more points.
As expected, the second group produced more pots.
However, they also produced better pots.
Experimentation, quantity, and a propensity for shipping outperform obsession over a single piece.
It’s as true of startups (or any creative endeavour) as it is of pottery.
You escape the madness by seeing it as a thing you do, not a thing you make. You’re not making one pot, you are a potter.
Every day for years, [Trollope] woke in darkness and wrote from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., with his watch in front of him… If he finished one novel before eight-thirty, he took out a fresh piece of paper and started the next.
Trollope was not writing a book. He was a writer.