Your own deeply personal puzzle

I care about this thing ≠ I should try to solve this thing

Perhaps it’s a little easy to get distracted by all of the problems out there to solve. There are many - lots of new problems, and lots of old problems.

Human progress is a kind of never ending and massively complicated problem solving game. The pieces keep moving and changing shape, all the while the different puzzles gets bigger. And it will never end. We’re too curious for that.

So, puzzles are inherently exciting, they’re fun. It’s why we play games and invented the Rubiks cube, even if it doesn’t ‘achieve’ anything.

Problem solvers can’t tackle all of life’s puzzles though, they need to pick the areas that are meaningful to them. Beat cancer. Zero emissions. Full employment. Free healthcare. Accessible education.

A good puzzle is really hard and really big. We have developed strategies for tackling them. When faced with a 10,000,000,000 piece jigsaw, you start in the corners.

The startup version of this is that you should be so focussed on your corner of the puzzle that you can’t see the full jigsaw.

Your corner is where you have an intimate knowledge of the edges that means you can do it best. Because you’re inherently knowledgeable about a specific area of the subject, you become obsessed with building this corner, even if you’re not sure about the whole puzzle.

The challenge of startups is at least two things then: The challenge is conceptually complex (problem solving is exciting) and it is materially complex (subject matter is relevant and exciting).

When I came to the point in my life of wanting to build a company, I knew I was principally driven by this first imperative. What I’m learning is just how important it is to be excited about the second part in the right way.

Put another way, I care about this thing ≠ I should try to solve this thing. This is especially true if you find that you easily care about a lot of things. Caring about something is not enough, it has to really be in your blood, part of who you are.

This is an important lesson. I believe that you shouldn’t try too hard to create a company for the sake of creating a company. You should be exicted about the complexity problem, and you need to also be somehow inherently connected to the subject matter.

Picking a random corner to start your problem solving game is easy. 
But. Please. Don’t. Rush.

Getting to the right corner is definitely more important and probably harder. Some people get there at 19 years old, some people at 60. Most never find it, and these startups probably fail.

When I first set out to build a business, I spent a few months really digging in to a really big social problem and was very excited to get on and make progress.

Fortunately, I killed that idea. The corner of that puzzle is still there, waiting for the pieces to be assembled. It just might not be the right corner for me. It may even not be the right puzzle. I got too excited by the challenge of the problem, and didn’t think enough about whether I could own a corner.

The puzzle of puzzles, choosing the right one for you, is deeply personal and nobody can solve it for you. Entrepreneur First call this Founder / Idea fit, and it sits at the core of their company building thesis.

As someone who gets excited about a lot of things, and genuinely cares about them, this is an extremely important lesson. It may be one of the most important I ever learn. It’s tough to settle but it’s definitely worse to force it wrong.

Go find your own puzzle instead.

P.S. If you don’t already know your puzzle, there is a really easy trick to finding it. Where do you already spend your time? Really think about this, it’s very revealing.

Some frameworks I’m using at the moment:

Edge Theory

Emergent Layers and particularly Disruption Theory

Idea Maze

*I’m currently working at Entrepreneur First part time. I believe it’s the best possible environment if you want to build an ambitious organisation. You should check it out