Holding two opposing ideas in my mind
Life is simpler when you think of things as this or that, black or white, yes or no.
But life is easier when you realize things are never so clear-cut.
It’s this and that, black and white, yes and no.
I struggled with this for a long time. Why can’t things just be clearer? Only recently did I learn that we can—and should—hold two paradigms in our minds.
As founders, we often have to hold two conflicting ideas in our minds.
Rich and poor. You can be worth a multimillion but have little money in your bank account.
Optimistic and pessimistic. You have to sell potential employees, customers, and investors the bright future of the company while knowing many things will kill your company.
All in and conservative. You have to believe you are working on the best idea (otherwise why spend your time on it?) and also question whether there’s a better idea (to increase your odds of success).
Easy and hard. You celebrate successful fundraising and bask in the media coverage but also know that things just got tougher.
Success and failure. You can raise millions and still not have a viable business.
Employer and employee. You can be the founder/CEO and own little of the company, reporting to the board of directors or the stock market.
Hero and villain. You might have to lay off part of the team to keep the company afloat and support the livelihoods of the rest of the team.
Think and act. The most important thing you need to do right now might be to think about a particular challenge. Maybe is this the right direction? But while you are figuring it out, you still need to keep pushing the startup forward, shipping, and experimenting1.
Fast and slow. “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast," says the Navy SEALs.
This cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable. So most people don’t like doing it. It’s just simpler to believe in one thing or the other. But great founders know that isn’t the reality and find ways to manage the discomfort. I can’t say I have mastered this but realizing it’s totally fine for me to hold two opposing thoughts in my head has been a good first step.
The “Founder’s Paradox” chapter in Zero to One
The Two Mindsets That Can KILL Your Startup by YC
This isn’t to say you should be doing busy work.