Why learn many things poorly? The Path to Riches | no3
Why should you listen to me?
I have founded a few a few businesses, none of them bankrupt, and accomplished several projects and wrote some books, sort of.
I’m not dead.
Yes, these writings are a bit long and complicated. If was easy and straightforward, just required a few platitudes and you’re on your way, then everyone would do it. Everyone doesn’t, because it’s hard and complicated.
Each individual thing maybe simple and straightforward — such as in mathematics every step in every theorem is simple; indeed, so simple it’s supposed to be self evident — but actually going through and retaining all the steps and discovering and fixing one’s own contradictions along the way, is the hard part.
I’ve written this series of articles on how to start a project to be as useful to you as possible.
Useful includes a challenge. If you can’t get through the challenges you may face reading the words of someone who’s “been there” at the bleak and daunting start, and really did come from essentially homelessness with only 50 Euro’s at one point, then that’s useful too: a opportunity to reflect on your ability to meet a challenge.
Why is everything eclectic and crazy?
It’s not really all that profitable to teach you how not to suck at life, certainly not at this starting point where I need to just grind it out for months / years, so, I’m following my own advice and accepting an amateur level of writing due to only publishing first drafts without any edits, which is “good enough”: gets you the knowledge and is doable time commitment for me.
Long ass winded justification for learning lot’s of new skills:
I had actually wanted to continue with analysis of strategy, in particular ethical strategy. If you want your project to succeed in terms of resources but also either following your ethical principles or even achieving some specific ethical purpose (have “impact” with the project itself), then things are much more complicated.
However, I feel readers maybe more interested to know I will be giving them practical information as well. I mention in the previous installment that having real political-ethical problems in the first place is a privilege; so, I can empathize with readers that first want nothing more than to get to that point of having middle-upper class ethical problems to ponder and deal with; indeed, would want nothing more than the opportunity to make their own middle-upper class apathetic relation to society and their own personal relational hell, if they want to — I’m not saying that latter option would be “good”, just that I do empathize with those in poverty who would rather those bourgeois escapism, drama and lamentations to bring one day to their therapist and “work on themselves” and maybe one day “learn something” than to continue to suffer in poverty.
So, without further ado, skills you’ll need:
1. Building expert skill and knowledge that your project is about
Corporate people call this the “core” competence, which, once identified, everything else can be subcontracted out.
Now, you don’t have the money to do that, so you’ll also need to do:
2. Learn amateur level of everything else involved
2b. On second thought: don’t lose track of goal number 1:
It goes without saying, where people go wrong is losing focus from 1 and starting to put too much energy and time into things that are secondary.
I can’t really lecture you on your core competence, everything is very domain specific, and you’ll need put a lot of energy into what you actually want to do, research people who have succeeded in the field from a similar position as yourself — and if you break what seem to be pretty common pathways, you better be sure you’re a maverick genius on this point of divergence; however, what is a common pathway in a field is no necessarily what society generally speaking thinks, so don’t put too much effort into wondering why people think you’ll fail who know nothing of the thing you’re doing, but, ponder a lot if people who you view as models to follow did things totally differently and even say to your face that you have no clue what you’re doing (if you’re gonna go ahead and try to prove people who do know are wrong about you not knowing, then you better have pretty high levels of confidence to the right of the Dunden-Kruger curve … but, if you’re just starting out, it’s a safe bet you’re currently on the left side of high-confident-incompetence; the confidence level you want to keep the same, but you want the competence amount to be to the right).
So, definitely you want most of your energy going into both increasing your core skill as well as building a track record to be able to show results of your core skill. If you say “I can do X” everyone’s followup question is “Ok cool, show me”; so, you need to have something to show, either doing it right there if you claim you can juggle 30 random objects at a time, or then a portfolio, list of clients, or whatever is going to impress anyone after making a bold claim. If you have nothing to show, it’s best to phrase things slightly differently, never self-deprecatingly but in a way where people don’t immediatley trip you up in asking for evidence: no shame in saying you’re starting in thing X, or have been working on it for quite a while, but you’re committed and confident you can succeed. It’s also essential to project confidence, since if you don’t believe in yourself why is anyone going to take the time to do that for you. However, confidence and incompetence everyone avoids like the plague; so confident but not dangerously arrogant (unless you “bring the goods” and can be as arrogant as you want); looking for advice and some help and maybe a break, chance to prove yourself, but not charity (unless that’s your model and so be clear why charity is needed and what good for society it’s going to do) nor forming a dependence relation.
Taking risks is unavoidable and everyone likes a risk taker. What no one likes is a delusional idiot who doesn’t know the risks being taken are. So, if you’re taking a risk, asking people to help you take a risk, be upfront that you know what the risks are. If absolutely no one is willing at all to help, even for the entertainment value of seeing you fail … maybe reconsider your plan.
For instance, when I accused my superiors, the entire chain of command, of war crime crimes, a lot of people thought that was a bad idea, but some were willing to help, since what I said made sense, and seeing me court martialed would be entertaining at a minimum. I was working on a speech that included a line from nearly every court room drama ever made, but I was robbed of my day in court and just dismissed honourably. I object!
