“DON’T WORRY IF YOU DON’T KNOW ‘ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING’ BEFORE STARTING OUT.”
That’s probably the last thing you need…
A lot of people massively postpone their EVIL PLANS, for the simple reason that they don’t have an answer for every possible contingency.
They don’t know enough about the industry. They don’t know enough people in the industry- especially the A-Listers. They don’t know enough about where the market is going to be in five years. They don’t know enough about what could possibly go wrong. They don’t know where EVERY SINGLE LAST POSSIBLE LANDMINE is buried.
So instead of getting on with it, they spend the next few years keeping their Nowheresville day job, whilst spending their evenings surfing the web, scouring the trade magazines, researching everything like crazy, trying to get a thorough, small-time Outsider’s view about what the big-time Insiders are currently up to.
And then they often compound this by also trying to get a handle on the even bigger stuff. What will happen to the American/Asian/European/Brazilian/Whatever economy in the next 2/5/10/25/Whatever years, and how will these BIG things affect their tiny, obscure niche.
They want to have ALL the answers, before ever risking getting their feet wet. Hell, before even getting their little toe wet…
Agreed, a wee bit of prudence and informed circumspection are lovely virtues to have, but overdoing it can be ultimately unproductive, for a variety of reasons. Here are my four favorite ones:
i. Being an Outsider with too much Insider Knowledge, makes it even more likely that you’ll make the same mistakes as everybody else.
When Google- the most successful advertising business in the history of the world- started their company, their founders knew practically nothing about the inside workings of Madison Avenue. Sergey Brin and Larry Page most likely had zero inside knowledge about famous advertising titans like Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy, Lee Clowes, John Hegarty or Claude Hopkins. They were just a couple of twenty-something Stanford PhD students, who were far more interested in Internet search engines than they ever were in Nielsen Ratings, Proctor & Gamble or The Clio Awards. Which helps explain why, when the normal, mainstream, industry-obsessed kids of around the same age were just landing their first East Coast internships or junior executive positions at advertising blue-chips like McCann’s, Lintas, DDB or Saatchi’s, Sergey and Larry were already well on their way to becoming billionaires.
When I started my fine-art print business in late 2008, I didn’t wait for the acclaim of the big-city gallery scene, or a favorable review from the New York Times art critics before I took the plunge. [A] Those elite votes of approval were VERY unlikely to happen anyway, and [B] Even if did happen, it would have taken years and years. I just reckoned instead that [A] my blog readers already knew and liked my work, [B] a lot of them had disposable incomes and [C] a lot of them had a lot of wall space that needed filling. That was all the incentive I needed to get the ball rolling.
So I just put the idea out there on my blog to see if any fish would bite. And they did. A lot of them even liked the idea enough to put up money in advance, before I had spent a single penny. As a result, the business has been profitable since Day One, without me having to gain an encyclopedic knowledge of the big New York, London and Shanghai art galleries, the current career trajectories of all the artists they represent, or the recent auction prices at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Too much of that stuff would’ve just slowed me down, big time.
[Other, Far Better Examples Than My Own:] Before they launched their car companies, Henry Ford and Karl Benz didn’t decide to first spend a decade trying to win the approval of prominent horse breeders or railway magnates. Same goes for the Wright Brothers.
I love this story about Bill Gates: Some years ago, when the company he founded, Microsoft was at the height of its powers, he was giving a lecture to some college students. When the the Question & Answers came along, a keen undergraduate asked the question, “What advice would you give to a young person like me who wants to make a lot of money some day?”
Gates’ answer was as wonderful as it was short: “For Goodness’ sake, don’t do what I did. That money’s already been made by me.”
ii.”Events, Dear Boy, Events.” -Harold Macmillan, British Prime Minister 1957-1963, after being asked by a young journalist, what is the most likely single factor to blow any government off-course.
If it’s pretty much impossible for the smartest people in Washington, Wall Street and Silicon Valley to predict what the big, bad world is going to do next, what chance does a guy wanting to open a small, highly-specialized, hand-built EVIL PLAN bicycle operation have, from his small storefront in Brooklyn?
