I'm 100 failed experiments away from reaching my goals

I remember reading about a car company (probably Toyota) that dramatically improved their products through a small shift in focus.

The obvious approach is to try decreasing the number of problems that occur as much as possible.

But what they did instead was telling their quality control testers to find at least 5 ways to break their cars each month.

So while other companies want the number of problems detected to decrease, they were looking for a constant line.

This makes a ton of sense because the naive approach leads to wrong incentives.

If the goal is to decrease the number of problems detected, quality testers will be motivated to stop looking as hard as they can. This will help to make sure their bosses are able to include the charts they’re looking for in their PowerPoint presentations. But it will of course not help to make the products maximally reliable.

I’m facing a similar dilemma.

At first glance, it makes sense to try to minimize my failure rate, my rejection rate, the number of people I offend each day.

Failure, rejections, and mean replies are painful. And every time I’m decreasing my failure rate, my success rate goes up.

This kind of thinking is of course fatally flawed.

After all, the best way to minimize your failure rate is to simply do nothing.

A slightly less obvious problem with my focus on succeeding more and failing less is that it motivates me to seek out easy wins.

If I’m launching yet another free project on Product Hunt, it’ll most likely be a “success”. People will reward my efforts with upvotes and nice comments.

But when I’m launching a new premium offer, there’s a very real possibility it will flop completely.

Similarly, there’s an easy way to improve my success rate when it comes to cold outreach by simply reaching out to people a few levels “below me”.

Here’s a concrete example. I recently started experimenting with cross-promotions to grow my newsletter. My natural instinct was to reach out to newsletter writers with fewer subscribers than me. Almost all of them said yes! But frankly, none of these cross-promotions really moved the needle in a meaningful way for me.

To make cross-promotions work I definitely should start reaching out to people with a similar or larger number of subscribers. But when I’m doing this, I will definitely get a lot of rejections.

Another area where I’m 100% guilty of doing the same mistake is when it comes to posting content online. I’m writing dozens of tweets, blog posts, and newsletters without mentioning my products once.

Stupid, I know. I definitely would be better off shamelessly promoting my own stuff even if that means offending a few people here and there.

Now that I noticed these patterns the solution seems straightforward.

Instead of focusing on successes and positive replies, I have to start hunting failures and rejections.

Here’s another useful way to frame this idea: I’m 100 rejections, 100 mean comments, 100 failed experiments away from reaching my goals. And it’s entirely up to me how fast I get through them.

Unless I’m launching an experiment that fails completely every month, unless I’m offending at least one person with my self-promotion every week, unless I’m getting rejected at least once every day, I’m not pushing things hard enough.

Written on September 12, 2022

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