Joi has a very interesting post about the difference between upside and downside focus in investing. While I don’t have the extra cash to put this kind of approach into practice (someday!) it’s not an altogether new idea for me, just a different area. I’ve been applying this kind of focus in different aspects to other parts of my life, especially travel. I’ll explain why – often the potential upside far outweighs the concrete downside especially over a long enough time line. Let me give two examples before I elaborate on that. Most people are familiar with Woody Allen’s famous quote “80% of success is showing up.” This gets laughed off a lot as if it’s a joke but it’s actually not. If you look at the entire population of people you are up against in any field there are two massive chunks that this eliminates – The people who assume they won’t succeed and don’t try, and the people who try once and fail and don’t try again. Simply by showing up and trying again and again, the law of averages is in your favor with no consideration of talent or skill. Determination goes a very long way in much of life.
But this isn’t just luck of the draw by any means, it’s also one of the best ways to make sure that your talents and skills are in fact noticed. For many years I trained in Bujinkan and a story frequently passed on about the Grandmaster Hatsumi Sensei is that one of the reasons he was given the title was not that he was the best student, but that he was the most dedicated. This wasn’t to challenge his skill, there’s no question he’s a total bad ass, but to show the rewards of putting in the effort. The story is that many of Takamatsu Sensei‘s students regularly attended his classes, but none as frequently as Hatsumi Sensei. This was especially important because Hatsumi Sensei had to travel by train, often 15+ hours to make it to a class, where as many other students who were much closer didn’t always attended. Because of his dedication his skill was recognized. He didn’t look at the downside of making that kind of trek, he focused on the potential upside of what the training would lead to.
So bringing this all back to the main point, I often look at the upsides and downsides to a trip (be it to a conference or to a city). The downside is instantly tangible and easy to obsess over – this trip will cost me X and will require X days away from normal work, friends, family, etc. That is enough to convince most people not to go, or to go once and if they don’t see results not to go back. However, the potential upside of continuing to go, again and again is massive. Regardless of your talent or skill, if you aren’t around the harder it is for people to recognize it, where as if you are around all the time people get to know you and what you are good at. Being in the proximity of smart and talented people more often gives you a higher chance of interacting with and working with those people. This can result in fantastically cool pay offs, but patience is required sometimes. It’s not a tangible ROI you can calculate, but being dedicated showing up more often than someone else can only work in your favor.
But it’s not only business – in simple travel this applies to. On a long enough time line the benefits of being well rounded and well traveled far exceed the downsides of the cost (time/money) of any one trip, yet it’s the exactly that single trip cost that prevents most people from doing this.
I guess what I’m saying is that similar to Joi’s points about some investors ruining a deal because they are obsessing over a point here or there, my approach in life is that obsessing about the little details can cause you to miss out on the larger reaching rewards. Like Joi mentions in his post, in the worst case situation all you lose is the $ of the initial investment, but the potential upside is so much greater. In a way it’s “can’t see the forest for the trees” theory. Focus on the little stuff too much and you miss the really impressive big stuff.