Trying to micromanage the Macro, from the comfort of your wee bike shop… Seriously, your time is better spent trying to manage what you CAN control. Like being nice to customers, keeping your word, staying cheerful, positive and focused, completing a task cheaper, faster and better than you had originally promised, working harder and smarter than the next guy, fighting hard to keep your ideas fresh i.e. all those good, small moves that Grandma told you about decades ago.
To get some very lucid, hardcore perspective on this, I recommend that you read Nassim Taleb’s excellent and highly readable “Fooled By Randomness” (W. W. Norton & Co., 2001). Nassim’s thesis is childishly simple: That the bigger the historical event, the more random and unpredictable the event was to begin with. Nobody saw 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the assassinations of JFK, Lincoln or Archduke Franz Ferdinand (and the subsequent outbreak of a four-year World War), the Atomic Bombs being dropped on Japan, the 1923 collapse of the German Deutchmark, the Barbarians sacking Rome in 410 A.D., The Bubonic Plague of the 1300’s, or Hitler’s 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union coming down the pike. Ditto with Detroit not seeing the threat of Japanese cars coming after 1945, or IBM not seeing the threat posed in the 1970s by Microsoft and Apple. Everything just happened when it did, everybody was shocked completely, and everybody just had to deal with the MASSIVE AND UNPREDICTABLE consequences afterward. Not too much fun at the time, but there was no other choice. Nassim makes a damn good case.
So if your EVIL PLAN is to open up a two-person internet software company, or a mom n’ pop fancy cheese shop in North Chicago, there’s little point in first waiting to see if, sometime in the next two decades, whether or not India and Pakistan decide to launch nuclear missiles against each other.
iii. Interesting destinies rarely come from just reading the instructions manual.
Yes, Louis Pasteur did say, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” On one level, he was right. That being said, the stuff you learn beforehand will never be one-tenth as useful as the stuff you learn the hard way, on the job. All the former can do is help train you to deal with the reality of the latter. The real truth is always found in the moment, never in the future. Sadly, not everybody is cut out for thriving in the present tense. Life is unfair.
iv. “Sometimes Paranoia’s just having all the facts.” -William S. Burroughs.
I’ve been in a few businesses in my time: advertising, marketing, fine art prints, greeting cards, phone sales, animation, magazines, wine, corporate consulting, English tailoring, and now, book writing. Take it from me- if I had known ONE HALF about these businesses that I know now, I doubt I would’ve bothered in the first place. Instead, I would’ve just gotten an MBA or law degree somewhere and landed a mid-level position in a bank, law firm, corporation or whatever. Maybe joined the local country club while I was at it. Lucky Me.
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Yeah, the greatest mistake we do is that we want to control things, know the outcome, have safety, know it all.
We are taught these insane principles since childhood:
“when you will have college education, you will have safe life. when you will do your masters degree you are secured for life…” nonsense…
It is just not possible in this world to ever know what is gonna happen, whole universe is just one big chaos, which order we cannot figure out.
All we need to do is to find our own flow, and flow along with the universe.
The only responsibility we have is to know ourselves and then we can share our talents with the world.
If we let others to tell us what are we good at and we will wait for their approvals of something only we can know and feel, we can waste plenty of precious time…;-)
Hugh, is certainly great example of mastering own talents and living in flow with his gifts.
Have a super cool uncertain day, folks.
cheers from Slovakia
Nice one Hugh. Insightful as always. Part of the reason I like being over 40 is now I sort of ‘get it’. I can see the bigger picture. And I take the ‘trades’ always with a heavy grain of salt. Don’t pay too much attention to those other things definitely being made. Half of them never get made and half of the half never get distribution. Ploughing on regardless is always a good idea. Horses wear blinkers in races for a reason.
This advice, although inspired by an artist’s experience, is very much in the same spirit as “Getting Real”, which deals with software development. If I had to boil that common notion down to to one catchphrase, it would be Nike’s “Just Do It.”
Not insightful as always.
Your best post of the year, Hugh.
People need to realize that until they actually do something, nothing much is going to happen.
what an amazing post. b-school nyu coined it ‘analysis paralysis’
love all except the idea that some of these massive events were random and unpredictable.
