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How to Be Relentlessly Resourceful [a practical guide] (jasonshen.com)
162 points by jasonshen on Jan 20, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments



I find these sorts of "n steps to greatness" guides to be suspect: sure, some of this advice is useful but a lot of it is simply common sense and little of it expands upon the original essays it cites; at worst it boils down to a set of platitudes that may or may not benefit you given the actual context.

The problem here is there's no correct way for everyone and by creating a list of potential actions people may be led to think they're just not capable when in fact what they should be doing is finding a path that works for them and not caring what some guy on the Internet claims is the right way of doing things.

For instance, telling someone to be assertive or to keep trying until it works is a specious claim; it's not incorrect all the time of course, but often people miss because they just don't get the social context they find themselves in, not because they haven't tried enough times. If your attitude is, "I'll do this until it works" you risk being reflective and trying to decipher the cause of failure.

Who knows, this might be an exact fit for some people. But for others, I would steer clear and find your own path to greatness, sans self-help gurus.


Thanks for providing your thoughts. I completely agree that there is no correct way for everyone and I never claimed this anywhere in the article.

Moreover, this post is not about how to achieve "greatness". It is not even about reaching any sort of end state - it is merely describing a process that pg has said is correlated with good startup founders.

I think that the problem with your advice (which by the way also puts you in the category of "some guy on the Internet") is that "finding your own path" is even more vague and platitude-y. But again, I mostly agree with you. I am simply offering my own perspective on the concept of "relentless resourcefulness".

Thanks again for adding to the discussion.


I agree completely, in fact I wrote an article about dubious advice today. It's not sexy, so it didn't get any votes on HN.

http://diegobasch.com/luck-be-a-lady-while-our-funding-lasts


Hey Diego -- I checked out your article because I sympathize with your plight. This is totally off topic and unsolicited, but I thought I would give you my thoughts in the hope that it helps. I think my feedback might help, because I suspect that you're like me (you fail where I also fail).

It's a good piece, but I suspect that you didn't get upvotes not because the article isn't "sexy", but because it doesn't really conform with the format of content of the modern web.

Issues: can't tell what the article is about from the title, can't tell how i will benefit from reading your article from the title, first couple paragraphs don't grab me, "wall of text" feeling when you open the article, can't tell if I should give you the benefit on your thoughts because no biographical info or indication that you're important, and it's too long.


Feedback is always welcome. Thanks.


A thought: why do people go to church to hear the same Bible stories time and time again? Why read motivational quotes and inspirational stories over and over? Wouldn't one time be sufficient?

I don't think so. People need the regular positive reinforcement and reminding. I know I do.

Jason Shen's stuff is like a shot of vitamin c for me. It's a good thing.


"Step 1 - Learn enough to get a clue." There is so much information available online today about anything you need to know. It's seriously mind boggling to me that people can't seem to figure out how to do things.

"I can't figure out how to sync my calendar with outlook" >> hmm, I don't know, let me google that for you: http://bit.ly/y3Zp0E

"How do I make this ad 'print ready'?" >> Ditto http://bit.ly/ABlo1I

"How do I remove the meat from a drumstick?" >> Ditto http://bit.ly/ynAvAb

"How do I build a realtime web app?" >> Ditto!!! http://bit.ly/xgZHix

I think the problem here is that many people have been trained by years of formal education to approach problems from a perspective that if you need to learn something, a formal process is required to gain that knowledge. What sets people who are "resourceful" apart from those who are not, then, boils down to a fundamental difference in the way in which they approach problems. Instead of assuming that they cannot do something until proven otherwise, resourceful people assume they can do something until proven otherwise.


I'd conjecture that one of the biggest barriers for HN folk is acknowledging that they are ignorant about a certain topic. In the Western culture, we are trained from a young age that admitting ignorance is one of the worst things you can do. Initial reactions are to dismiss a subject as "boring" or "irrelevant" but as we get older, we tend to rather bullshit than be seen as short on knowledge.


How old are you? I found that to be a common trait in myself and friends around the age of 20, but now approaching 30 people in my social network seem to have cooled down the need to assert themselves constantly like that.


Great point. In general we avoid looking bad which is why people downplay of dismiss things they don't know. Even after you DO know what to do, you still often he resistance to avoid doing something because you are afraid of looking foolish.


could be a bias of those in leadership roles, or those considered to be experts at something... check out "mansplaining"


Ok, that article was totally awesome. I have realized the fact that I have difficulty reaching out to people and entities to help me figure out what to do (in general business problems and on technical issues) was something I wanted to work on.

I has just set aside 2 weeks where I was going to focus on this. Then yesterday PG's essay and today this. Time to get started.

