Friday, September 17, 2010

"Just start writing"

Sometimes I get a piece of advice that seems so obvious it takes me a while to truly appreciate it. Even worse, I may realize it was an insight I gained in the past but allowed to depreciate to the point I forgot it was ever a big deal. Last quarter, I got one of those bits of advice from my professor in Advanced Business Strategy.

At the time, I was spending a lot of time researching my portion of the final assignment in the course. I found that every new piece of information I uncovered led to more things that needed to be researched, and I was starting to get overwhelmed by the endless forking. The end of the quarter was fast approaching, and  I still had no idea what my section was going to be like. I needed some help, so I asked the professor in class what I should do. He paused for a moment, leading me to think I was going to get a long, "academic" answer, but instead, he said "just start writing." He then followed up with an explanation that until I put something down on paper, I wouldn't be able to focus my research to get the max benefit from it. 

I took him up on his advice, and that ended up being a pivot point for me in that project, where it stopped feeling unmanageable. It also helped me recognize a long-standing problem for me that I was sure to run into during my internship (and I did): spending too much time trying to put out a perfect, "final" version on the first pass of something.  

I imagine that it's a common problem, especially when it involves an unfamiliar or somewhat subjective topic where the likelihood of being wrong increases.  What it ultimately does is delay getting the feedback that is necessary to actually improve something to the point that it can be submitted.  Today, I listened to Seth Godin (his blog...h/t to @monkbent for the link) speak in downtown Chicago, and he touched upon the same concept by saying that it is absolutely crucial to get to the point that you "ship a product." Again, the idea was that until you put something out there, you won't be able to get the feedback necessary to determine what works, what doesn't work, and improve along the way.

I plan on using my 2nd year at Kellogg to try and work on this "perfection paralysis" as much as possible. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to do so given all of the group assignments that are built into the classes here. I'm wishing that I had been more aware of the problem much sooner, because tackling it before the summer definitely would have made my internship at BCG easier and more productive.

2 comments:

  1. Great insight. I also used to fall into this trap of focusing too much on research when the action is needed. The important thing is to become aware of this problem, then you can deal with it. I think on some level we are suspecting this "overthinking" problem in ourselves, but not sure if it is a "liability" or an "asset". For you it took your professor and Godin to put it in the right perspective. For me it was a few quotes from "The McKinsey Mind" that validated this overblown focus on research (or any preparation for that sake)at the expense of the actual doing things as a "liability". Here are the quotes, hope it will strengthen your commitment to dealing with the issue:
    “You can spend a lot of time improvig the precision of your models, but eventually you reach the point of diminshing returns or you lose time to market.”
    “When doing your research, you don’t want to get as much information as possible, you want to get the most improtant information as quickly as possible.”
    There is more on that here: http://parttimembadegree.com/2010/09/07/mckinsey-mind-quotes/

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