Think of all the people that are praised for their intellect and culture. You can find them of all persuasions and they gather respect from admirers from all walks of life. Their influence shapes the philosophy of the day. They are regarded as experts in their area of knowledge. For many, and themselves, they point the way towards where we should all point.
Steve Jobs, on a 1995 video I always show at the end of our accelerator’s first session, makes a point to explain that “everything around you that you call life was made up by people who were no smarter than you”. They shaped what you call your world into what you see today. He says that once you learn that truth, you’ll never be the same again. I add that, in aggregate, what we call life has never been better, in many ways, and it continues to improve, thanks to innovators and entrepreneurs.
A lot of people make the mistake of believing that extraordinary talents are necessary to achieve more than ordinary success. The needs of our society as presented in the market, and our framework of freedoms to address their fulfillment by individuals acting in their best interest, has raised to prosperity generations of people with average talent, because ordinary habits are more than sufficient for us to become significantly useful to our fellow men and women. The experience of the world shows that the capacity to adapt to the work that needs to be done, to the needs of the market, is more admired and subsequently produces superior results for those who possess it, than the intellectual prowess of experts telling others what to do or which road to take.
This all reminds me of Robert Frost’s famous and often misanalysed poem, “The Road Not Taken”, where a traveler through the woods comes to a fork on the road and decides to take one of the two roads. It ends:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Once you know that Frost wrote it to poke fun at a friend who always second guessed the choices he made, you realize how it simply is written to highlight an evident truth. Some people would consider taking the less traveled path because it would make all the difference – as if to mean it would result in a better outcome. But in the poem, no judgement is made as to the superiority of the outcome of taking the road less traveled. The outcome will be different, wholly different. That’s it. The choices we make when confronted with a fork on the road, whether in our entrepreneurial journey, or in our life in general, will take us to wholly different outcomes. We know that, based on common sense and past data. We may add that in many ways, a road less traveled may pose more risks. Evaluating risks based on factual data and making decisions after trying to mitigate uncertainty is better than making decisions based on wishful thinking without analyzing facts.
Successful outcomes are all around us, for individuals and for societies. In my view, this is what Steve Jobs refers to in the video I pointed out earlier. Anyone can partake in successful pursuits. I think he is encouraging people to act, to not be afraid to make decisions. Myriad others before you took these well-traveled paths. These generally present choices that if decided upon with common sense, hunger for truth, average talent, and, most importantly, the capacity to adapt, will help us not veer totally off-course, landing us in a place that may make all the difference – in a worse way.