Are You Making Progress in Life?

How I Measure Myself

Twenty-five years ago I was in the midst of a complex and critical software development project. If it didn’t get completed on time, the business was screwed.

Never Ending Parade

I was talking to Doug, the lead developer. It was three in the morning, and we were at the office.

I said, “All we do is deal with problems. Our lives seem like an endless game of whack-a-mole.”

“You are correct, but your example is wrong,” he said.

“How is that?” I asked.

“I agree. Life is a never-ending parade of problems. There will always be problems. That’s what makes our lives challenging but also meaningful and exciting,” he said.

Jewel of Wisdom

“You know you’re making progress in life if the quality of the problems you are dealing with improves. If you find yourself wrestling to solve the same kinds of problems over and over, you are not making progress,” he said.

He was right! We were growing the business, and the technology platform changed. We had over three hundred clients to satisfy with this update.

More importantly, this new platform opened a dramatically larger market for us. Three years earlier we were trying to make the software work so we didn’t lose our first ten customers. We were now solving a bigger and better problem.

The Disappearing Entrepreneur

I was in a room full of mentors recently at the ATDC. One of them asked the question, “Sometimes I run into an entrepreneur who has potential. He has a great idea and is taking on the advice to make it into a business. Then, all of a sudden, he’s gone. Where do these people go?”

The answer is, they moved on to solve higher quality problems. They are with customers.

The ATDC, like many of the incubators and accelerators in greater Atlanta, is focused on getting a business from idea to initial revenue. Although these are big problems to solve in this idea-startup phase, they are lower quality problems. Attracting paying customers at an ever increasing rate is a much higher quality problem. Solving this problem builds a valuable business.

Incubators and Entrepreneurs

When the incubator/accelerator gives the entrepreneur the best they have to offer, the entrepreneur goes one of three ways.

1. He stays in their ecosystem and continues to work on the idea-startup problem.
2. He is asked to leave because his idea is judged to be without economic merit.
3. He chooses to leave because he solved the startup problem. He moves on to a higher quality problem—customers.

Like these entrepreneurs, I am constantly evaluating the quality of the problems I’m dealing with.

This is why I continually ask myself, “Am I making progress in the quality of my problems?”