Something I’ve wondered about the CEOs of medium to big companies is how do they know they’re working on the right things?
Like, how does Brian Chesky know that his todo list for Monday March 21 is the right stuff?
The obvious answer is that… he doesn’t.
How could he? For a company of Airbnb’s size, the market won’t give you feedback until much later.1
And the bigger you get, the longer you have to wait.
How long had Jeff Bezos and Amazon worked on the Fire Phone before it launched? Before they decided to kill it? Think of all the time and brainpower and effort spent on building a phone that was a remarkable failure.2
But even if you’re small or an individual it’s still hard to get quick feedback. How do you know whether what you’re working on today will help you get to where you want to be in 3 to 5 years?
The only solution3 is to accept that it’s really hard to know whether you’re going in the right direction.
The best answer I’ve found for dealing with the feedback problem is to focus less on the long term and instead do something today. Like, right now.
I’ve seen various forms of this online:
“‘Always produce‘ is… a heuristic for finding the work you love. [This constraint] will automatically push you away from things you think you’re supposed to work on, toward things you actually like. ‘Always produce‘ will discover your life’s work the way water, with the aid of gravity, finds the hole in your roof.”
– How to Do What You Love, Paul Graham
“Be not afraid of moving slowly. Be afraid of standing still.”
– Chinese proverb
“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”
– Bill Gates
The gist is do something today. And tomorrow. And keep that going just a little at a time until you look back and you’ve climbed the mountain.
One of the joys of programming is that you get near-instant feedback on whether your code works.↩
Incidentally, the Fire Phone is also a killer example of how amazing Amazon is. Lesser CEOs would have let the project languish even while it was obviously not succeeding. Instead, Jeff Bezos ruthlessly and unemotionally ended the product just barely over a year after it launched.↩
In my opinion, but that should obviously go for everything on this site↩