Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Faith-based Life

I often think it's amusing that faith, particularly in light of the current season, is seen as being inextricably tied to religion. Faith is basically the method by which we operate, set goals, and achieve them. Faith in the business you're in, faith in your relationships, faith in the way the world works - we tell ourselves it is all very rational, when we typically have less-than-complete information and less-than-complete prescience to actually know the things we believe about our own lives. 

This happens in business all the time. Let's use the basic case of Lucy's Lemonade Stand (because it conjures up warm imagery of summer in these dark winter days). Lucy has a lemonade stand on her block. She is 7, and a proud business owner, charging 25 cents a cup for her truly home-brewed concoction. She must believe that her particular mix of lemons and sugar and water yields a better tasting product than the insta-mix down the street. Depending on how heavy-handed she is, that may be true or false. She must also present that belief to her customers, in much the way a preacher would. They must be made to believe too. 

And what if Lucy realizes her batch is a little overly sweet? Well, she's not always going to toss it and start over - there's no margin in that. She now must continue to persuade her customers while internally recognizing the cognitive dissonance. Or, perhaps she might find it easier to tell herself that she simply misjudged, and re-configure the truth to be "This is the perfect batch of lemonade" so as to make her sale easier, emotionally.

Bad Bad Billy down the block with his instant lemonade may be doing better - either because he is selling it cheaper, or because spoonfuls of mix produce consistent, if nauseatingly pink, product. Lucy must somehow tell herself she's better that Billy in order to proceed. And tell her customers too. And she must believe that in the long run, her lemonade stand is a viable going concern - and that Billy's introduction into the market isn't a real threat. 

None of this may be true. That's why adults may humor Lucy's gumption, and coddle her with praise, even when her product might bring on a violent case of acid reflux. And Lucy must continue to believe - and her dedication must be rewarded, or else the lessons of the lemonade stand will not be learned.  

But here's the part that intrigues me - the lessons of the lemonade stand are entirely faith based. Construct a world view such that you have a right to win. Pursue that end undaunted, amending the world view along the way to address any negative eventualities. Compel others to believe in your world view. Stick it out.

There's nothing wrong with this way of operating. In fact, it takes care of that analysis paralysis problem quite readily, and replaced it with Ptolemeic systems of rationalization instead. As long as forward progress is maintained, it is more efficient and more helpful. And yet, let's face it - it's all about faith. Don't stop believing - or you may as well fold up the lemonade stand.

1 comment:

Capt. BS said...

This principle applies to anyone who is working at a startup, or, more generally, who is pursuing some kind of intellectual innovation. What kind of faith did Galileo had to have possessed in order to shrug off the conventional wisdom of a geocentric universe (and the heretical implications of rejecting this notion) and stand by (and sell) what he was convinced was the truth?

It takes a certain kind of self-blinding stubbornness to pull this off without lending too much fertilizer to the seeds of doubt, and not everyone has it. Some personalities (hello) are predisposed to consider all points of view before drawing anything resembling a conclusion, and if the issue at hand has a sizable number of possible viewpoints (e.g. which flavor of ice cream will I enjoy most right now, which CRM product should I buy, to what extent is right-of-return a requirement for peace in the Middle East), it takes no time for analysis paralysis to set in. And it isn't necessarily because said paralysis victim doesn't have a strong opinion on the matter or lacks faith in its underlying premises, but rather because it is very difficult for them to discount the opinions of others: in a way, they naturally have as much faith in someone else's opinion (and their ability to form it) as they do their own.

Such a person makes a poor salesperson or evangelist (and therefore entreprenuer? Ah crap. So much for that dream...), because a sales call usually goes like this:

Person A: Good morning, Person B. I was just wondering whether you might be ineed of a Steam-powered Death Roomba to help you clean your homestead.

Person B: Well, uh, that sounds pretty nifty, but my trusty ole Hoover does the job quite nicely, thank you.

Person A: Oh okay, but wouldn't you want something that cleaned the house for you (while simultaneously destroying intruders and producing zero carbon emissions)?

Person B: Nah, I like my Hoover. It's loud and cumbersome, but it gets the job done.

Person A: Fair enough. Well, have a nice day!