You’re driving at night in a blizzard – it’s pitch black on the dark highway, the only light comes from your headlights reflecting on the driving snow that looks like Star Wars ships in hyperdrive. How do you keep the car on the road?
You embrace ambiguity and make decisions based on incomplete information.
Since you can’t see lines on the road on account of the snow, you reckon if you keep it to the left of what looks like the shoulder and to the right of what looks like the beaten path of the other lane, you should be fine.
When you’re running a start-up, you’ll need to make countless decisions without having all the information you think you need. I was part of a panel at my alma mater and a student asked how to best deal with ambiguity. Ironically, I had to embrace the ambiguity around her question and come up with an answer quickly.
After I stumbled a bit, I came up with the notion that everyone sees the world through their own frame of reference. My advice was to attack problems the way you see them based on your own experiences while appreciating that others are doing the same. During the process of overcoming that particular challenge – among any others happening at the same time – you’ll probably learn or discover something that was not apparent when you first looked at it.
When we opened our toy store, there were lots of considerations that were ambiguous – elusive, in fact. For example, neither of us had experience negotiating a commercial lease but we needed one and the property owners weren’t start-up friendly. So, we contacted the broker and asked the questions we would have asked the landlord about an apartment, price, term, etc. We came to find out that commercial leases are not anything like residential leases and in doing so, realized our budget for renovations could be reallocated because leaseholds – improvements to the space undertaken by the property owner in order to prepare for tenant’s occupation – were part of what the landlord paid for, not us. There will be a post on commercial leases at a later date.
In the end, we attacked the problem of securing a space, which was laced in ambiguity, armed with our own knowledge and experiences. Through that new experience, we learned a lot and it shaped our planning for our second store.
Ambiguity isn’t all bad. It’s a learning experience that can be very rewarding as long as you keep the car between the lines in a snowstorm.