“There’s no recipe for really complicated, dynamic situations. There’s no recipe for building a high-tech company; there’s no recipe for leading a group of people out of trouble; there’s no recipe for making a series of hit songs; […] That’s the hard thing about hard things — there is no formula for dealing with them.”
Ben Horowitz, in The Hard Thing About Hard Things
This just nails it down.
We tend to look at people at high places – as TV Super-Stars, Music Super-Stars, CEOs, Nobel Prize winners, etc – as if they were very privileged people. As if they were so smart and so knowledgeable that they really knew what they were doing now, and what they were going to do next. As if these people, besides being hard-workers, also knew what was the exact recipe for their success.
Or at least that’s what it seems when we see them in front of the cameras, receiving their prizes, while in the interviews, and when presenting the company’s quarterly results.
This may be slightly true for some who have decades in their fields. But it isn’t for most of the people.
Let’s use chess and science to help me get my point through:
Studies have shown that the best chess players aren’t the ones who actually stop to think rationally about the different possible plays on the chess board, to decide their next move. Instead, the best chess players are the ones who’ve played thousands and thousands of times, letting them exposed to so many different scenarios that now their brains intuitively tell them what’s the best next move, while on a blink of an eye. The more they’ve played, the more plays they could see ahead.
The same applies for people with a great number of years of experience in their field of expertise – they were confronted with many different scenarios and problems, which they overcame (or not), making them knowledgeable about the numerous possible plays available on the “chess board”, and their respective consequences.
What we forget is that these people also were first-timers once. They, like me and you, once didn’t knew what they were doing. They were constantly being confronted to make decisions about completely new challenges:
TV Show producer – “How should the main character be? How should this series be filmed? I don’t have a single idea…”
Music artist – “What’s the best way of promoting this type of song? Where should we tour first?”
Startup CEO – “Should we go for full privacy or sell the user’s data to advertisers? What kind of partnership is best for us? Should we go IPO this year?”
Of course that, on contrary to the super-fast moves on a chess board, these decisions usually are made only after gathering enough information – each move is pondered. But at the end, even after studying our options, none of us is one hundred percent certain of the outcomes. Not even the most experienced – life is much more complex than a chess board after all. The only difference is that the Jeff Bezzos, Oprah Winfreys, and Beyonces of our world, are usually less in the dark than the other little experienced ones. But that’s just because they already explored their world more than the majority of us.
The sooner we realize this, the sooner we’ll lose our fear of uncertainty and just go for it. Successful people aren’t by necessity any smarter than the rest of the world.