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How to choose among competing opportunities

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

February 27 · Issue #232 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: Having multiple options (e.g., career opportunities, projects) is great, but how do you choose the best one? This issue explores a few frameworks to help you decide.
(~3 min read)

#1. What you need is love
One way to choose what to work on is to look for early enthusiasm from potential clients, customers, or partners.
But are all enthusiasts created equal?
For LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, the answer is no.
On an episode of his podcast Masters of Scale, Hoffman says that it’s better to have 100 people who love your product than a million people who only sort of like it.
If you want to achieve massive growth and scale, you need more than just your customers’ attention.
You want such die-hard fans not only for their loyalty and use of your product, but also because they’re more likely to tell others about it.
If each of your early users tells two friends some version of “You’ve got to try this,” and then those two friends each tell two of their friends, and so on, then your users effectively do the marketing for you and your product may be on a path to viral growth.
As Hoffman points out, this pattern of word-of-mouth marketing is true for any globally successful product, from software startups like Airbnb and Dropbox to the Cronut.
So what does this mean for you as a creator or company founder?
Hoffman notes that many founders fall into the trap of the illusion of scale: “the 1 million users who show up to use a flash-in-the-pan product.”
It’s counterintuitive, but to reach truly sustainable growth and scale, you first have to give up your desire to scale, and instead commit to making your product indispensable for a small group of initial users.
“You should almost have a willful blindness to growth and a monomaniacal focus on making just a few people really happy.”
#2. Choose the experience you want to have
Author Josh Kaufman writes in his book The Personal MBA that many people have trouble figuring out what to do because they hesitate to make an actual decision. 
Loss aversion prompts them to leave all of their options open, just in case.
But as Kaufman points out: “Without a decision … their brains can’t use Mental Simulation to figure out how to get from where they are now to where they think they want to be, so their minds thrash around unproductively.”
If you’re struggling to make a decision, Kaufman recommends asking yourself: “Out of the available options, which experience do I want to have?”
When you’re struggling to make a decision, it’s often because your brain is having a hard time figuring out which option is best. 
Kaufman writes that this can be an uncomfortable situation, “but what it really means is that it doesn’t really matter which one you choose.
And if that’s true, then you can just choose the option you find more interesting. 
Kaufman tells the story of using this approach when his wife Kelsey received an exciting job offer in New York City. They spent weeks torn between staying in Cincinnati and moving to New York. 
Where would they live? Could they afford it? What about Kaufman’s job?
Kaufman reflects on the lesson from this experience: 
“In the end, we realized there wasn’t a clear winner, so it didn’t really matter which one we chose. Living in New York was an experience we both wanted to have, so we decided to move. Almost immediately, we felt a sense of clarity and relief.”
#3. “If it’s not a hit, switch”
Entrepreneur and musician Derek Sivers writes in his book Anything You Want that it took him years to learn the right lesson about being persistent: “Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently doing what’s not working.”
As Sivers notes, we all have a lot of ideas and projects. When you present one of them to the world, if the response is lackluster, don’t keep pushing it as-is. Instead, go back and keep improving it and inventing.
Then present each new improvement to the world. If multiple people are saying some version of “Wow, I need this!” or “I’d be happy to pay you for this!” then you should probably pursue it. But if the response is anything less, you need to make it better.
It’s not worth wasting years fighting uphill battles against locked doors.
For Sivers, creating the music distribution company CD Baby was his first notable success: “For the first time in my life, I had made something that people really wanted.”
Before that, he had spent 12 years struggling to promote his various projects. He tried numerous marketing approaches, networking, and pitching: “It always felt like an uphill battle, trying to open locked or slamming doors. I made progress, but only with massive effort.”
Quote of the week
“A decision without tradeoffs … isn’t a decision.
The art of good decision making is looking forward to and celebrating the tradeoffs, not pretending they don’t exist.”
- Author and marketing expert Seth Godin writing on his blog
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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