Point is, even that, some people were sympathetic and willing to discuss, advise and help in some way, even small. People willing to help is a guide (not the only one) to making sense, and, most projects, require some level of “social buy in” (i.e. some level of random people supporting morally and in concrete ways what you’re doing) so the process of getting help from others is also a learning process of how to explain to society more generally the merits of your cause as well as opportunity to self reflect if you do not find the help you think you deserve (some people deserve reddit karma, others death, will you give it to them?).
What are amateurs skills you need?
… But first the exceptions
Of course, if one of the below amateurs listed skills is the point of your project, you’ll need to strive for professional skills in that area, otherwise, you’re goal is to be able to reach “good enough” on a wide range of tasks in each area. Naturally, there are always limits to what you are able to do, and if a task is necessary, critical, complex and difficult and so simply beyond your skill level, then the only option will be to find an expert on that or then fold the project.
The only exception is philosophy.
That is, if you don’t want to be deceiving yourself and others. If that’s you’re philosophy, and you think your opinion on that isn’t amateurishly stupid, then go ahead.
If it’s not your philosophy, then that “social buy-in” startuppers keep talking about as critical for success (attract partners, investors, employees, and the media blowing smoke up your ass); well, how do you really know the justification for the social buy-in is really true or just smoke-and-mirrors in your own soul?
The only answer to this will be somewhere within what we call “philosophy”.
Other advantages too: critical thinking, making arguments, expressing yourself clearly, understanding the arguments of others, undestanding the beliefs and motivations of others better than they understand themselves (makes life a bit boring — everyone doing what you expect them to do nearly all the time, with zero ability to convince them to not make self-defeating decisions; as, definitely you can predict trying to explain that will just make them double down on whatever stupid bullshit they’re into — but, it’s a necessary sacrifice for accomplishing something of merit), yada yada yada, the important one is learning to not be easily manipulated.
But all such “benefits of philosophy” can be used for ill as easily as they can be used for good; so, by definition they are not benefits (something that moves towards the good) and any philosophy teacher that says otherwise is in a delusional trip to their own personal hell.
Indeed, not a coincidence that dry “analytic” philosophy develops in dominant empires; as, the critical thinking is necessary to good decision making for maintaining empire and oppression: the state will pay for it, just check your compassion at the door.
Why I am sometimes angry in these articles? What’s the justification for that?
Everyday we destroy more of the planet and let millions needlessly suffer. Why wouldn’t I be angry?
I think we can turn it around, but, until then, it angers me a lot.
Therefore, whatever your purpose, the only way to increase your confidence it is a good purpose is to not only study philosophy, but, much more importantly, subject your beliefs to the scrutiny of others.
The key question: is your defense motivated to protect your attachment to your own ideas, or a genuine sense your position is true and just and can be defended because it is defensible?
Expert strategy and negotiation skills
You’ll definitely need this, why I’ve subdivided this series into strategy and skills building articles. First two articles are on strategy:
I will try to alternative between strategy and practical skills building, which you’ll need both in equal measure.
If you’re not upper class and so wondering if you should even bother, that’s what the first article of the series covers:
Amateur health skills
Healthy body, longer you can sustain burn out before dying. You may even survive.
You’re going to need an accounting if your project involves money, or even just resources of any kind. Of course, that’s what accountants are for, but A. maybe you can’t afford one to start and B. it’s extremely useful to learn some accounting basics in any case.
In particular, hiring an accountant to simply do the books is not business advice. Setting your prices, deciding what to buy, and being financially sustainable is going to be your job at whatever stage of your project. Accountants don’t run projects or businesses.
So, I’ll be doing a whole article on the basics, but the bare minimum basics you need to know:
1. Make spreadsheets and know how to use a spreadsheet
2. Include a realistic estimation of your own time and what your time is worth in any costing
3. Include realistic cost estimates generally speaking
4. Understand the cost structure of your competitors or analogues
5. Focus on the process of making a profitable sale
6. If you do something unprofitable to build track record (sometimes necessary), make sure the liability is zero (you aren’t promising anything); it’s better to do something for free, but is low-stress and zero risk if you don’t deliver, than to do something that you must deliver but ends up costing you money. In other words, know the difference between investment and revenue, and only invest time or money or energy for good reasons and minimal liability to third parties. Someone investing the money for you to make an example of X is a very different process, relationship and risk/benefit than someone paying you to do X for them.
Now, a lot of intrepid project creators don’t even try doing points 1–5, and so they don’t even know that they’re about to breach rule 6.
Of course, starting out, you’re going to be below “market rates” and can still be profitable. However, it’s important to understand what the difference in value is and so your cost structure makes sense to your potential client. As a single employee doing a single project, you have few overheads and can pay yourself less than senior whoever in your field, but you are also guaranteeing less than an established firm (if you get sick, you may not be able to deliver, and if you fail, you can’t really be sued).
