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've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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