Go Small October 2018

Maybe it’s just the people I surround myself with, but I hear “might as well go big” or some variation of it all the time. People say it about their personal life, and their business life. I’m not sure whether it’s good specific advice, but it’s generally terrible generic advice. My thinking on this is the opposite: go as small as you can. Risk is bad and you should try to make protect yourself from as many eventualities as you can.

The first example I’d offer is dating. Go big means marry the first person you think you can make it work with. Beyond the obvious failings of this approach, let’s break down the math. The statistics shows you should probably date a certain number of people before you even start sampling whether someone is a good fit for the long haul. I read a study about how once you have dated 8 people, meeting a 9th person who is better than the first 8 is a strong indication you should marry them. You’d have to date over 100 more people to find a 10th who was stronger still. So at first, you are just gaining information, and eventually you make a choice. It requires an extremely incremental attitude to commitment, and lots of conviction.

Another example is business. Going big on the first idea you think is a good one is generally a terrible idea. One commonality among successful entrepreneurs is generally that they started many, many companies before they started the one that made them a success. It’s a safe assumption that most companies anyone starts will fail by conventional definitions. If you go small, you get more at bats in your life, which means you have a higher probability of success. The trade off is that if you give up too soon or don’t go deep enough, you won’t know if it worked. There are many ways to validate an idea before pursuing it. The lean startup is falling out of favor because all the low hanging fruit is gone. That thesis is only half true, though. Easy ideas may be gone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t validate a hard/valuable idea in less time. Go small, figure out if there is traction, then expand incrementally. Behind every giant company, is a scientific approach to going small at first to figure out if the idea is worth the time.

There aren’t many areas of your life where incremental learning is harmful. And there is nothing wrong with going small. Many more people regret going big and losing everything than regret going small in the early days of a risk based venture (marriage and business being but two examples). You can always scale your commitment up later, and do so with vastly higher confidence. Might as well go small.