Dying in limbo, Inception style.

You would have to of seen the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Inception to understand the title. To be honest the movie was so confusing I’m probably not the best person to explain it to you. The just of it was being in limbo means you could never make it back to real life and were inevitably doomed. The movie isn’t great but it’s an awesome business analogy.

Being in business limbo means you aren’t necessarily failing, or you don’t know you are, but you also aren’t winning either. It’s the state where your too nervous to check your stats or implement any sort of metrics because you know they aren’t great. Your well aware of this but you push forward doing what you were doing anyway because it’s less painful. Maybe you even “try harder” with your current strategy.. ah that’s the key, why didn’t you think of that earlier!

Quoting Eric Ries from his book The Lean Startup, “If you cannot fail, you cannot learn”. Ignoring the facts or not having any facts to ignore in the first place isn’t doing you any good. Very few people get it right the first time or don’t pivot their businesses at all while they are growing. There is no shame in altering your course if you find out something isn’t working. Need some proof? The founder of Sony started out making rice cookers. Western Union originally boycotted the thought of a telephone becoming mainstream. Bill Gates’ first company called Traf-O-data, focused on collecting traffic data and creating detailed reports for engineers, ultimately failed. Ironically Jack Dorsey (founder of twitter) was also fascinated by the flow of traffic and spawn the idea for twitter from this. You don’t need to be reminded how all of these stories ended up.

Personally I would chalk up businesses or ideas that go into limbo to a lack of passion. Telling a grown man that his business isn’t going to work out unless he is passionate about it is like a 14 year old boy telling a girl that likes him it will never work out. She hears those words and thinks to herself, “he must like me”. Likewise, the business man hears the advice and thinks to himself, “yah for most people, not me”. The reason I know this is because I was one of those people. Somehow I thought that I would be different that the million other people selling software online or who has an idea for a niche social network. While I don’t deny that networking is extremely important and success can be found even if the site doesn’t scale I realized I don’t really care to tweet about and comment on blogs about principles of networking all day. Meeting people is awesome, talking about the best ways to do it all day, not so much. The key was I realized this quickly, I didn’t keep banging my head against the wall hoping one day something would click and all of a sudden I would love it.

A number of companies share this idea, some have even made it mantra’s to live by; “fail fast and fail often”. When used effectively your company stays in-tune to the needs of your customers and is always learning and adapting. This relates to a question I recently read on twitter for a startup enthusiast (I forget who). The question was; What is the best way to deal with arguments between cofounders? Answer: If the basis of the argument could be solved or identified with metrics they should look to this first. A test that had physical results was the most effective way of backing up an argument and would usually settle things. If not, they would usually both have to compromise.

The reason this answer is so interesting is because most people don’t do it. They sit around arguing hypothetical solutions. Even worse, when asked how a new feature is working will give vague answers like, “pretty good, people seem to like it”. That shouldn’t be a satisfying answer for you. In this scenario how do you know where you can further improve on the feature? You don’t. It’s all guessing games. You aren’t failing here because of ignorance not because of anything positive. Again, if you can’t fail how do you learn???

A popular excuse companies have for not using social media is they don’t want people posting negative comments on their Facebook wall. If your company sucks or a customer had a bad experience they will find a way to get their voice heard whether you have a Facebook page or not. The only difference is, if you aren’t using social media you are ignorant to the problem. Wouldn’t you rather be aware of whats going on so you can offer solutions and try to mend relationships? I’d hope so.

Don’t limbo!



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