When you're stuck, bash things together.

November 26, 2017

I’ve been stuck in a loop of non-progress for some time. Things are going well, but not as well as I’d like (I’m pretty sure that remains the case at every level of progress). In any case, the hardest part of building something new, especially a company, is that the road is unpaved. There are no signs, other than a few warning and “Dead End” signs here and there.

I’ve found myself extremely stuck as of late. Not knowing what to do next. I’ve scoured through books, through the web, through my mind, and have found some direction, but not enough. My questions are so particular, that I feel there’s really no way to solicit help from anyone. This of course is a problem of its own: when you’ve gone too deep, and the questions become so abstract and particular that you don’t even know up from down anymore, it’s time to step away from the problem. When you’re solving a problem that’s impossibly hard, it’s best to wait until the problem represents itself in a simpler form.

But of the most fundamental problem—what to do next?—where does one begin? This problem reappears at every level of entrepreneurship, if not life, and is one I struggle with more than any other problem.

What. Do. I. Do. Next.

This question aches every centimeter of my body. I feel nothing but pure resistance to it, because of its paradoxical nature. Imagine being in the center of an underground tunnel system, except, there are no outlets. The walls are made of dirt, and in order to move forward, it’s not a matter of choosing left or right, but instead, you need to dig a passage through any of the thousand options.

What’s the right answer?

If you approach it like this, you’ll be paralyzed of inaction. There is no right answer, or if there was, contemplation is not the right shovel. Instead, you better begin digging in a direction—any direction—and repeat until you find the tunnel that feels like progress to you.

This is what entrepreneurship is like. Instead of forks in the road, there is no road—there are just walls encircling you, and you must chisel at some arbitrary direction in order to move.

I think I’m beginning to understand that, when you’re stuck, and you’re not sure what to do next, the only possible answer is: try as many different things as possible. Create new reactions. Observe the effects. Repeat. Grow. Observe. Study. Repeat. Grow.

That’s sort of the evolutionary method: it doesn’t really know where it’s going. Instead, it tries things, and if beneficial, enlarges that trait, and if detrimental, phases out the trait. This is the nature of the universe at large, isn't it? We've sort of been trained to think "there is a right way, I just need to figure out what it is." When really, the nature of the universe is smashing things together until something acceptable happens.

This is a grand revelation to me, because I have been stuck in a loop of doing the same things over and over again expecting unique results, and am shocked when nothing new happens. Not only that, I’m adamantly resistant to new experiences that don’t have a direct, obvious yield. I’ll only do things if I can measure their immediate results. This sort of mathematical approach to problem-solving will yield some results, but has a very low upper limit.

What you want instead is a sort of chaotic, serendipitous method of progress-making. I know a business-minded guy that would jump at every “want to have coffee” opportunity that came his way, and it confounded me. “Aren’t you afraid it would be a waste of time?” I would always ask. But now I get it. He was experimenting. He wasn’t being biased. He was creating experiments, and studying their reactions.

As for me, I'm putting away my contemplation chisel and putting on my safety goggles. When you’re stuck, and don’t know what to do next, bash things together until a reaction occurs that you’re happy with. Then head in that direction. Rinse, lather, repeat.