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What Got You Here Won't Get You There

Progress is hard. It doesn't matter if it's getting a new job or trying to build your company. All progress is change and unfortunately, change is hard for most humans.

When you try to level up there are usually 2 ways to go about it. You either do what you're doing faster + better or you have to do something entirely different. I find the vast majority of people opt for the first option instead of realizing that the only path to real growth is the second option.

Growth is a continuous cycle of first learning how to do a new thing and then later perfecting it. First a new skill is unlocked that helps you do something you couldn't do before and after as you master it your efficiency with that skill goes up.

At a certain point you develop a sort of toolbox with the different skills you've learned. And then once you have enough tools to generally navigate most situations, you begin to instinctively reach back into the toolbox vs. learning how to use new tools.

This is the point of stagnation. This is why over enough time, many folks can get to the middle, but often get stuck there. You move up the ranks quickly when learning new skills but stagnate once you begin to rely on your existing toolset vs. continuously expanding.

And more insidious than that, the tools that helped you get here are not only not helping you advance, but they are now actively holding you back from going further. Imagine a meter that measures the totality of your skills. When you have a low amount of skills, you can easily double, triple, or even 10x your skill set. As you accumulate more skills though, the gains become less substantial until at some point you have to do a lot just to get an incremental 1% gain.

It's not necessarily laziness or being stubborn that causes this problem. It's that the toolset you have is actually pretty good. It can solve the majority of issues that come your way and so it makes sense to rely on your accumulated skills vs. doing something new.

But material progress and new goals aren't the majority of issues. By definition these are harder and thus less people have accomplished them. And so it's useless to try to use tools that are designed for solving general problems to solve more esoteric ones.

The way to break out of this is to go back to the earlier choice - do the same thing better or do something entirely different. Trying to use the same tools you've already mastered to solve new & harder problems leads to stagnation. The only way to continue to get 10x gains at a higher level is to realize that you might need a new toolbox and then go build that.

You wouldn't run a new startup the same way you would run a billion dollar company. Applying the same ideas to both would be catastrophic. There are certain ideas that work very well in startups that would cripple a big company and the inverse is true too. And so that's why as a company grows it's not just about doing the same thing but bigger, but it's about continuously rebuilding the company from scratch so it's purpose built for that phase.

The hack is that when you realize you're doing something you haven't done before, to actively forget everything you know about how to "do things". Throw it all away, focus on the goal, the constraints you have, and figure out from first principles how to tackle that. Odds are the way you accomplish said new thing will look quite different from how you accomplished things previously.