Posted by: elambend | August 13, 2007

How Many Swings Did You Take Today?

Marc Andreesen of Netcape fame posted a fascinating entry on his blog. The post, inspired by a discussion about the optimal age for entrepreneurship, was a review of paper by a UC Davis professor of psychology named Dean Simonton, whose expertise is listed as: Genius, creativity, leadership, and aesthetics . From this paper Marc draws some interesting conclusions concerning age, productivity, achievement and entrepreneurship.

The most interesting ones to me were not those dealing with age and entrepreneurship, but with lifetime productivity. As Marc sums it up:

  • Precocity, longevity, and output rate are linked. “Those who are precocious also tend to display longevity, and both precocity and longevity are positively associated with high output rates per age unit.” High producers produce highly, systematically, over time.
  • The odds of a hit versus a miss do not increase over time. The periods of one’s career with the most hits will also have the most misses. So maximizing quantity — taking more swings at the bat — is much higher payoff than trying to improve one’s batting average.
  • Intelligence, at least as measured by metrics such as IQ, is largely irrelevant.

It’s the second point that especially hits home to me: the more you try the more likely you are to succeed. It sounds obvious and it is, it just requires the ability to weather it’s companion: multiple failures.
As for the role of age and entrepreneurship, I think that those who succeed early have the highest chance of becoming serial entrepreneurs because they have tasted success. However, there are others out there who either don’t try until later in life, for instance my mother, or who continue to fail before something works. For an example of the latter, no one is a better example and Dick Enrico, the founder of 2ndWindFitness. Dick had a string of failed enterprises until he started 2ndWind, in his fifties.

What is interesting is that Dr. Simonton found that these conclusions apply across multiple different fields and disciplines, not just entrepreneurs. If you are a writer, you must write, etc. Naval Ravikant, in his response to Adreesen’s article sums it up like this:

Basically, the number of swings at bat, poems attempted, paintings painted, etc. determine the success rate. The more you try, the more you learn, the faster you iterate, the better you get, and the more chances that you have of being productive. Your outcome scales more with the number of bets than the size of the bets. As the violinist Pablo De Sarasate put it, “For 37 years I’ve practiced 14 hours a day, and now they call me a genius. ”

So, you have to ask yourself every morning: “How many swings am I taking today?”

HT: Ben Casnocha


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