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The Difficulty Delusion
How Things are Hard
To an entrepreneur everything seems easy before you start it. The 30,000 foot view looks simple.
Since everything is hard, you can either pick problems that are easier for you than others because of your skill set or problems you’re interested in learning how to solve.
To deal with the Difficulty Delusion, where everything seems easy, instead, I like to ask myself how it’ll be hard. I use a pie chart and think of everything as 100% hard.
Here are the dimensions I like to use:
Luck-based: e.g. oil well exploration. The outcome is uncertain even if you do everything right.
Delayed outcome: e.g. big strategy pivot. You’re pretty sure it’ll work, but you need years for it to play out.
New skill: you’re sure it works for some people, but not sure it’ll work for you.
Unproven domain: e.g. the first lightbulb. It’s a new product
Personal E.g. power lifting. If you have to be able to clean 300 lbs, difficulty goes up.
Natural e.g. perpetual motion machines. No one has broken the second law of thermodynamics yet
Lack of interest
Morally difficult - not obvious issues like lying, but questions where good people could disagree. These fall on a spectrum ranging from generally seen as negative (running a casino or making cigarettes) to unpopular (speculating in the stock market or lowball house offers). Even a little bit of moral difficulty can ruin the whole thing for me.
A dimension can be zero for a given problem, for instance cold calling.
Cold calling is mostly the ability to deal with uncertainty (will they say “yes” or hangup on me?) and a bit of skill. I don’t have any moral qualms about calling people (although I know some do). It requires near zero physicality, resources, interest and patience.
The dimensions are less important than the genuine recognition that a problem will be hard.
I avoid problems where I feel any moral difficulty, high interest difficulty, or very high resource needs.
Finally, while it’s helpful to have an idea of what kind of hard problem you’re approaching, my guess is, it wouldn’t be helpful to have perfect knowledge of the difficulties even if we could get it. We may have never started anything.
There is definitely a magnitude difference between different problems. Founding a marketing agency is much easier than launching a 3D animated RPG which is much easier than launching Space X.