Sometimes you know. Sometimes you know better. In the realm of knowledge, which is the category that would be more helpful for you to become a successful entrepreneur? I remember a sign for sale at one of those novelty shops that sell gag items that read: “People who think they know everything are especially annoying to those of us who do”. Generally, when you see something up for sale in a store occupying valuable shelf space, it’s because people are expected to buy it, like that sign. I bet you know people that would buy and display it.
Entrepreneurs that know, use rational means to accumulate the knowledge they believe they need to succeed. Entrepreneurs that know better, know that there is a boundary at which irrationality starts operating. Everything cannot be articulated. Hunches, guesses, manners, things we share, habits, personal knowledge that nobody else can know – all of these things operate in the market, and there is no way for anybody to accurately plan and deliver exactly on the plan, following rational methods based on accumulated knowledge. Those who know better have a special microscope that can look deep into the heart of their target customer segment. The unrelenting pursuit of knowledge, that basic human trait, empowers us to make rational decisions, but I pose it is a double edged sword. Knowing better is better, and it’s not always rational.
South Florida becoming a hotbed of entrepreneurship is a testament to another unrelenting human pursuit, called many different names. Self-determination, self-reliance, happiness, they all fit the mold for what we can call this. Thousands of entrepreneurs are each looking to please hundreds of thousands of customers. I have met many, with products they swear to know people will want. Do they really know? How is it that they know? If you ask them, they can describe in detail all the very rational results to all the mental choices a customer will make, based on their product features, that in aggregate determine – again very rationally – that they will seek and buy it by the hundreds of thousands. These entrepreneurs have accumulated all the knowledge, mastered rationality, and planned their strategic moves to conquer the market. Most do not: the ones who know. The ones who know better do, sometimes. It’s not rational.
The Egyptians and the Babylonians around 2,000 BC evidently already knew that the ratio between the perimeter of a circle and its diameter is a constant, and they were trying to calculate it as precisely as their technology would allow them. They needed to know, so they could build – pyramids, temples, cities. Greek mathematician Archimedes defined this constant as pi, and also made his attempt at calculating it even more precisely – 1,700 years later. Along the way, we discovered that the constant pi has an infinite number of decimal places, and the numbers never repeat. We use super computers with ever more sophisticated algorithms to try to calculate pi to an ever increasing, record breaking number of decimal spaces. We don’t need this level of accuracy to build better buildings. In fact, I can’t think of reasons why knowing pi to the one hundred millionth’s decimal place- if we spent the time to calculate it – would improve my life in the here and now. This wanting to know pi to an ever increasing accuracy is driven, again, by our unrelenting pursuit of knowledge – and bragging rights.
South Florida’s entrepreneurship hotbed is in some important part fueled by immigrants, many of which arrived after leaving countries that were ruined by rational planners who claimed to know how to allocate all the resources needed by society in a way that would benefit everyone, leaving nobody behind. I’ve met them, I’m related to some, and they are everywhere. We continue to calculate pi deeper and deeper into the decimal places rabbit hole. You never know what the next figure is, it never repeats, it never ends, it doesn’t follow a pattern. Pi is an irrational number, that’s how it’s defined. You can’t express it as the ratio of two integers. You can’t guess it, there’s no formula, all estimates are ultimately wrong. We use rational means to dive deeper and deeper into the irrational results that pi offers us.
Market impulses seem to sometimes follow the irrational path of pi, they expand infinitely as technology allows more individually tailored solutions to consumer pain points, and they change in each step down the mantissa ladder, never repeating. Knowing is good, seek knowledge, be rational about it. Finding out how to operate in the perimeter of irrationality is better, if you can hone in on the skills needed to do it.