When the wise thinks himself wise

Posted on February 11, 2013. Filed under: startups, venture capital |

Earlier today Chris Dixon dropped a nice excerpt from “The Principles of Psychology” by William James. The entire excerpt can be read here, but I absolutely loved the following thought :

“As the art of reading after a certain stage in one’s education is the art of skipping, so the art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

That is a very powerful concept that I hadn’t fully articulated but have definitely been living as I begin to build the mobile web I want to see in the world.  Said another way, knowing what NOT to focus on at various stages in a company’s development can be as important as knowing what needs focus.  I have actually been pretty dogmatic about focus this time around.  I guess you could say, I’m feeling sort of wise.  I’ve now been through this phase in building a company three times, and I’ve seen this stage in company development at least 5000 times more.

I sat down last week to write a 90 day plan for what we needed to do as a team and as a company…and it took me about 30 minutes to lay out what I’ll call an A- plan.  A few years ago, it would have taken me 6 months to even figure out that I needed to develop a 90 day plan, and the amount of ridiculous crap that would have been in it would have been immense.  So my plan was an A-, and I knew that it would take some more thought and discussion with our team before it got to an A, but I was feeling pretty wise indeed, knowing that there was nothing on that paper that the wise man would or should overlook…but what I learned a few hours later, was that I had gone a little heavy on the “wise whiteout.”

That night I went to a sushi dinner with a dude who I have come to see great wisdom in.  I told him, “this is my 90 day plan, not my big vision of where we’re going, I just want to focus on ops and see if there’s anything you’d be doing differently”  I would have preferred to have my plan at an A, as this dude’s time is scarce, but our meeting ended up being a few days earlier than I had anticipated, so I just dropped in where I was in thought.  I went into the dinner hard pressed to add any major initiatives to the plan (as it was already quite ambitious), but left feeling a gaping weakness in what I had been thinking.  My friend rightly suggested that I had designed a 90 day plan that overlooked one of the hardest parts of our effort.  I wanted to keep the scope of our first build manageable and known.  I didn’t want to commit to a messy challenge, knowing that it might turn my 90 day plan into a 120 or 150 day plan, and so I had “wisely” chosen to overlook it until a time when I either had the resources or gun at my head to address it.

Turns out I thought myself too wise.  Under the guise of wisdom, I gave myself the license to overlook a key element of the company we are trying to build…while maybe not solvable in 90 days, it was certainly attackable…and further…the commitment to attack it will be a key influence in the early DNA and culture of our company….and thus my response to Chris’ post was a retweet with warning: “True but dangerous when the wise thinks himself wise”

 The lesson: wisdom is a spectrum, no matter where you are on it, seek out the wise and they will pull you closer to their end 

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I think there is one metric that can be used to measure the value of a human life and that’s impact. How did you change things? How many people did you touch? How different is the world because you lived in it and how positive was the change that you affected? (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it) You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com


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