In his excellent book: “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future” Peter Thiel asks a question. He calls it ‘the draconian question’ which is being asked of every person he considers employing. The question is posed on page 1, and for the rest of the book, that question kept going around in my mind: What would my response be if asked the draconian question?
The draconian question: “What important truth do very few agree with you on?” That is a very good question. Forcing you to think beyond platitudes and make a stand for something.
Peter Thiel, here is my answer to your draconian question: “Most people believe doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is insanity”. However, the truth is just the opposite.
Consider the following:
(1) Let me start by asking parents: “How long would you give your child to learn to walk?”
Put differently, what is learning to walk but holding your child upright and watching them move their cute little feet, trying to balance before falling over. How often and for how long would you do the same thing over and over expecting your child not to stagger and fall, but stagger and stay upright?
I believe any parent would answer: ‘I am going to help my child learn to walk for as long as it takes.’ No wonder all kid ends up walking, and nobody feels it is insanity to continue to do the same thing over and over expecting a different result
(2) Light. Humans are the only species that are not slaves to the rising and setting of the sun for light. For this, we can thank a prolific inventor with only three months of official school; Thomas Edison.
As a reminder, how did Thomas Edison achieve his feat? Edison tried many thousand of different materials before on 22 October 1879 he found the right combination of carbon filament connected to platina contact wires; and there was light!
In other words Edison tried over and over the same thing; to create light by combining various materials and expecting the result to be different from the thousands of previous disappointments. Did ‘everybody’, from fellow investors, newspaper people and general public try and convince him he was insane for doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result? You bet they did. However, I am very happy he did not get discouraged.
(3) Learning any craft. Let me pick tennis to illustrate. In tennis, there are eight basic shots: The serve, forehand, backhand, volley, half-volley, overhead, drop shot and lob.
How many have won a tournament by inventing and introducing a new shot? None.
How do you learn to play tennis? By practicing the eight basic shots over and over and expecting to become a little bit better every time you practice.
How do you win tournaments? By practicing the eight basic shots more frequently and with more vigor than your competition, expecting that your investment in repetition will make you better.
Is there an alternative to ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is insanity?’
Yes. The Chinese wisdom of “You can’t step in the same flowing river twice”, is so much more appropriate. Especially today with everything constantly changing, and just because something did not work yesterday, so much has changed since yesterday that with a minor tweak you may succeed today.
Your future is a blank canvas. It is up to you to paint your life’s masterpiece. It does not matter if you feel you did not succeed yesterday, last month or last year. Only you can make the difference you want to make in your life, and the only time you have failed is when you give up.
To the best of your success,