Any other good resources out there about this stuff? :)


> Any other good resources out there about this stuff? :)

Here's the thing. That's a great question to ask, but at this point it can lead you down the road to fake work. You don't need any more resources. You can start improving your skills in the next 12 hours.

You need to start failing and you need to start today. Want to get better at reaching out? By the end of today, email 3 people you trust, but don't know personally. Briefly ask them for advice. Don't beg. Indicate that you're working on a tough problem. Show that you've put effort into it. Then push SEND.

Don't spend a lot of time agonizing over the email. Don't go looking for pre-written scripts to use. Don't plan out what time of day you'll send it. Don't try to optimize the subject line. Just get your foot in the door.

That's all it takes.

-----

I think the major thing missing from this article is knowing when to transition states. When do you stop learning and start doing? From my personal experience, the difference between a smart, resourceful person and a smart person is the time taken to shift from knowledge gathering and action taking. The former switches into action mode within hours/days. The latter switches into action mode within days/weeks.


Great point teej and thanks for the feedback. I think that transition is one of the hardest things to get right. In general, I'm biased toward doing stuff sooner rather than later. Once you have an idea about something that could maybe work, you should start doing. As time goes on I think it's reasonable to plan more, but when you first start out, the more action, the better. Momentum (or lack of it) is the a major factor.


Nice, sounds good. Funny, I always worry about the timing of sending emails. Got to get over that one, ha. I sent one email out, I guess I have two more to do.


Funny that developing relentless resourcefulness from step 0 is really similar to Jason's rejection therapy process: Getting over the fear of something in order to take action and learn from the process.

Could be the start of a one- or two-week "startup bootcamp" process... :)


I think everyone finds a different way to build their tolerance for discomfort. Rejection therapy is one of many ways. You can even approach gaining the prerequisite qualities using relentless resourcefulness - learn about overcoming fear, expose yourself to scary situations, repeat.


Definitely! My friend swears he's built tolerance for stepping outside of social norms and going for it by watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, then trying to recreate the same social awkwardness in his own life. Not sure that's terribly ideal, but it does appear to be working for him! (Outside of the awkward situations that is, he's been quite successful at breaking into the local music scene in a very short time)


>> Grit/Not Quitting

Sometimes though I end up "not quitting" even though all the signs show that I should move on. Its a thin line and I have difficulty accepting that it isn't going to work out.


'Resourcefulness' is entirely dependent upon knowledge of and experience in a particular area.

For example: let's say my motorcycle just stops running. 15 years ago, I'd have stood there dumbfounded, looked through a shop manual with near-zero comprehension of anything in it, and eventually given up and asked for help. These days, I'd immediately begin checking fuses, grab a multimeter and begin probing common fault areas (faulty kickstand or kill switches, etc).

People sometimes comment that I'm resourceful or creative, or noted for the fact that I remain calm and go into problem solving mode in situations like this. But that's completely, entirely, solely due to the fact that I spent years upon years learning the mechanics of vehicles fairly intimately. I understand the whole system well enough that I can understand what is wrong, form and test a hypothesis, and take action.

Similarly, I'm a decent and resourceful programmer. But if you tell me to go chat up VCs for funding, I'm going to be completely lost. How could I possibly have the slightest idea how to go about that? I have absolutely zero experience in anything even vaguely related to that. Furthermore, I don't want experience in that, because I recognize that I'm far better off focusing on my strengths than my weaknesses (something eschewed by the self-improvement crowd, but a well-demonstrated fact).

I find the whole thing kind of weird. Of course a founder who has a background in schmoozing is going to do a better job of schmoozing, but that says absolutely nothing about resourcefulness. This whole thing stinks of confirmation bias to me.


> Furthermore, I don't want experience in that, because I recognize that I'm far better off focusing on my strengths than my weaknesses (something eschewed by the self-improvement crowd, but a well-demonstrated fact).

Exactly right. The self-help "guru" scene is based on very little fact (or should I say, based heavily on cherry-picked facts) and instead focuses on "mind over matter", e.g. if you just try harder you'll get it sooner or later (and be damned good!). Absolute snake oil.

> This whole thing stinks of confirmation bias to me.

That's all self-help has ever been: one guy says he has a process, a method, another guy agrees that the first guy was on to something, but he has a slightly different remix that maximizes its effect. Rarely is this stuff based on actual research or science.

Further, I don't really think pg's point was that you can somehow follow a guide to resourcefulness and become resourceful, rather he was making an observation about the quality of "resourcefulness" in some founders, i.e. the founders that ended up being most capable and noting that such people who have said aptitude need but a word to get going. I don't dispute that; I have no experience with it. But I do dispute the notion that you can come up with some method that will make me magically better and base it on nothing but conjecture and confirmation bias.

