When I was 9 years old I used to cheat when I played battleships against my grandmother.
I would put my forehead against my palm and pretend to think really hard. If you do it with a specific angle you can kind of see through your arm. I leaned sideways to see her side of the board, seemingly staring on my own wrist, and sunk her ships one by one.
She had no chance. I was ruthless. I knew I would win every time.
I had discovered The Power of Cheating.
However, when I grew older I learned that there are two problems with cheating 1) It does not always work. 2) You can get caught.
In my continuous pursuit of shortcuts to success I finally found a way to accomplish the same results without cheating.
I found the answer in a blog post by Scott Adam:
The Power Of A System.
Every project has a risk of failure.
- Starting a business – No customers
- Launching a podcast – No downloads
- Starting a blog – No readers
The risk can be financial, timely or social. Or all three. Nobody wants to waste time, loose money or be embarrassed.
So we shy away from trying new things. We’re stuck in our cubicles. Or in the 21th century version, open-space offices. We never go from idea to product. From sketch to painting. The novel is stuck in your head, not on the pages.
This is a waste. All it takes to guarantee success for a project is to solve a simple equation (You don’t even need to know math):
Certain Wins From Project – Cost Of Project > 0
In other words, how can we stack the deck so we get a Royal Flush, no matter who deals?
The nature of the equation tells us that there are two ways of making a project successful.
- Maximize the wins from the project
- Minimize the costs of the project.
Now, let me show you how to do both.
Making sure to have positive outcomes of the project can be done in 3 steps.
- Define variables for the project
- Design A System
- List your wins
1) Define variables
For any given task there are things that are
- A) Controllable
- B) Partially Controllable
- C) Uncontrollable.
For example, this blog has the following variables:
Things I can control
- How much time I spend writing
- How I sharing my writing
- Topics of my writing
Things I can partially control
- Number of readers
- Number of subscribers
- Number of interaction (likes, comments, emails, shares)
- If I get published on other sites
- Amount of feedback from readers
Things I can’t control
- What other people write about
- Social media algorithms
The variables that are 100% controllable are the foundation of The System.
As you can see, the partially controllable variables are in most cases a result from the controllable variables. For example, it’s reasonable to guess that if I write a lot my writing will get better. Also, If I write a lot and approach other blogs in a smart way they are more likely to publish my work.
Look at the uncontrollable variables. Now don’t. That was the last time they took up space in your mind. Never ever worry about the things you can’t control.
Let me repeat that. Never worry about variables you cannot control.
It’s not easy, but Meditation helps.
2) Design your system
The System is the engine of the project. The System generates the success. We can set up The System in 2 easy steps.
- Controllable variables The System must be based on the controllable variables. In my case the controllable variables are how often I write, what I write about and how I share my writing.
- Define a timeline The project should be viewed as an experiment. Set a timeline for the experiment.
Thus, The System for mannelarsson.com is
Write every day, share every week. For 2 months.
The system should be simple and not too ambitious. The most important thing is to make sure you can commit to the system. I heard somewhere that “A good plan that is executed today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”.
Another example is The Tim Ferriss Show which started as an experiment. Tim committed to record and release 6 episodes. He knew he would improve the art of asking questions and remove verbal tics (The Ummms and Eeehs). Today he has over 80 million downloads.
3) Identify your wins
Look at the variables you can control. Then answer the question:
What positive outcomes can I guarantee from this project?
As in, what skills, network or experience can I make sure to obtain?
In my case, no matter how many visitors, likes, subscribers or comments I get on this blog, I will still have the following four wins.
A) Become a better writer
If I commit to writing every day I will become a better writer. Which can be considered a “meta skill” that can be applied to any field. This win alone is, for me, worth the “cost” of my experiment.
“If you add being a great communicator to any field, you’re instantly in the top 20%” – Tim Ferriss
B) Learning valuable and interesting things
To write blog posts I need to learn things I can share. If I commit to write consistently I’ll have to consume high quality content – Books and podcasts instead of social media. I need to train my mind to search for anecdotes and insights.
C) Changing habits
I started this blog by doing a 30 day experiment. I realized how hard it is to start a new daily habit. I managed to finish the experiment because of my “public” commitment of doing so. Accountability is key for changing habits.
D) Caring less about what other people think
My finger hovered over the touch pad for a good 20 seconds. I was going to press “post”. Then I went to the bathroom instead.
I came back and re-read the three sentences I had written on Facebook. Finally I took a deep breath, whispered “Fuck it” and clicked the button.
BOOM. I had shared my first blog post. Scared as hell about what people would think.
Just a couple of weeks later I share posts every week without thinking about it.
Yes, I know, I know – I’m such a stud.
As you can see, the wins are not “Being published on site X” or “Having X number of readers”. Process, Process, Process. Not goals.
Now you know what you can control, you know what you’re going to do and you know what (minimum) results you’ll get.
What can go wrong?
A lot, actually.
If you don’t manage the cost of the project.
I did not quit school, take a big loan and move to Paris (Or wherever you move to write a blog) to start this blog.
There are some easy techniques you can use to save a ton of time and money before jumping in to the project.
MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is a popular concept in the startup-sphere. To create an MVP, simplify your project as much as possible. Let me show you some examples:
Online business – Say you wanted to start a site that automatically matches sellers with a real estate agent based on an advances algorithm. Then the MVP would be:
Set up a google docs where people who wants to sell their apartment can answer 10 questions. Share the link on social media. When you get your first answer, call real estate agents and say you have a customer for them. You can try it over a weekend, real estate agents work all the time.
No algorithm, no domain, no hosting, no developers.
Interview Podcast – Don’t worry about equipment, producing and A-list guests. Get on Skype with someone you already know. Use free software to record the session. Send the file to some friends.
Blog – Set up a WordPress blog and start writing. Don’t bother with finding the perfect theme, plugins and domain. You can worry about that stuff later. Or start writing on Medium.
Summary and next step
1) Think about a project you’ve wanted to start for ages.
- Side business
- Launch a podcast
- Start blogging
- Try a new marketing channel for your business
- Launch a new product
2) List your controllable variables. What can you control 100%?
3) Make a system. For example “Write every day, share every week. For 2 months.”
4) Define certain wins. What positive outcomes are you positive will come from the project?
5) Simplify your project. Make a MVP and start today.
Next time you start something, go through this list.
Then let me know how it went at firstname.lastname@example.org.