Perhaps to the peasants…but if anyone thinks Building 7 was anything but a Controlled Demolition, they need to get their retinas checked. Please find me a plane in Shankesville. The WOT is a fraud. Buildings don’t powderize when aflame. Totally absurd. Yet we buy everything the MSM spits out.
That aside, go for it. Like the first time you went BIG. Just gotta do it : )
For any idea, I always ask 2 questions :
 will the product/service meet a need or solve a problem?
 what negative circumstance/s will increase the probability of failure.
Normally, I’ll focus on the 2nd question while learning all there is to know about the idea/product/service.
Usually, either of these 2 things will happen:
 a smarter guy beats me to it while I was still ‘researching’.
 I ‘discover’ too many reasons while it will fail and I give up.
I know better now though.
WOOT and amen brother! This article is just in time for the BEST article of 2009!
Wow. Just wow. This is a blog post I’ve been waiting to read all year. What a way to start off an amazing 2010. I think I’ve done enough studying. Now onto DOING! Thanks Hugh.
I love this post!
This is an amazing post. It is very timely, and I appreciate you taking the time to write it and then share it with us.
I am really looking forward to Evil Plans. I would love to schedule a meetup in Raleigh, NC if you are interested once things start to line up.
Fantastic post Hugh! Really relevant and insightful!
Very timely!!!! I have battled this very topic all my life and now I’m in the process of taking action!!! Thank you for sharing the great stories and insight!!
Ha! Spot on. Research is exactly the reason I don’t start at least half the projects I dream up.
2010 = less thinking and more doing.
Right on Hugh. I wrote a similar piece awhile back titled “Shut Up an Start a Revolution” and the basic premise was those who are bold and jump in tend to create momentum, learn, and succeed.
I worked for a guy back in the early 90’s that created a 15 Mil company in two years on the simple premise that “people need help with computer networks”. He didn’t know that much about it, didn’t have a college degree, but he hired smart and boom, he did it.
Fits right in with,
“Do not confuse ‘correlation’
with ‘causality’– EVER!”
Stated by NNTaleb & perhaps others.
Dec 31 @ 6.18am
Okay, this is pure power. Required reading for everybody who is still waiting to get moving. (Although I’d REALLY like to be sure about that Pakistan question…)
At the risk of great opprobrium, I have linked to a post I wrote in response to this one here (its a bit long for a comment:
In it I have suggested a few addenda to the above under the guise of “Cunning Plans”.
In essence I agree with Yinka above that one has to be a tad more thoughtful with one’s evil plans rather than just jumping right in, ie try to increase the probability of succeeding and I have tried to think about what one may do to add “cunning” to the above points
Planning to plan usually results in no results.
[…] Some words of wisdom from Hugh MacLeod about why closing your eyes and making the leap can sometimes be better than thinking too much. A little knowledge is a good thing, too much can result in paralysis. Having been victims of over-thinking ourselves, this post was a timely reminder of why sometimes you’ve just got to take chance and trust your instincts for survival. […]
Thanks, Hugh! I absolutely needed to hear this. Happy new year!
Well said, Hugh.
Reminds me of a line from Shakespeare, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
nice thought. that shakespeare guy. he good!
[…] having the courage and faith to do so in the middle of recession was as Hugh MacLeod would say my #Evil Plan;-) I have sealed my last day at work by leaving a live message on Youtube for all the people, as I […]
Very good post, I love your honesty and candor. Your not trying to impress anyone just telling it like it is. You have inspired me, I am soooo guilty of over analyzing and reading way to much on a given topic and then doing nothing becuase I research my way into a hole! I am going to start small this year with some things I love doing and learn along the way. Thanks and Blessings to you this New Year!
I am getting ready to open a coffee shop with my wife and wow, I don’t know how people get anything done!
Its so damn annoying to listen to people tell me what I need to know, yet, not one of these people operate a coffee shop or any biz for that matter. Great post!
Thanks, Hugh! This is just what I needed to hear before the start of the New Year!
Very well said. You shouldn’t think too much about the end result because 1) you likely aren’t equipped to get there anytime soon, and thus 2) by the time you get there, the rules have changed.
I have been thinking and writing about this a lot lately. By the time advice is dished out, it is usually obsolete. The only way to have a chance at being relevant is to obey your own passions and curiosity.