Edit: Consider this, after ten-thousand hours of practice you might master some craft: but the implication isn't that I can sit idly at my computer, hitting the keys here and there and then after some set amount of time I've magically mastered it. No. Mastery only comes after countless hours, days, weeks, months, years, even decades of passionate and careful dedication; no guide is going to make you suddenly better at something you lacked talent in without significant investment. And well, once you're investing passion and time, what do you need some guide for?


That's all self-help has ever been

There's an awful lot of people dissing self-help. But it's always vague. What specific books/authors/phenomena/trends/memes/etc within self-help is it that you have a problem with?


Personally, I think self-help and self-improvement are great things. If there is something you want to do, something that has value to you, or if you are unhappy because of something, you should absolutely pursue improvement in that area, even if you have no natural proclivity.

The problem is that there is too much thinking along the lines of, "weaknesses are flaws which must be fixed." Personally, while I think it's a good idea to be aware of weaknesses and know how to accommodate them, it's better to focus energy on areas of strength than to expend it trying to 'fix' weaknesses.

(BTW I'm not saying this is necessarily what the blog post was about, though I do think an awful lot of his stuff falls into this category)


That's interesting that you feel my blog is about addressing weaknesses. I'm generally not a fan of "fixing weaknesses" and more about "developing strengths". However, I do think that being afraid of something is different from generally being bad at it. Many people confuse the two because they are sometimes related.

When I was learning a new skill in gymnastics, I was bad at it and often scared of it. But that's because it was brand new. As I overcame my fear and figured out the skill, I got better. Sometimes I realized it was not worth learning, but that realization is decoupled with my fear of it.

The issue is that when building a startup (again where pg indicates being resourceful is valuable) you have to go beyond your areas of strength and do / learn things that you aren't good at. That doesn't mean you are "fixing weaknesses", it just means you have to go beyond your core strengths to get the job done. It also means being creative, flexible and persistent - the elements of resourcefulness.


I think you're playing a semantic game now.

Also, you define resourcefulness in a way that ignores the necessary domain knowledge. Without sufficient domain knowledge, an otherwise 'resourceful' person cannot appear as such.


if you just try harder you'll get it sooner or later (and be damned good!). Absolute snake oil.

I'm willing to say that, yes, if you focus on something long enough, you probably will make great strides toward competency in it. The 10,000 hour thing seems pretty valid. But the question, to me, is: why? The opportunity cost is quite high. Am I better off spending 500 hours focusing on learning to schmooze and network, or spending that 500 hours focusing on my technology skills and, notably, creating valuable product in that time? Improving a weakness for the sake of eliminating that weakness is what strikes me as snake oil. You're not invalidated simply because you're weak in an area, and often it's far more valuable simply to be aware of a weakness than it is to eliminate it.

Further, I don't really think pg's point was that you can somehow follow a guide to resourcefulness and become resourceful

I agree. My takeaway from pg's essay was that founders who are both technical and socially/schoozily/network-ily gifted will be more successful than those which are merely technically gifted. That was sort of a "no duh" for me, but perhaps there's an insight there that I'm not seeing.


> The 10,000 hour thing seems pretty valid.

It's valid if it's understood: it shouldn't be taken to mean, "Randomly press keys on a keyboard for ten-thousand hours and you'll produce masterful code" but rather "work passionately and carefully for ten-thousand hours, learn from the masters, seek to emulate and extend their genius, and after ten-thousand hours you might be getting somewhere".

Simply trying hard isn't enough. You have to be smart about how you try. That's what I was getting at with that.

I agree, the snake oil is selling this idea that you /must/ improve your weaknesses or you're invalidated.

On your last point: exactly. The takeaway is that it was a rather obvious point to make: people who are gifted in in a multivariate of disciplines will thrive; I doubt many will dispute that.


Your own experience contradicts with your stance. You got from

>15 years ago, I'd have stood there dumbfounded..and asked for help

to

>I understand the whole system well enough that I can understand what is wrong, form and test a hypothesis, and take action.

by

>I spent years upon years learning the mechanics of vehicles fairly intimately

Clearly you didn't "focus only on your strengths". You identified a weakness - no knowledge of the mechanics of vehicles, and acted to fix it.

You can do the same for fundraising, and it may take years to become a guru at it, but it doesn't take years to start having some success at it, just as with the mechanics of vehicles.


> Clearly you didn't "focus only on your strengths". You identified a weakness - no knowledge of the mechanics of vehicles, and acted to fix it.

Except you're missing his point, OP cared about that particular domain, so he got better at it whereas he doesn't care about schmoozing with VCs.

