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Stop Reading Startup Advice – Learn By Doing!

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By Deena Varshavskaya (Founder & CEO, Wanelo)

Startup culture encourages startup advice. Entrepreneurs want to write it. Other entrepreneurs want to read it.

You can read all sorts of things from people who know exactly what they are talking about. Don’t raise funding. Raise as much as you can. Build an amazing product and they will come. NO, don’t worry about your product, just figure out your distribution – it’s the only thing that matters. And so on.

This creates a temptation to learn by reading about other people’s experience. Now, I would venture to say that it’s unlikely that any of the people who are writing about their experience have gotten it from reading others’ advice. In fact, we are interested in these folks’ writing precisely because they have experienced the things they are writing about first-hand. They’ve made their mistakes and have put in the hours.

I started thinking about this because I realized that all this reading was actually slowing me down. It’s possible that this is highly personal and that for others reading is a good way to learn about various aspects of running a startup. Personally, however, I have started to see a negative impact.

1. Reading/research clutters up your digital workspace.

First, every day I would open and keep open literally tens of browser windows and tabs. It would not be unusual for me to keep eight browser windows with say ten tabs per window. And some of those, I would keep open for a week or more because I didn’t want to lose the valuable information that I haven’t had a chance to process yet.

As an entrepreneur, I’m working on several major aspects of my startup at once. So naturally, there is a lot out there that could be relevant for me to read. I would sit down at my computer and instead of working on the task I set out to work on, I would have to deal with all of the open windows/tabs, frequently getting distracted, or getting pulled back into my research.

2. You’ll put yourself into the box of doing things the “right” way.

I noticed myself recently operating from the position that there’s some “right” way of doing things and that I should figure it out by doing all the reading I need, or talking to all the people I can or should talk to, and then I will know what it is. As soon as I started to let go of this desire to find the answer by reading, I have empowered myself to move forward with speed by being comfortable with not knowing the perfect answer, but instead by giving myself the room I need to try things on my own, to make mistakes and to learn from them.

3. The time spent reading or researching is the time spent not doing. 

Yes, sometimes you need to read and research to learn. But if you’ve done the work of identifying your highest value task for the day (I will write about this in the near future, but for now see my guest blog post at Women 2.0), it will rarely be to read or research. Most likely, it’s something about talking to people, designing, hiring, etc.

For the purposes of productivity, you can look at your time as a single track. You choose what the track is filled with, but there’s only one track, so you have to choose wisely. If you’re overdoing the reading or researching part, you simply don’t have the time to take other actions at the same time. So it’s a trade off.

4. There is absolutely no end to how much you can read or research.

I have long been comfortable with saying no to push sales. If you’re a marketer or a sales person who tries to call me, you will get a straight and simple no. I will not even give you a chance to speak because it’s clear to me that this is not how I want to find out about services under any circumstances. I know that when I need a service or a product, I will seek it out, do my research, call the right people and so on. The push approach to sales does not work in my world.

I have realized that I can and should apply the same thinking to the reading/research I do. An endless amount of startup reading comes my way on a daily basis. I’m coming to terms with the idea that it’s not possible to read it all, save it or organize it all and that, on the flip side, it is possible to seek out the specific information I need exactly when I need it. I may not be able to find that perfect source that would come my way in the previous approach, but — hey — that approach is simply unworkable.

Entrepreneurs are known for inventing new ways of doing things. And yes, learning by reading can be good. But at best its role should be supplementary to your experience from doing. The focus and prioritization should always be on doing first.

As I became aware of all this, I have started to consciously pull back from the desire to read or research and am using the following guidelines:

  • I no longer allow myself to keep browsers open unless they pertain to the specific task I’m working right now. I have on a couple of occasions simply shut down all of my open windows without worrying about going through them. It can be uncomfortable, but the benefits outweigh the costs.
  • I consciously give myself permission to make mistakes. I’ve found this liberating and empowering and in tune with my natural way of learning. As soon as I do this, the pressure to be perfect goes away, and instead I’m just having fun doing what I love doing and learning from it.
  • I am adopting a pull approach to reading and research. I tell myself that I will find this information if and when I need it. I first consider ignoring it, then, if it seems worth reading, I save it to my Instapaper account for possible future reading. I make an effort to not read it now because that would take me away from the task I’ve set out to work on.

Of course, the irony is that if you’ve made it this far in the post, you’re reading. But, hey, that’s your choice! :) Happy doing!

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

This post was originally posted at Siberian Fruit.

About the guest blogger: Deena Varshavskaya is the Founder and CEO of Wanelo, a site that helps you find the most unique products online by following people you like. Deena’s background is in product and experience design. Prior to Wanelo, she created Dynamik Interactive, a user experience design agency that worked with Fortune 500 clients like Nickelodeon, Disney, Toyota and Fox. She blogs at siberianfruit.com and studied Psychology, Computer Science and Film Studies at Cornell University. Follow her on Twitter at @siberianfruit and her startup at @wanelo.

  • http://SpeakupPowerfully.com Dina Eisenberg

    Great article, Deena. Action is the key. Although I like inspired action. When you’ve done the research about market needs, best practices and how to avid mistakes, you’re ready to take well- reasoned, inspired action

    Too many entrepreneurs, myself included, get stuck because there IS so much good info available. What worked for me was finding the guru that resonated with me and NOT listening to others.

    It’s a struggle but if were easy everyone would be an entrepreneur!

    Warmly Dina

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