Guarantees that come with dealing a large corporation with a large team, long track record and insurance lawyer and deep pockets anyways to cover losses, are part of the cost structure, so as a single employee or small team you don’t have those costs, so you can do it cheaper (and still be profitable as your costs are less). Great, most entrepreneurs make it this far in analysis.
What they often miss however is that those guarantees have actual value to a lot of clients; so, there’s no point addressing clients that need those guarantees for risk reasons.
If you’re “new and scrappy and cheap” don’t work on potential clients that have the following qualities:
A. Need things done on time or they’ll incur large losses and liabilities (these clients are willing to pay to deal with someone possible to sue if things go sideways). It’s not just the deliverables that are part of the deliverables, it’s also the liability for not delivering.
B. Will suffer reputation damages if you deliver … but suck (according to their definition or the definition of people who’s opinion they care about).
C. Need things which your track record cannot credibly deliver.
Where entrepreneurs go wrong in this is that the obvious clients usually have all of the above.
Clients who don’t really care about delays, don’t care much about liability if things go wrong, don’t care much if people like whatever’s delivered or not, can be found, but they are less obvious because obviously the tasks isn’t so important to them. For instance, a firm that doesn’t have X and has not plan to get X right now, could still be convinced to buy X for cheap.
And it’s not much about the size of the firm, it’s more to do with the thing you are offering is loosely related to what they do. It’s not important to them, but can add value; these are the people that bet on new talent, and just chuck it in the bin if it doesn’t work out; or, then genuinely think it’s a failure, but use it anyways for laughs in some context that has no risk. The thing to know about these clients, is they aren’t going to invest time in a long negotiation or complex decision making.
We’ll get into this in more detail, but making the accounting actually work out means a deal flow that actually works and is profitable.
This whole thing-a-ma-jig should be in a spreadsheet that makes sense. I will give concrete examples in the next article.
Amateurs Writing Skills
Running a project includes a lot of writing: blurbs, slideshows, essays trying to justify yourself, emails, legal disputes, etc.
The better you write, the more easily you can make your case and defend yourself from the cases of others (that attack you in someway).
Even if it seems a lot of communication is through audio-video nowadays, a lot of that media still to be written.
Indeed, even in a phone or video call, it’s important to write down the key points / arguments, and sketch out before hand where you want the meeting to go.
Classic amateur project leader mistake is to never get to the point of the meeting, just brainstorm for an hour and then people have to go and whatever opportunity was there is lost. People love to brainstorm, but hate wasting time. Keep the brainstorming for people in your own team, and present to others the point of all that brainstorming and work in a clear and purposeful way.
It can be nerve wracking to “get to the point”, and so writing down “the point” of a meeting beforehand is completely essential, even if having it there just helps a bit with the courage.
Amateur lawyer skills
Lawyers love advising people not to play lawyer, but that’s cause they’re cashing in on this state of affairs of people knowing jack shit about the law.
The law is not some mystical entity that only lawyers can access through deep meditation. Most laws are pretty simple and straightforward.
The reason to play lawyer, is to not break laws in the first place. There is plenty of legal advice online for essentially any situation, and usually what’s pretty simple and straightforward is how the lawbreaking can be avoided in the first place. What’s complicated is dealing with lawbreaking, which indeed you’ll need a lawyer if you do, but learning enough about the law to not do serious law breaking is feasible and there’s no good alternative until you’re rich enough to have lawyers follow you around 24/7 to advise on your every move.
It’s not difficult to know what fraud is, and to not defraud people.
In business or most things:
Don’t one: if you hide the risks through deception and then those risks happen; congratulations you’re liable for fraud.
Don’t two: if you’re up front about the risks, it’s clear in writing what the risks are and then those risks happen; maybe you still need to make things right somehow, but you haven’t committed fraud; you are in a much better legal position and can negotiate in good faith.
The rest of the skills I think speak for themselves, and are pretty usual:
a. Amateurs Graphic Designer Skills
b. Amateur System Administrator Skills
c. Amateur Crafts and Building Skills
d. Amateurs Coding Skills
e. Amateurs Geo-Political Skills
f. Amateurs Realization Economics is Full Shit Skills
I think “why learn these things” doesn’t need much explanation, so I’ll start getting right into the practical things in the next article.
I hope this gives some general reasoning around skills building and a short list of a few key skills you will likely need in any project. Of course, every project is unique and will likely mean even more skills need to be learned.
One way I think about it is that a lot of amateur skills can fill in the cracks so to speak, allowing something to actually get accomplished.
Sometimes finding an expert and convincing them with money or other reasons is not only far longer a costlier than doing it yourself, but the quality isn’t as good. Many things an expert with less time is going to do a worse job than you with a lot of time.
That being said, many things an expert will do far better in less time and far less risk. But how to know without knowing at least a bit about the subject area.
Also critical, even when you need an expert or professional, coming with at least a start or a rough draft is going to accelerate communication, avoid costly miscommunications, will allow you to better judge a reasonable cost and result of what you’re looking for, check they are actually a professional (and not just an amateur like you; which can be fine in some cases, if the price is right and the task doesn’t actually need a professional).