April 11, 2009

Risk-Aversion and the Measure of Success

Did you know that the guy who designed the interface for Twitter is just 21?  Want more inspiration?  Look at this list of young, rich entrepreneurs:

01) Mark Zuckerberg | Facebook | 23 years old | $700M

02) Andrew Gower | Runescape | 28 years old | $650M

03) Blake Ross and David Hyatt | Mozilla | 22 years old | $120M

04) Chad Hurley | Youtube | 30 years old | $85M

05) Angelo Sotira | Deviant ART | 26 years old | $75M


I'm amazed by people like these kids.  They come up with some clever idea and they just run with it.  I'm sure they second-guess sometimes, but they push forward, adjust tactics when appropriate, and they work through it.  And it pays off!

I'm also sure there are zillions of people with not-so-clever ideas, people who second-guess themselves into defeat, people who blind themselves with pig-headedness.

I think I'm in the second category -- if I had any clever ideas for a business.  I am admittedly extremely risk averse.

If you have a plan that requires an endurance, then I'm there.  I plan things out for the long term and I can carry out the repetitive, day-in-day out required to get it done.  All I require is the knowledge that progress toward the goal is being made. But I do not like taking a chance to lose what has already been gained.

This is not exactly the entrepreneurial spirit, which requires taking risks on a big idea.  It requires pursuing an objective far more aggressively than just sitting back and plodding along  toward some objective.

I'm not beating myself up about my approach because pushing for long-term goals requires persistence.  My financial goals are a prime example of how I've used my strengths to work toward success.

I also know that some people consider my move to New York and approach for breaking into the world of marketing somewhat aggressive or risky. But, again, I planned this out, so to me it was just a very plain-jane approach.

But when I see these young whippersnappers being wildly successful, I find myself awed, inspired, and really just shocked into action.

Some people get depressed or frustrated when they see someone younger than themselves being wildly successful.  I can sort of understand this, but after careful consideration it seems inappropriate to dwell on that comparison.  You aren't them.  You did not have their ideas.  You don't even have their goals.  It would be nice to have their successes, but I think I would miserable if I were in their same position because I just don't want their life.

But it shows that intelligence, creativity, and a willingness to pursue goals can pay off.  That kind of gives me a kick in the butt.

I think my risk aversion is less about putting something on the line than about an inability to see the path from point A to point B.  Making such a path, though, is a strength for me.  My boss describes me saying that I "bring order to chaos."I also know that I'm smart and creative.

So, what's next?

The goal.  I need a long term objective.  Once that goal is set, I can divide it up into smaller goals and hit them one by one.

I think a lot of progress for people is stalled by the mere fact of lacking a goal.  If you ask people where they want to go in their careers, many just don't have a good answer.

I want to be a chief marketing officer of a major brand and direct brand strategy from a high level.

But I think people might have in their minds several goals.  They want to write a book.  They want to raise kids.  They want to travel around the world.  They want to be rich.  But I think having all of these goals create static in a person's mind and then they get up in the morning, go to their 9 to 5, ho-hum their way through the day, and come home and wonder why they aren't any closer to their goals or being happy.  It's because some of these goals contradict one another.

I'm not saying you can't have multiple goals in your life, but the fewer goals you have the more you can focus on each.  If having a career is one of your goals and having a load of children is another, then you should expect your career to move more slowly than you might prefer and to sometimes miss spending time with your children.  Some people might manage to have wild success at both ventures at the same time, but that is exceedingly unlikely.

I sometimes have this problem myself.  I want children, three of them, if I can. I'd like to have this career.  I'd like to travel.  I'd like to learn to write well. Perhaps I can do some of these things all at once, but I don't think I can do all of them.  So, I have to focus.

I suspect that other people never get to the point of focusing on a single or a minimal few goals in life as part of this notion that a person can have it all.  Another part is the notion that having it all should be easy, but that's a topic for another day.

Also, it's perfectly acceptable to not earn a fortune to rival the Hilton estate.  Some people get upset because they aren't absolutely WILDLY SUCCESSFUL in their career.  Again, I question the propriety of comparing one's life to that of a gold medalist or Sergei Brinn or Warren Buffet.  But in order to be happy at one's station in life, one must decide if one is achieving one's life goals there.

Ok.  This post has turned into a full-blown ramble.  I started out just wanting to discuss ambition and those kids who see huge successes early in life and about how it inspires me to check back in with my own goals and what I need to do to achieve them.

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Posted by: jmk at July 14, 2010 08:43 PM (RYfpw)

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