Throughout our lives we go through major phases of doubt. This could be doubt regarding our choices, our futures, our friends, our employees and even about us. Doubt is particularly important to deal with as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are successful pushing the edge, dealing with ambiguity and making something out of nothing. So, how do they do it? How do they deal with challenges and times of deep doubt?
Before I address dealing with doubts, it is critical to state that doubts are in fact important. It is almost impossible to help people without doubts, because they stopped learning sometime in the past. “Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous,” said philosopher Voltaire. Doubts are a sign of intelligence, and wisdom. The wise don’t get stuck in their thinking, they question their conclusions, they doubt.
Times of doubts, like the ones mentioned above, can turn into times of innovation and change. “Doubt is the father of invention,” Galileo Galilei said. Thus, it is not the goal in life never to have doubts, but to handle these doubts in a way that makes them useful and impactful in our lives and environments.
Observing many change agents and entrepreneurs deal with doubts, I have found two key strategies that turn these times of doubts into times of success.
The first strategy is “collect data to address doubts.” When the doubts are about the job choices, go hang out with people who chose careers that you are considering. Collect data about their lives and choices. Find out in what way these careers are different. In business questions, the customer development strategy is basically a framework to manage ambiguity and doubt: develop the best hypothetical business model and check all assumptions by collecting data.
This process of collecting data creates certainty based on data and facts. But, there is a deep psychological benefit: if you get stuck thinking and worrying, it is pretty easy to get discouraged. If you take that doubt and turn it towards the collection of useful information, it is a lot easier to clear one’s mind. “When in doubt, don’t,” Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying.
The second strategy may actually be the defining strategy for entrepreneurs: “when in doubt, do,” quoted from Don Graham ‘s seminar talk. You have collected data, you have thought about things, have weighed your options, and you just really can’t decide what to do. Graham says: “pick one, any one, and do. “
There is deep wisdom in this second strategy. Often, we are stuck on some minor question which prevents us from getting to move towards the major and essential question, which we will only find once we actually start moving towards implementation. For example, we will only really know 100% how the customer reacts to a new product once we start selling. We can learn key information about this before using customer development strategies, but we will learn the true and most important stuff by doing stuff, not just by thinking about it.
One of the most important failure modes of companies and world-changing ideas and products projects is the absence of action. After you think about this, you discuss it; you collect data – go do! Go, do not because you have no doubts, but because the only way you will address them are through action.