Reading and Experience
pg says in his essay that “Reading and experience train your model of the world.”
I already read that essay once before and agree with what was said. I had some vague agreement or feeling about how sometimes experience allows one to better understand something that was said or written. That was the extend of it the last time I read it.
This time as I “compile” the essay again while I reflect on various things of my startup experience, I’m appreciating the wisdom packed in that one sentence much more.
You Read It, But You Don’t Get It
One memory that now come to mind is something that I heard or read in an interview with Well.ca founder Ali Asaria. If I remember right, he said something about how first time founders don’t know the difficulties of starting a company. But that naiveté helps them to go fearlessly into the endeavor.
I read that interview before I started the company. I remember mentally preparing myself for a very difficult challenge when I took the plunge. I remember mentally committing to 1 year at the very least. Even though reading it prepared me to embrace difficulty, words cannot convey the degree of the real challenge. I later on realized that even by my best guess, I severely underestimated how difficult it was.
But the cycle repeats. I would now go on and perhaps tell people the same thing, but they won’t get it until later on.
This is why when I read discussions online and see people undervaluing founders’ risks or the trials they go through, I think to myself “this person is underestimating the difficulty”. It’s not their fault since they don’t have the experience. The natural thing to do is to overvalue their own contributions and think “I’m taking similar risks as the founders”.
No, you’re not. Not even close to the same difficulty.
If I had to guess, majority of the people probably won’t even last 1 year. I’ve seen many examples in my circles. There are only few people I know that definitely could make it past the first year. Every other friend or startup founder I met before, either quit before the year’s up or would have given up without a committed external influence.
Reading and Experience Go Together
It’s important to read. It’s something I don’t do enough of. However, it’s also important to do. Doing and gaining experience is how you can better compile the knowledge in books better. Let me give an analogy.
Let’s say you read a ton of books on boxing.
You read about the right techniques, the right counter for different situations, etc. You can recite why you need to move your feet in an unnatural way when boxing.
All that’s great, but are you a great fighter after this? No.
Experience is someone swinging a punch straight at you, you have less than a second to decide and react. Pure head knowledge doesn’t help at that point.
If I get knocked out, or get kicked in the butt, you can bet that when I read a book on the topic later I will have a better model to compile that book with.
Experience is important. You need experience to discern the “truths” sprouting from books.
For example, in Ben Horowitz’s “Hard Things About Hard Things”, he commented on how Jim Collins’s best selling business book misses the point on some things. One author has an MBA and writes a convincing study of companies. Ben on the other hand, worked on Netscape and later on a founder and CEO of a company that IPO and later exited.
Experience allows you to decide whether you agree or disagree with an author’s “facts”. Just like experience will allow you to agree or disagree with what I’m saying here right now.
Here’s another example, in the book “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman talked about hindsight bias and again references Jim Collins. This time though, Daniel attributes most successes to luck.
So now we have 3 opinions in 3 books that the readers need to digest. One is the MBA consultant. One is the battle-tested founder. One is the psychologist.
Reading and doing to gain experience must go hand in hand. Can’t have one without the other.