A smart man once said that you need three things before you take action:
Notice that first bullet.
In other words, you need a problem.
The more action you want to take, the more solutions you want to gain, the more you want to achieve, the more problems you’ve gotta have. Problems lead to questions, questions lead to discovery, discovery leads to progress.
Solutions exist all around us, some actual, some potential. But you can’t invent new solutions unless you first have a problem with the way things are. There may be solutions that already exist, that can make your life ten times better, but you’ll only find them if you’re unhappy about the current state of affairs.
But not just problems
But, as you’ll notice from the bullets above, problems alone aren’t quite enough. Discontentment without imagination, and mixed with pessimism is a recipe for a sad life. Discontentment with imagination and optimism is a recipe for growth.
Think about companies that have products like the proverbial “Better Mousetrap”. They can solve a problem better than anything else out there. They’ve got a tool that can dramatically improve your life. Despite that old adage about people beating a path to their door, it’s harder than you might think to convince people to purchase the product.
If you simply accept the fact that mice are constantly getting in, you lack the discontentment to think this is a problem, and the imagination to see a world without mouse invasions, and the optimism to believe you can obtain it. Without those, you’ll never ask the question, “How can I get rid of these mice?” You’ll just assume this is the way the world is, and the way it always has to be. If you never go ask the question, you’ll never find the answer and keep out the mice and filth and disease that comes with them. Lot’s of potential life improvement just sitting on the table, waiting for you to have a problem!
Be more like Chuck
My coworker Chuck is a tool fanatic who has plenty of discontentment, imagination, and optimism when it comes to tech solutions. I’ve got some discontentment, but not a lot of imagination and optimism in this arena. Chuck often discovers one of my pain points and is baffled that I haven’t gone out and found a nice handy plugin to solve it. He shows me how, opens my imagination, and helps me improve my life.
Chuck has more tech solutions because he sees more problems than I do. I might feel some subconscious discomfort, but don’t really let it grow into full-blown discontentment, nor do I imagine alternatives or think them likely to succeed. So I don’t go searching. Chuck does.
Solutions are everywhere. But first you need problems.
Resist acceptance of the status quo
This is one of the things college opt-outs need in spades.
Most students are like me with tech. They have a vague feeling that debt and degrees and years of classrooms are kind of annoying and off. But they don’t really feel the problem intensely (“Oh well, I guess I can just suffer”), or can’t imagine an alternative (“Too bad you can’t get a job without a degree”), or assume achieving it is impossible (“Only geniuses like Gates and Zuck can succeed without college”).
One interesting thing we find at Praxis is that very few of our customers were looking for us, because so few of them knew anything like Praxis existed. But they were looking for something, because they had major problems with the status quo. Those problems started the search. Add a little imagination and optimism to that discontentment, and solutions start coming fast and furious.
So, what don’t you have a big enough problem within your life? Maybe you should.