Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

Developing a Bias for Action

If you would rather do things than simply talking about them, then you probably have an intrinsic bias for action. You should count yourself lucky. You like to create things rather than just dream about them. You like to get things done. You are successfully overcoming resistance.

Having a bias for action means that given two alternatives, an action vs a non-action, we tend to choose the action. We are not overly concerned about the risks or the potential for wasted effort because we know that an action will result in new knowledge at a minimum. We would rather act upon an idea and learn from a failure, than never acting in the first place.

You probably have a bias for action if:

  • You would rather produce things than sit in planning meetings.
  • You get excited about an idea and immediately start building something.
  • You believe that getting feedback on actual working things leads to a virtuous cycle of building better things.
  • You follow a makers schedule or wish you did.
  • You like to test hypotheses and make decisions based on data instead of assumption.

If you already have a bias for action, then you can start working on harnessing your bias for action. You can shift gears from building something to building the right things. You can start to think about opportunity cost.

On the other hand, if have trouble even starting things, then you can focus on beating resistance and developing your bias for action.

Most of us have two lives. The life we live and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

Steven Pressfield The War of Art

Leveling Up

We often feel that our skills are lacking. We could achieve more if only we had more skills. It is up to you to take action to gain new skills. Your journey of learning is only beginning when you get out of school. Fortunately the world today is chalk full of learning resources. The web abounds with them. Bookstores and libraries are full of amazing, life changing books.

But the key to learning skills is doing something with those skills. A person with a bias for action doesn’t just read a book, she creates something with the skills acquired. She solves a problem with those skills, creating experience which eventually turns into wisdom. She takes action.

It may be hard to believe, but you have a unique combination of skills and perspective that no one else has. There’s a good chance that you already have knowledge that could be leveraged. There’s a good chance that you already have the skills to create something useful. You probably have a list of things you want to work on. Pick something small and just start.

Buying Tools

Don’t just buy tools, use them. If you must have a tool to achieve your goal, then borrow it or buy it, but make sure it doesn’t just collect dust. Make sure you get a return on your investment.

Beware, the lack of tools can be a hidden form of resistance. Is there a creative or resourceful way you can move forward without the tool you think you need?

Creating Value for Yourself

If you are just learning how to beat resistance, then start small. Change your mindset from one of immobility to one of motion. This will help you gain momentum. At this point, anything you create or do you can keep to yourself. Don’t worry too much about outcomes.

Here are five things you can do today:

  1. You can de-clutter a room in your house and donate things you are not using.
  2. You can take an online course.
  3. You can send someone a thank you note or a gift.
  4. You can increase your 401k contribution by 1%. Because your 401k is pre-tax, it won’t hurt as bad as you think.
  5. You can cancel a subscription that you are paying for but never use.

Creating Value for Others

If you’ve ever shared a creative work with others, then you know the feeling. Putting a piece of yourself out there is uncomfortable until you get used to it. When creating in public, resistance can be like pushing a boulder up a hill. What if my idea flops? What will people think about me?

To create value for others, you must overcome the fear of failure. You must talk to your target audience. If you are not talking to your target audience then you are running a great risk of creating something that no one wants.

It is possible to take too much action when you have not validated your idea. Sunk cost is a powerful psychological force and it can trick you into continuing to work when the best course of action may be to abandon a failing project. Build something minimal and share it before you sink too much effort or money into it. Share early and share often to make sure you don’t fall into a sunk cost trap.

Unfortunately, squashing resistance just to start something is hard enough, but you have to do it over and over again at each phase of your project, especially when validating and marketing your creation.

The Failed Project

If you have built something that no one uses or likes, don’t be discouraged. You learned valuable lessons along the way. Assuming you showed your creation to people, you discovered what people don’t need. You improved your creators mental model. You solved technical problems and acquired more technical skills. You learned about platforms and techniques.

The creators that we most admire seldom hit home runs on their first at bat, it’s just rare to hear about the failures. Don’t let a failure beat you down. Persevere and start something new.

Start Now

Every success story has one thing in common. At some point, someone started something. It doesn’t have to be big, in fact it usually shouldn’t be something big, but it must be something. You will never have perfect information. There will never be the perfect time to do what you are dreaming about. Embrace your bias for action and ask yourself, what can I start today?