TITLE: Making Your Own Mistakes AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: October 10, 2011 2:56 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Earlier today, @johndmitchell retweeted a link from Tara "Miss Rogue" Hunt:
RT @missrogue: My presentation from this morning at #ennovation: The 10 Mistakes I've made...so you don't have to http://t.co/QE0DzF9tw
Danger ahead! I liked the title and so followed the link to the slide deck. The talk includes a few good quotes and communicates some solid experience on how to fail as a start-up, and also how to succeed. I was glad to have read. The title notwithstanding, though, be prepared. Other people making mistakes will not -- cannot -- save you from making the same mistakes. You'll have to make them yourself. There are certain kinds of mistakes that don't need to be made again, but that happens when we eliminate an entire class of problems. As a programmer, I mostly don't have to re-make the mistakes my forebears made when writing code in assembly. They learned from their mistakes and made tools that shield me from the problems I faced. Now, I write code in a higher-level language and let the tools implement the right solution for me. Of course, that means I face a new class of problems, or an old class of problems in a new way. So I make new kinds of mistakes. In the case of assembly and compilers, I am more comfortable working at that level and am thus glad to have been shielded from those old error traps, by the pioneers who preceded me. Starting a start up isn't the sort of problem we are able to bypass so easily. Collectively, we aren't good at all at reliably creating successful start-ups. Because the challenges involve other people and economic forces, they will likely remain a challenge well into our future. Warning, proceed at your risk! Even though Hunt and other people who have tried and failed at start-ups can't save us from making these mistakes, they still do us a service when they reflect on their experiences and share with us. They put up guideposts that say "Danger ahead!" and "Don't go there!" Why isn't that enough to save us? We may miss the signs in the noise of our world and walk into the thicket on our own. We may see the warning sign, think "My situation is different...", and proceed anyway. We may heed their advice, do everything we can to avoid the pitfall, and fail anyway. Perhaps we misunderstood the signs. Perhaps we aren't smart enough yet to solve the problem. Perhaps no one is, yet. Sometimes, we won't be until we have made the mistake once ourselves -- or thrice. Despite this, it is valuable to read about our forebears' experiences. Perhaps we will recognize the problem part of the way in and realize that we need to turn around before going any farther. Knowing other people's experiences can leave us better prepared not to go too far down into the abyss. A mistake partially made is often better than a mistake made all the way. If nothing else, we fail and are better able to recognize our mistake after we have made it. Other people's experience can help us put our own mistake into context. We may be able to understand the problem and solution better by bringing those other experiences to bear on our own experience. While I know that we have to make mistakes to learn, I don't romanticize failure. We should take reasonable measures to avoid problems and to recognize them as soon as possible. That's the ultimate value in learning what Hunt and other people can teach us. -----