Better Questions is supported by readers like you. If you get value from my writing, consider becoming a supporting member. Exclusive content, weekly deep-dives, free beta-access to future courses and more. Thanks.
For much of your life, you're going to be failing.
It's just the way it is.
Even the best are striking out a lot of the time. Michael Jordan, widely considered to be one of the greatest competitors in history, won 706 games and lost 366.
Loss is inevitable. And WHEN you're losing, it's natural to want to do something about it.
That's the question that's always lurking, the one that claws at the back of my mind:
What do I do?
Am I doing the right thing now?
Should I switch it up, or keep focused?
Am I making a mistake?
How would I know?
When these questions start keeping me up at night, I turn back to The Flowchart.
The Most Powerful Flowchart in the World.
The flowchart I'm going to show you in this post.
This flowchart answers all the questions above.
It answers them in a simple, straightforward way.
And it only requires you to know one thing:
Based on the evidence you have right now, are you on track?
Here's the chart:
If it looks simple, that's because it is.
Its simplicity makes it powerful.
Let's walk through the process.
Are you on track?
This is the start, and in many ways, the most important question of all.
It's incredibly easy to fool ourselves into thinking we are on track when we are not.
It's easy to subtly transitioning from hoping that things will improve to believing that things will improve.
We imagine the best of ourselves. And if you're reading this email, chances are you're a hard-working, creative person who's got a track record of successes, even if they're small. It might be perfectly rational to assume that, since things have always turned out right before, they'll turn out right this time, as well.
But we have to avoid this trap.
You can't eat optimism. Rather than assume things will change, act only on what you know right now.
That means you track your revenue by looking at money in the bank, not projections.
That means you track the impact of your diet by how you've been eating, not how you think you're going to eat after you "get back to it."
That means you look at your practice hours put in thus far, not what you think your practice hours will be once you finally move out of your apartment and get your own studio.
If NO: Take on Risk
If your current behavior and results will not get you where you want to go within an acceptable, you'll need to take on some risk.
That's because there's really only two ways of getting on track when you're off:
Trying something new...
And cutting out what isn't working.
Let's examine these two.
Trying Something New
This is what most people default to when something isn't working out.
Not losing weight? Switch from Mediterranean to Paleo.
Businesses not growing? Switch from Google Ads to Facebook Ads.
Relationship not what it could be? Switch from one partner to another.
This can be a useful method to improve results.
But it's also the riskiest thing on the sheet.
Why? Because when something is truly new it's results are unknown.
Sure, it could be better than what you've got...but it could also be worse.
There's also opportunity cost: when you're pursuing something, you're not pursuing something else. If you choose the wrong option to focus on you could end up wasting significant time and resources.
There are times when radical change is called for. But it's important to make that decision consciously, aware of all attendant risk.
Luckily, there is another, less-risky option when you're not on track...
This is what Nassim Taleb calls "via negativa:" removing what isn't working rather than trying to add more things that are.
The easiest example of this is raising revenue (additive) vs. cutting expenses (subtractive). Adding revenue requires all kinds of experimentation, trying new things and taking on the associated risks we discussed above.
Cutting expenses means you get to work with known quantities: you know exactly what you'll save, how to save it, and what the consequences might be.
It's also significantly faster. If the goal is to add 10% to our profit margin, you can get there a lot faster by cutting expenses than you can by adding a new product or service.
Business isn't the only place we can apply this principle, however.
Want more free time? It's a lot easier to remove tasks you don't enjoy than it is to become more productive.
Want to improve your weight loss or gain? It's easier to get more 10% consistent with your plan (less off-days) than it is to find a new plan that's 10% more effective.
Where possible, preference removing waste over trying new things. It's easier, faster, and more certain.
But what if we're already on track?
Though it might be hard to believe, people self-sabotage through during moments of success just as often as they do in moments of failure.
We've all heard stories about the Lottery winners who up bankrupt shortly after winning millions of dollars, or the corrupt CEO who gets caught trying to add a seemingly-meaningless amount to his company's bottom line.
We often have less experience with success, and so are less sure of how to approach it. Do we scale? Do we take it easy? How do we handle it?
If YES: Remove Risk
Once we're on track - headed to where we want to be within an acceptable timeline - we need to remove volatility and risk.
After all, when we've got it made, our primary responsibility is to make sure we continue to have it made. Risk - of ruin, disruption, etc - is a threat to our success.
How do we systematically remove risk - whether it be from a business or our personal lives?
Diversification is how investors mitigate risks in their portfolios (have some of your money in stocks, some in bonds, some in gold, some in crypto, etc).
It's how you could mitigate the risk of your favorite marketing channel no longer working (run Facebook ads, but also run YouTube ads).
It's how you can mitigate the risk of your industry suffering a setback (work with clients in multiple industries).
This isn't the same as Trying Something New - we simply want to do more of what's already working in a different way.
There's a reason that monocultures don't exist in nature: they're highly fragile. Diversity is strength.
Backups seem obvious but they are not.
I should know - I famously lost all of the original recordings of my very first self-released record before it came out.
Murphy's Law ("what can go wrong, will go wrong") might as well be a law of nature. Dan Kennedy, the famous marketer, often phrases this as "Somebody, somewhere, is going to screw it up."
Backups turn disaster into mere annoyances. If you are on the road to success, this is priceless.
Backups are how businesses mitigate the risks of their employees leaving (always have more than one person on staff that can do a job).
They are how you can mitigate the chances of slipping into a diabetic coma (have some insulin in your purse AND in your car AND at your office).
They are how you develop power in any professional relationship (be the one who needs it least, since you have a backup available).
What do you do if you already have a backup?
Backup the backup.
As the Navy SEALs say: "Two is one, and one is none."
Your backup is bound to fail you at some point, so you might as well go ahead and get another one ready to go.
trying something new and Making cuts are how you get on track.
Diversity and Backups keep you there by reducing the chances of disaster.
So the next time you're wondering what to do...
Figure out if you're on track...
And the consult the Most Powerful Flowchart In The World.
P.S. Super excited for End of Year Review Live Class going off this week. If you missed it, you done goofed. ;-)
Something Cool To Read:
Has any one person ever exerted such a magnetic pull on an entire art form? I find people like Sondheim fascinating. This piece is a highly-readable run down of his impact.
Better Questions Newsletter
Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.