asymmetric goal setting and creating your own luck

We deal with uncertainty, randomness, and luck every day.

Every project we undertake is, by its nature, an uncertain endeavor (because it hasn't been done before – if it had, it would be certain, and there’d be nothing to start).

Uncertainty means we can fail.

But it also means we can succeed – that there is the potential for success infused in every endeavor, right from the start.

If you’re looking to instigate anything, you’re dealing with uncertainty, and therefore with the possibility of failure or success.

If this is the case, what favors one course of action over another?  Why do some projects fail and others succeed?

Well, first, they may just be lucky.

There is a very real possibility that good luck or favorable, random chance resulted in the success of an initiative that should have failed, and that bad luck or unfavorable, random chance destroyed a project that deserved success.

And if this is the case, it might follow that everything is random, so better to either never start anything, or start random things often (more dice rolls, better chance of random success).

But this isn't the full story, and this is precisely the type of attitude that leads to failed attempts at instigating.

When we deal with the uncertainty of a new project, yes, we do deal with luck and random chance.

But we can also, through the structure and direction of our work, open ourselves up to favorable, random chance, and avoid unfavorable, random chance.

In a matter of speaking, we can make ourselves lucky.

More importantly, we can instigate projects in a scientific manner that allows for sustainable, long term gains.

We do this through an asymmetry of gains – where the success of a project has large or infinite upside, and the failure of a project has minimal downside.

“By definition chance cannot lead to long term gains (it would no longer be chance); trial and error cannot be unconditionally effective: errors cause planes to crash, buildings to collapse, and knowledge to regress. The beneficial properties need to reside in the type of exposure, that is, the payoff function and not in the "luck" part: there needs to be a significant asymmetry between the gains (as they need to be large) and the errors (small or harmless), and it is from such asymmetry that luck and trial and error can produce results.” [Nassim Taleb]

Before we start our project, we want to set the stage for success by creating asymmetrically beneficial goals.

These are the types of goals we can start, finish, and ship, with little negative downside (i.e. publishing a kindle book; if it doesn’t take off, it only costs us our time), but with very large or infinite upside (i.e. once that kindle book is out there, it could take off and result in thousands of sales).

This allows us to test the waters without drowning if our first attempt isn't a complete success.

As long as we can test safely (and when I say test, I mean shipping a product or project and receiving feedback from the client or consumer), we can continue to test and tweak as necessary.

In essence, we live to fight another day, which allows us to eventually realize our goals.

Too often, people start with grandiose, unstructured plans that require a home run on the first try.  And then, if it doesn’t work (and it often doesn't), they go back to the grind that life gives them.

Don’t sabotage your success by relying on random chance to get you through.

Instead, start small, set audacious (but asymmetrically beneficial) goals, work every day to bring them to life (even when it’s scary), and, whatever you do, keep fighting.

Eventually, you’ll break through.

Eventually, you'll get the payoff.

Eventually, you’ll create your life’s work.

But only if you instigate the right way (and instigate continually).


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