It’s not hard to be better than average at just about anything. You just have to show up and try. It may seem trivial or tautolically true but starting is the most reliable way to achieve whatever you want and just by doing so you separate yourself from the average person. If you have a goal then planning matters but it matters less than momentum because a rock solid plan with no momentum leaves you in the same place but action and adjustment will move you closer to where you want to go even if your plan is incomplete. In fact, the odds of you succeeding double or triple the moment you start doing something regardless of a plan because momentum compounds. Past wins lead to future wins so small wins become big wins and taking that first step can lead to outcomes wilder than you ever imagined. I’ve made the mistake of not starting soon enough more times than I can count in my life– and I see people around me make it all the time– so this seemingly obvious truth is not well internalized even by me.
Failure to start stems from two broad patterns I’ve observed. The first is paralysis in the face of conflicting advice which happens all the time in just about every industry or field. Take an individual who is trying to lose weight and now think about all the conflicting studies, scientists, fitness experts, and influencers who have strong opinions on the best way to achieve this goal. The internet has democratized access to experts and valuable information more than ever before but in the situations where you need to be an expert to discern which expert is correct you are not far off from being completely uninformed. When this happens it’s common for to get in the mindset that you just one more opinion, to read one more study and then it’ll all be clear when the opposite is true. When faced with conflicting theories the best method is to start falsifying and gathering feedback through action. There are endless proposed methods online for sustainably losing weight but none of them involve sitting around looking at more proposed methods. Act. This happens with everything whether it’s business, excercise, cooking, music, language, etc. The act of doing will expose truths and inaccuracies about the field itself and paths to mastery will become apparent that were impossible to see before starting.
The second and more pernicious pattern is overestimating the complexity needed to get started. Take the same individual trying to lose weight. Over months they listen to podcasts with doctors explaining how to optimize fat loss and maximize muscle growth; they watch fitness influencers for how to best execute lifts in the gym to hit different muscle groups; they create elaborate meal plans with defined macros and targets. Meanwhile they could have started by just cutting out all junk food and doing a light workout every day and it would get them 80% of the way to where they want to go. Experts are so often working at the edge of knowledge for a given field trying to find gains and novel results where no one has before meanwhile a beginner in any endeavor would see results from simpler actions. When a professional athlete talks about optimizing their workout or a musician talks about the humidity of the air or a chef talks about the techniques to perfect a delicate sauce they are actually talking about the last .1% of performance possible. If you are at the beginning of your journey you almost never need to worry about those optimizations and you will never reach the point where those optimizations matter so quickly that you do not have time to see it coming and adjust. In other words, the 80/20 rule applies to just about anything in life and when you are starting out you get to benefit from the low-hanging actions that get you 80% of the way. This, too, feels like an effect of the internet: we have such access to masters in their field that we often forget we don’t need to be as skilled as Gordon Ramsey too cook a healthy and tasty meal or as athletic as Lebron James to be in shape. We just need to start.
In a sense this is a rephrasing of the common startup adage “just ship.” With startups the importance of shipping is obvious and accepted yet I’ve met so many first time founders making the mistake of not shipping. It almost always comes with a lofty goal to reshape society or disrupt an industry with massive incumbents and leads to weeks writing business plans, refining pitch decks, creating wireframes and mockups, and endless theorycrafting about the idea. The goal is to launch with a product superior to the incumbents in every way; to come out the gate with such an obviously better product that society and the world has no choice but to reorganize itself around it. This startup loses every time to the one without a 50-page business plan, without a refined pitch deck, without wireframes, but with a founder that identified the one differentiator to build a simple vertical slice on and got some customers onboarded.
In life, as in startups, the person who starts despite imperfection and iterates will always outperform the one who plans meticulously but never puts their plans into motion. The founder in motion will get customers and feedback early allowing them to provide value they didn’t even think about beforehand while the founder that only plans will never learn about the untapped opportunities provided by a customer’s needs. The individual in motion will learn what works and what doesn’t and adjust their tactics as they go while the individual that only plans will miss obvious pitfalls because the problem space for just about anything is so vast you cannot account for everything. The founder in motion will find others who want to join their mission as employees and investors while the founder that only plans will find people who only want to talk and theorycraft. The individual in motion will find communities and mentors that will help them along their journey while the individual that just plans will often plan alone. The founder and individual in motion will experience the effects of compounding results while the ones who just plan will delay the power of compounding longer and longer. The ones in motion will reach their goals while the ones who plan will constantly find new edge cases and new reasons to delay starting.
Planning has a place and a strategist will outmaneuver and outperform brute force but plans only matter when put in motion. So whenever you’re beginning something new focus on the motion first. Focus on the basics. Take the first step. Build the momentum. Then plan once you are on your way.