Safety Nets Are For Failing

January 23rd, 2012
[ Software Development ]

A friend who’d been freelancing for the past 6 months recently accepted a job. In speaking with her about her short experience freelancing, she talked about safety nets. They just took on a mortgage, have two cars, etc. If she goes out on her own again, she would prepare better by reducing her income requirements as low as possible. Makes sense right? Prepare to live lean, aim to be ramen profitable. Investors love hearing this stuff!

My response was to disagree. Here’s my concern with ramen profitability, as a goal. A large part of entrepreneurship involves gambling on yourself. You have to become very good at measuring, and taking on, risk. No risk, no nothing. Risk is a requirement. You have to measure that risk effectively so that you aren’t taking unnecessary risks. Once you do take a risk, preparing a series of safety nets is just you deciding you’re going to fail.

“Every person who wins in any undertaking must be willing to burn his ships and cut all sources of retreat. Only by doing so can one be sure of maintaining that state of mind as a burning desire to win, essential to success”

Your subconscious is powerful. If there’s an exit available, it’ll take you there. I speak in public occasionally. I swear, in every case, had someone said to me right before I went up “hey, sorry, we’re running behind, do you mind going next time?”, I’d be all over it. Exit available, exit taken.

There are times when you should be removing failure as an available option instead of preparing it. Did you take driver training when you got your license? Remember being taught about the point of no return when driving into an intersection? As you’re approaching, you are aware of the green light and that it may turn yellow. You explicitly pick a point in time, after which it doesn’t matter if the light turns yellow, you are going through that intersection. It it turns yellow before that point, you hammer on the brakes and stop safely.

What’s the point? The point is that once you pass that point, you can focus and things get simpler. You no longer care about the colour of the light. If the light changes, you don’t flinch, tap the brakes, you just focus on the traffic in the intersection and your only job is to drive through it.

Remember jumping off bridges as a kid? Someone triple dog dared you? Why accept dares like that? Simple, you’re using peer pressure to remove your safety net. You no longer have any choice except to step off that bridge.

Parkinson’s Law says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. For entrepreneur’s it’s worth considering the role safety nets play. Is it possible that success only expands so as to fill the safety nets available?