Thinking Big and Small

It’s so easy to start with the question, “What should I do?” And end up with a discussion about other people and what they’re doing. Here’s Paul Ford:

I’ll give you a good example. Do you go out and raise venture capital? Well, it would be nice to have more money. But then everybody tells us that VC is ridiculous. And you end up in this swirl of conversation about this thing that ends up being about the industry as a whole as opposed to what you need to accomplish.

We start with questions about ourselves but so often end up with discussions framed around other people, what they’re doing, and whether it’s “right” or “wrong”. We end up looking outward instead of inward.

Paul continues:

Over and over, we have these narratives and we have to push through them in order to figure out what success would be for us. And I see this a lot of times where people are very judgmental of relatively small efforts because they don’t behave or act like giant platform companies…And so you end up internalizing, like, venture-capital thinking and giant-platform thinking and so on, and that keeps you away from focusing on your own near-term or even long-term goals.

We internalize what success looks like in an impersonal, generalized context — for artists, engineers, startups, or organizations — and we forget the personal, individualized answer we started searching for in the first place.

For example, think of the idea of “impact”. As Paul says, we can be judgmental of small efforts because they don’t have the impact of giant platform companies — “If all I can do is recycle this one water bottle, that’s not enough. Clearing the ocean of all plastics is the only acceptable measure of success.” That’s a case of giant-platform thinking that poisons your individual thinking and action, e.g. “any small effort on my part accomplishes nothing and is therefore pointless”.

When you start to think of everything in terms of scale and impact, what can any one individual meaningfully do?

But that’s thinking about and framing your individual goals and definition of success in the language and context of large groups of people like corporations or even nation states.

“Did I pick up that water bottle from neighbor's trash that tipped over and put it in the recycle bin?” Yes? Ok, that can be success. Who cares if it wouldn’t be for a giant organization.

“Did I help that one individual?” Even better.