Sometimes there are bumps in the road. Literally. And sometimes you’re traveling too fast to deal with those bumps. I was going about 40 mph on a rented scooter in Nicaragua. On the side of the road, there was a sign that said “GRACIAS” (“THANK YOU”), for no apparent reason. I liked that. On the other side of the road, there was a lack of a sign for an upcoming speed bump. All of the speed bumps on this island were preceded by road signs indicating upcoming speed bumps. Except for one. One.
One is all it takes.
Forty miles an hour seems a safe speed to go on a flat, straight road. It IS a safe speed to go on a flat, straight road. But when the road starts to curve and there’s a large, dusty cement bump in the middle of it, then 40 mph is MUCH too fast. It’s MUCH too fast when you’re braking; it’s MUCH too fast when you hit the bump; it’s MUCH too fast too slide; and it’s MUCH MUCH too fast to crash.
Since then, I’ve thought a lot about what I could have done differently. Should I not have braked and just tried to deal with it as I went over it? Should I have braked only with the rear brake to prevent the back wheel from sliding sideways? Should I have paid more attention when I noticed that the scooter’s alignment wasn’t quite right? Or that my helmet was so crappy and loose that it was occasionally being blown back by the wind? The lesson for me is that I need to think MUCH more, in whatever I’m doing, about how things might go terribly wrong, and take some precautions against those terrible things happening. I tend to be very optimistic. This is good in so far as it makes me brave enough to try new things, but it’s bad when it leads me to act without appropriate caution, especially when there’s potential for bodily harm.
We tend to take post-cautions instead of precautions. My friend cut himself badly on his surfboard fins and when he went to the shop to buy duller, safety fins, the guy in the shop said, “You must have cut yourself.” My friend was surprised and asked, “Why do you say that?”, to which the shopkeeper replied:
“Because the only people who buy those fins are people who have cut themselves.”
Okay. So my goal is to be the guy who buys safety fins BEFORE he’s in a situation where his fins would cut him.
How does this lesson apply to my Hearts and All business? Well, what I now instantly notice is that there is very little potential for bodily harm. There’s very little chance that by selling greeting cards, I will die. So that’s good. But let me consider: What might go terribly wrong? Well, I might lose all the money that I put into it. Am I prepared for that? I should be. There’s no guarantee that I’ll sell every card I print. Every investment I make could go sour. I had better remember that.
Since I might lose everything that I put into it, I should try to put in as little as possible. At Hotwire, I was introduced to the idea of launching the minimal viable product (MVP) by a consultant, Marty Cagan. It is the idea I just explained. It seems like common sense when you hear it, but you know what they say about common sense.
So for my cards, I could save money by showing the digital versions of my designs to people first and see if they like them without ever buying card stock and envelopes and protective plastic sleeves and pressing the “Print” button on my computer. And that is exactly what I did when I launched the project through Kickstarter. Success on Kickstarter meant that I was GUARANTEED to have enough money to cover my printing expenses. I could fail for free. Hooray!
Seth Godin has some nice thoughts on failing and risks: “If I fail more than you, I win. Because built into that notion is you get to keep playing. If you get to keep playing that means that you get to keep failing. And sooner or later you will figure it out. The people who lose are the ones who either are afraid to fail and get stuck or they fail so big that they never recover to play again.” (source)
I’ll paraphrase him while I think of bodily harm: “Never bet so much that if you lose, you’ll never be able to play again.”
During my recovery, I gathered information and created a website for people who have broken their jaws, Broken Jaw Recovery. I hope you never have to consult it. I hope you’re smarter than I am, and are a little more careful than you think you need to be. I hope you hear the often silent sound of risks being taken.