What is this possibility costing you?

People have a poor understanding of opportunity cost in my experience, including myself when I am not present.  We can go chasing after all sorts of ‘interesting’ things – but it means we’re not putting major life attention and energy – arguably our two most important currencies – on what most matters to us, or the actions most likely to move those things forward.

Ok, I’m gonna be a bit edgy here to make a point.  Breathe in and stay with me.

You might find your life partner in a stripclub.  You might.  But are you really going to convince me that’s a valid, let alone your best-use-of-time-today, dating strategy?

Similarly, you might find your next client while you take half a day to go to volunteer at that random event on some sideline interest with a community of people who look nothing like most of your clients and where people wouldn’t take you very seriously because, contextually, they will unlikely see you in your identity as the service provider you say you are!  You might find your next client.  It’s not impossible.  That’s what you tell yourself.

But the likelihood is low. You love possibility, though.  Possibility, speaking generally, is undifferentiated.  That is, possibility is everywhere from 1 in 1 million and less to 99% likely and more.  And our brains can have trouble calibrating where in that range the possibility we speak of is (and obviously we can’t know, but we can apply probabilistic thinking.  I am sure Daniel Kahneman, popularizer of behavioral economics, would have something interesting to add here.  For example, why people will pay more for a terrorism-specific insurance than a lower-priced comprehensive insurance which includes terrorism and a host of other useful stuff.  Because we are not good intuitively at calculating likelihood (this is an example of his focusing effect).

If your child’s survival depended on something where the likelihood of success was low, would you put much attention on doing that thing?

So why would you do the same thing with your business?   A small growing business is like a baby, it’s need your support and lifeblood (sales).  Marc Allen, founder of New World Library and a teacher on how to be both successful and lazy, has a great metaphor of a young business being a baby needing constant attention to prevail, an established business a teenager which can have more space but still needs significant input especially at critical times, and a mature business an adult which can then look after you.

So I spend time trying to bring rigor to my client’s business development approach so that their babies actually survive.

Stay open – of course.  Let life flow and bring all manner of good things to you.  But don’t delude yourself.  Spend most time pursuing likely high value targets in target-rich settings.  If you know you major in possibility, start metabolizing more of the value of necessity and directness (Institute for Cultural Evolution‘s paper is great for more (in a cultural context) on values metabolism)

Of course, note to self, now I just need to remember why I sometimes forget this 🙂

About Jack Butler

Jack Butler is a social entrepreneur, coach, workshop leader and speaker. His latest venture provides full spectrum human development through coaching, programmes and other development resources for leaders and entrepreneurs. He founded Future Foundations (www.future-foundations.co.uk), a leading youth personal development training organization. He is a professional member of the International Enneagram Association and a former fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Jack was the IAB 2007 Young Entrepreneur of the Year runner-up and took a double first class degree in Social and Political Sciences from the University of Cambridge. Jack spends his time between London and Brighton in the UK and Boulder, CO and the Bay Area in the US. In his spare time, he enjoys physical challenges (3 Peaks Challenge 2010, Tresco Marathon 2006) and supporting The Simultaneous Policy Organisation (www.simpol.org.uk). He is a Partner in Passion and Purpose of the Grubb Guild, a voracious reader of personal, cultural and spiritual development, and likes to inquire, journal, travel and write.
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