Fred Rivett


What are you optimising for?

Credit: Clem Onojeghuo

Yesterday, I’d just shaved and was cleaning up the inevitable beard hair related aftermath. As I was doing so a question came to mind: How much water would I use to wash the hair away?

It’s quicker to wash the hair down the sink with more water, but more water will be used. What’s more important, time or water used?

We all face questions like this regularly. It’s a part of every day life. Will I get a taxi or walk? Will I buy on credit or wait and save? Will I be honest or lie?

Similarly, we all have to decide how much time we’ll trade for money. There’s a balance to be found, we need both, and we each have to work out our own tipping point.

In amongst it all, is the underlying question: what are you really optimising for?

This question reminded me of a quote from Jason Lemkin:

It begs the question, are we optimising to win at business or win at life, win at family? What does our success criteria look like?

For us, we’re still in the stage of optimising primarily for learning. That may never change. If its a choice between learning now or money now, learning is often the best route as it enables us to earn more money later.

We’re in a fortunate place where we earn in our day jobs and work on our own stuff in the evenings and weekends. As a result, when opportunities come along that benefit us in terms of learning more than money, we can remember that learning is what we’re optimising for, so despite a business being built on financials, it may well be the right path to take.

Yesterday Mike and I were walking and talking and came onto the subject of a seed of an idea Mike had. At first glance it seemed like a bit of a distraction from our current focus. It seemed like an itch that was tempting to scratch but one we should be ignoring.

Having spoken it through though it turned out to be much more of a contender than first thought. It aligned with the direction we want to go in, there was a big overlap in terms of what we’ll learn in the project to what we’ll need to learn in our main focus, and it is notably smaller than our big vision. It could well be the small slice of an idea we’ve been looking for.

The bottom line is that if we go ahead with it, regardless of whether it will make us money, it will at least enable us to learn. We’ll be in a better place to achieve our goals by taking this path, and at the worst it will just delay us a little.

Our big goal is still to be financially independent, to support ourselves from our business. But despite that, the key for us is learning, not money.

There’s a balance to be struck here. In business, the best type of learning is money. That’s the validation that really matters. But despite that, what we care about, at least for now, is learning. Whether it comes from money or elsewhere, learning is still key.

Rather than focus on whether we think we’ll get a direct financial ROI from our time invested in the project, we’re asking ourselves, if nothing else, is this the best way to learn?

We’ve got a lot to learn, so we’re optimising for that.

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Originally published at on January 9, 2017.

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