“He who has begun has half done. Dare to be wise; begin!” -Horace
This is a nice, happy thought. Stupid, though.
Many, many who’ve followed this advice have failed. Far fewer have succeeded. Many, many who’ve planned and thought before acting have succeeded. Far more have failed. So this advice is useless – it teaches nothing about what allows for success.
Its a nice, happy thought. And I’m all for nice, happy thoughts at the New Year, but lets not confuse this with wisdom.
I’m sorry, but I really don’t think you read the post correctly…
Also, the ungracious and badly-written comment that you left, felt to me like it wasn’t written by someone who has experienced a lot of success himself so far… A person who has spent a lot of time reading the maps, but never actually visited the place for real, as it were.
I could be wrong, of course. Not that I actually care one way or the other.
The world is full of “map readers”. See Point Number One…
@Philip: Failures are blessing and no one can ever achieve anything when there are no failures, it means he has never lived…and that answers your doubt, why there are far many more don’t achieve much.
Because they gave up, lost faith in themselves and got distracted by “well-wishers” who has never had guts to do anything out of their comfort zone..
Important is what one learns from failure, which is great gift if one can seize if downturns.
Hugh’s achievement is remarkable and I am truly grateful that even before knowing him, I have pursued my own evil plan and 2009 has been the best year of my life.
One thing my boss always says is that when he wrote the books he’s published, he didn’t fully realize until afterward exactly what the core concept was. He knew enough to get the book done, but by the time it was finished, he’d lived with it long enough to have a much richer understanding. But without starting when he did, he’d have never reached that understanding. Seems like as good a reason as any to get moving.
And nice way to deal with such a sour comment, too.
Well, I have to agree with some of what you said above. Thanks for saying it. I apologize for the content of the post, and would not say those things today. As you say, I did not read you correctly, and was ungracious in my reply. I must have been in some-kind-of-mood that day! This does not excuse the boorish words, however, as I know better. I’m sorry.
For those who commented below: I’m sorry to have been a distraction. I apologize.
No worries, Phil, I’ve been there, many times before…
Man, if I had a dollar for every time I left a comment I regretted later, hell, it would pay for a weekend in Vegas 😀
I have done my maths and I reckon that you have failure loaded as the most likely outcome whether you plan or not. That seems rather pessimistic and highly unlikely.
I am in Hugh’s camp. After several successful ventures over a period of about 30 years I have realised that the only reason to plan is so that you know what to throw out when it doesn’t go according to plan – which is never does. Oh – the other reason to plan is to keep the risk averse bankers happy that you have a plan (risk averse only when it comes to small amounts of money of course). Then you throw it out!
It is wisdom because it comes from intention, action and reflection on what worked.
Happy New Year everyone and may it be as chaotic as you can bear!
This is a very unhappy comment. I have now read the comment six times in an effort to determine if there is greater meaning, or some dormant ecstasy. But I see none. And I hate you. I hate you with all the vicious vitriol that can be located in the dictionary. If you were a woman, I would not impregnate you. For I could not count upon you to imbue our love child with joy. If you were a frog, and I were enlisted in a jumping contest, I would probably have to zap you with a transformer. And I would lose. Just speculating upon this makes me hate, hate, hate you more. The issue is not mine. It is yours. You have failed, Mr. Bundman, if that is indeed your real name. Just to be sure, I have canceled the cummerbund with my rented tuxedo tonight. For if I were aware of it, I would associate with my cummerbund with your name and might accidentally stab myself during the New Year’s Eve dinner. The fact that I would likely unleash physical harm upon myself makes me hate you more. You have a useless name, a useless array of thoughts, and it teaches nothing for my New Year’s Eve plans tonight. For this, I hate you more. In fact, just thinking about how much I hate you, I have grown to hate you even more. You can now be sufficiently compared with a Nazi. It is YOU, Mr. Bundman, who has taken this to a Godwinian level. It is YOU, Mr. Bundman, who has provoked me and caused me to live up to every cliche in a comment thread.
I cannot take stock in a man who limits his use of many to two in a sequence. There are now many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many reasons behind my claims, but I won’t trouble you with them. For I only deliver my logic to those who live a bona-fide life of success. I look to Philip Bundman and I see a leper, a planarian worm, a mouse twitching in a glue trap. None of this is MY fault. It is YOUR fault, Mr. Bundman. Stupid, really. It could have been so easily avoided.