Further, OP contests the idea that you necessarily must address your weaknesses, i.e. the perpetual selling point of self-help, on the basis that you will then be forced to ignore your strengths.


That's a valid perspective, and one that can help you become a world-class specialist. Entrepreneurship, however, very much requires you to be a generalist. There are just too many areas to consider: fundraising, hacking, product design, user acquisition, recruiting, leading a team, product management, marketing, PR, accounting... Zero entrepreneurs are well trained in every one of these areas before doing a startup. Entrepreneurship is about trying to learn how to do something new, unfamiliar, and unpleasant every day. This requires focusing on your weaknesses, even in areas you aren't inherently passionate about.

You certainly don't have to be a generalist to be successful - world-class specialists add much more value to the world than the median entrepreneur. But you do have to be a generalist to be a successful entrepreneur, and it's in that context of entrepreneurship that you should evaluate Jason's post and PG's essay on resourcefulness.


But you do have to be a generalist to be a successful entrepreneur

I don't believe it.

You may have to be willing to dabble in these areas in order to get started, but if your strengths are technical, your goal is to do them only until you can justify paying someone else to do them. The entrepreneur who tries to manage every angle of business will never grow beyond his personal limitations (time being the big one).

Again, it's about opportunity cost. Pay an accountant to do your taxes if it's taking you away from money-making work that you're actually good at.


If you want to achieve something that is blocked by a weakness, you have to address the weakness or choose something else to achieve.

You can address a weakness by improving yourself or finding a workaround.

For example, if one of his strengths is bonding with fellow geeks, OP could bond with a fellow geek who likes talking to VCs and convince him to be a cofounder. Then he has worked around the problem by using a strength which is an example of a resourceful workaround.

TLDR: Using your strengths to work around a weakness is an example of being resourceful.

NB: In my experience, the willingness to go outside your comfort zone, even your weakest areas correlates highly with success in entrepreneurship.


OP cared about that particular domain, so he got better at it whereas he doesn't care about schmoozing with VCs.

Exactly right. I should have been clearer about that.


You don't have to go chat up VCs to build a startup. Bootstrapping may be harder but is certainly doable.

If you want to get funding though, you have to talk to VCs. If that's a weakness, you have to fix it or work around it by finding a co-founder who can augment your abilities. That is an example of resourcefulness. If you can't do either, you won't get funding.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think you misinterpret my intentions. No one is forcing you to go talk to VCs. However, if you want to obtain seed capital for a startup, you will probably need to be externally resourceful to get it - which means you might want to get good at talking to them.

Your story about motorcycles is the entire point. When you started out, you knew nothing. But you cared enough to want to learn more and get better. So you did. It sounds like you're actually a very resourceful person.

The point about resourceful founders being successful is irrespective of experience. Most startup founders have to gain skills/abilities far outside the range of what they had when they started their company -- that's why the resourceful ones are more successful.

Totally agree with ajju.


'Resourcefulness' is entirely dependent upon knowledge of and experience in a particular area.

No, did you even read the article? He covers exactly the case of needing VC funding!

For example: let's say my motorcycle just stops running. 15 years ago, I'd have stood there dumbfounded, looked through a shop manual with near-zero comprehension of anything in it, and eventually given up and asked for help.

Asking for help isn't giving up, leaving a broken motorcycle unfixed forever on your pile of "stuff I won't ever get round to" is giving up. Starting with a shop manual, then changing to asking for help, then getting a fixed motorbike is being resourceful.

Saying "VC funding. I'm lost, I haven't the slightest clue and don't want to" is giving up. Saying "VC funding, I don't want to know so I'll ask some startup founders with VC funding if they'll contract to talk to VCs on my behalf" (and then getting over the fear of contacting busy strangers with a weird request and actually doing that), is being resourceful. But so is saying "I don't know and I don't want to know, but I can't get funded otherwise so I must do it anyway".


> 'Resourcefulness' is entirely dependent upon knowledge of and experience in a particular area.

I think you kind of missing the point. Solving something when you know the area well is not what is it about.

Quite the opposite in fact. The question is what do you do when you don't know what the answer is.

Are you frozen by the "I don't know how to talk to a VC" thing or you can say "ok, I've never talked to a VC but I'm sure I can figure out how to meet one. Lets see how do I start".

Its not about not asking others for help. Its about not expecting someone else with "more expertise in the area" to do it for you.

> Furthermore, I don't want experience in that, because I recognize that I'm far better off focusing on my strengths than my weaknesses

Its a valid position, but its also one that make you not well suited to be a startup founder IMHO. And not resourceful, at least not in the sense of this blogpost, and possibly not in pg's sense.


I guess in someways you can say that measure of your resourcefulness is what you do when you don't know what to do.




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