What To Work On

My partner Brad likes to ask about the distinction between doing things right and doing the right thing. His observation, which I totally agree with, is that many people and companies do things right but don’t do the right thing. Taking the observation one step further, I have seen that doing the right thing the wrong way can actually result in something important and successful whereas doing the wrong thing the right way rarely does.

So that begs the question “what should I work on?”

First and foremost, I believe we should all work on projects that interest us, where we have insights that others don’t have, and that motivate and inspire us and others.

I also think that working on something that meets this first test is necessary but not sufficient.

Beyond that test, which is a must, I believe we should be working on something that can have a large impact. Coming from a venture capitalist, I am sure many people will read that as “make a lot of money.” But that is not what I mean. Impact can be measured by money. But it can also be measured by the number of people that will use your product or service. It can be measured by how it changes the way people think and how they react to your product or service or innovation. Even if Tesla fails as a company (which I do not think will happen), they have changed the way the automobile industry operates forever. That is an example of impact.

And then a third very important thing is how you are going to address the problem, how you are going to market, how you are going to make money (the business model), and how you are going to defend your market position and business. This is often where the magic is. Let’s say you have an insight on how to use video to deliver education to young people to significantly improve learning. You could build a business that delivers that technology to the existing school system. Or you could build a business that goes directly to the students and bypasses the existing school system. These are two very different “go to market” strategies, they imply two very different business models, and they will result in very different long term market positions. Your choices on “how” will ultimately define your work more than anything and getting this right is so critical.

A lot of entrepreneurs ask me for help in figuring out what to work on. I tell them that I can’t tell them what to work on. That has to come from within and nobody can give it to you.

But I can give you a framework because choosing what to invest in is a lot like choosing what to work on. One is an investment of money (and time). The other is an investment of time and yourself. The latter is such a larger investment and the risks are much higher. But the framework is similar.

You must work on something that inspires you and others, you must work on something with a significant impact, and you must do it in a way that makes getting where you want to go as easy as possible and keeps you there as long as possible.