Here, here, Hugh!
What an excellent post, Hugh, a terrific way to conclude this decade.
I reckon it’s the best I’ve read of you, of any words you’ve published.
Hey Hugh, I love your reply! And…
If Seth gives you the thumbs up on this one, that says it all… this post is amazing!
More success to you in the coming year and thanks for sharing it with us all.
Here’s to us nice, happy and stupid people getting things done, learning from actual mistakes, and sending the map readers a postcard as we execute our evil plans in 2010.
Great post. I could not agree more. You don’t have to know everything, and don’t be intimidated by people who act like they have all the answers. Just do YOUR thing. Thanks for sharing your insight.
Thanks, Hugh. I needed that. I have a secret evil plan of my own and for the past several months have been saying, “I want to wait just two more months to get a sense of what (fill in the blank) is going to do ( or be )”
I have a couple of your prints on the wall. Maybe I should add this post.
Thanks again for the kick in the ass.
I like it. Last year, we bought a house to open a BnB. It took awhile just to find the right house and location, but, we were moving forward. We studied what others had done while looking for the house, but, used only information that we felt fit with us. We have had a pretty good first year, but, are still struggling somewhat, due to “events” not related to starting the business. We would have struggles even had we not started. I would not have been able to live in such a nice house and met a lot of really neat people who have been our guests if we had not jumped in the deep water. Will we succeed? We have a chance,but, if we didn’t start, we would have none. Rock on Hugh!
This is SO true. Thanks for the reminder Hugh.
True story (in brief). 3 years ago I started to talk about a new business idea I had for a web based approach to an offline business I had previously been employed to run. I started researching what was required to start the new business and drew up business plans which i kept tweaking whilst seeking seed corn finance.
Over dinner one night in summer 2006 a business associate challenged me. He said I’d been talking about this new business for 9 months and he doubted it would ever happen. I sat back and realised I was trying to find out “absolutely everything” before starting out. Sod it. I decided I had to start the new business regardless. And I did.
The Tax Advice Network is now in its third year and is going from strength to strength. I still don’t know “absolutely everything” and never will!
again this guy philip’s negative comment ends up having a very, very defensive feel to it! i always found that strange, when i would point people to hugh and say, ‘holy crap, this guy is dead on.’ and people would be very dismissive and defensive about whatever topic hugh addressed/soothsayed.
phil sounds not even like a armchair entrepreneur. not entrepreneurial at all, but he’s definitely in the armchair….
i have a new term for him and his ilk. perhaps hugh will see fit to adopt it.
he’s an armchairier.
avoid them at all costs.
A peach of a post. Just finished your book for the 3rd time this afternoon.
Looking forward to the next “Evil Plan”.
Have fun seeing in the bells.
The tartan trews are on. A 4 pack of Stormhoek and we’re ready to roll.
Keep up the great work squire.
Great post Hugh. It is sad that the negative ones get the attention. It seems like we gravitate to the folks spewing the critical comments. I am all for a critique. However why not focus on a positive aspect. I don’t know perhaps the guy out there that was hesitating and needed a little push. Tell me that this post didn’t cause him to get off his ass and launch the business. You don’t know. That is just it. So unless you are opening a professional critic business or you have a valid objection that requires clarification, take that negative energy and use it to knock down a wall that stands between a potential small business owner and a successful launch.
[…] MacLeod (Blog, Twitter) in his post, “Don’t Worry if You Don’t Know ‘Absolutely Everything’ Before Starting Out” describes the end result of a content based approach and how it negatively effects our […]
Do not listen to the naysayer, Mr. Bundman. In fact, please ignore him completely. I love your post, Hugh, and I have lived it.
This year, contrary to all forces of nature, I have been able to do some amazing things. When I started out in January of 2009 I did not know how I would accomplish these things. But I felt with a little forethought and a whole lotta elbow grease I just might be able to accomplish my goal: educate the every day person on the importance of being a part of and helping the community.
I traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to tour the jungles, spelunked in caves, dived in the oceans and learn about the problems the people of the peninsula are having due to the U.S.’s dumping of fertilizers and chemicals in the Gulf of Mexico. Chiefly, a lot of the coral is dying there. I eco-blogged the entire way and spent months teaching others about how to keep our waters safer.
To continue the water conservation message, I installed five rain barrels on my home, then videotaped instructions and blogged about it. I also invented an inexpensive way of container planting to eliminate the need for daily watering of plants.
I built and maintained a 200′ community garden for my neighborhood. It was not about gardening – the message is totally about economic rejuvenation and the importance each person holds in making that happen.
Then, in an effort to help my community learn more about feeding themselves in an economic down time, I decided to rip out my entire front lawn and plant a vegetable garden. I was able to donate over 100 lbs of fresh vegetables to the local food pantry’s.
I held e-waste recycling extravaganza’s in my front driveway because my city was not interested in doing it. I was able to gather thousands of pounds of electronic waste to be recycled for our community so it did not go in the landfill.
Finally, after all that, my blog has been picked up by ChicagoNow.com, a division of Chicago Tribune Company. (You can see my year in pics there today – my first day of launch – http://www.gardeningnude.com).
And here’s the rub – I did not know how or if I would be able to do any of these things before I began. I jumped in with my clothes on and JUST DID IT. When I saw a problem, I did not bellyache and whine around – instead, I worked to solve it. Don’t let me fool you – none of this came easy and I had lots of failures even in this one year.
Next year my goal is to open an online magazine and retail site. My very first start-up company. And guess what? It’s people like Hugh here who know the truth – excuses get us no where. Action equals success.
I might not have as much money as others to get started, but I know I have more than enough determination and experience.
In my heart I was put here to make a difference for people. If I can accomplish what I did in a single year, imagine what I can accomplish next year?
Believe in yourself. You can make your dreams come true – no one else will for you. Work your fanny off and make it happen.
Best of luck in 2010 all!
As 2010 nears us now I raise a glass to Hugh
For he tells it like it is each day for me and for you!
And reminds us how blessed we are to be alive in this day,
Where we can paint, write or dream so free along our way.
He shows us Love, Hope and Evil Plan,
On a card drawn with his wit and hand.
Best to you in the New Year Hugh!!
this is exactly why great leaders surround themselves with a cabinet, if you will, of complementary experts… there isn’t enough time in the universe for one person to know it all (let alone know it all before starting out)… the key is having a mechanism in place for finding the answers. for some that’s twitter or google. for those who are really hard up for an advice network it might be family :p anyway, the paradox is that great leaders/great idea people recognize their limitations… but they still find a way to move forward.
Every semester, I have a handful of interns who receive required credit at university for working with me for at least 3-6 months.
I take these internships seriously…as a former TA and curriculum developer – providing a learning environment is as important to me as is acquiring awesome (unpaid) help in the studio.
Since starting my business a few years back, I found I sometimes had trouble articulating what I’ve done to get where I am, why what I do works for me, how to explain execution of your vision or what I just seemed to know in my gut – because there was no roadmap for what I wanted to achieve – I’ve just had to learn as I go.
Now, in addition to trying to deconstruct my own experience…I will always send every one of my interns here to read this post.
It describes everything I’ve ever believed about believing in yourself. BRAVO!! You are AMAZING!
Looking forward to lunch in Austin soon.
Happy New Year Hugh.
Happy New Year! MwaHahahaha *evil plan hatching*
Ignore Philip, a great man once said Ignore Everybody……..
Um never mind please continue on with your Evil Plans!
Happy New year Hugh
[…] Don’t worry if you don’t know “absolutely everything” before starting out by Hugh MacLeod at Gaping Void might be the kick in the pants you need to get started on your big idea. So many times we get paralyzed by the idea of perfection that we never get started on the one thing that could bring us happiness, prosperity, and a never-ending stream of clients. Remember: Done is Better than Perfect. Write that down. Read it often. […]
In my limited experience the best things have happened when problem solving and adaptation takes place rather than overpreparing. Thanks for the great post.
Ciao Last Decade!
Another Shakespeare quote comes to mind from King Lear and seems to fit, “Nothing will come of nothing”.
Thanks for the encouragement and the kick-start for 2010, great post.