Deciding Not To Do Something

My partners at Foundry Group and I decided not to do something after a month of thoughtful deliberation. The decision is fresh so I’m not going to talk about the specifics, but our conclusion was that while it would be relatively easy to do and potential financially lucrative, it wasn’t consistent with our strategy.

I used it as an example this morning during my run with @reecepacheco about fully engaging with your mentors. While we could have made this decision on our own, we talked to a number of people who we consider our mentors (including several peers, investors of ours, and folks that have been doing what we’ve been doing a lot longer than we have), got their direct feedback, synthesized it, and made a decision. Of course, we had plenty of conflicting data, but it was all additive to our decision. And it was ultimately our responsibility to make the call on what we wanted to do.

During my run this morning, Reece and I also talked about fully engaging in the thing you are currently involved in. Reece and his partners are about half way through the 90 day TechStars NY program. He had lots of great feedback for me on his experience to date, but also had lots of questions about what he was doing and how he was approaching things, especially as he looked forward beyond the end of the program. I reinforced that he’s in the program for another six weeks or so and, rather than worry about what to do post-program, he should stay fully engaged in the experience he’s having now.

These two concepts are linked back to the notion of “Deciding Not To Do Something.” In the case of the decision my partners and I made, by listening to our mentors and being fully engaged in the business we are currently in, we decided not to do something that would have been an unnecessary distraction. Part of being fully engaged is understanding clearly the strategy you are executing. In our case, it’s a long term strategy that we are playing out over 20 years from when we started in 2007.

Sure, we’ll adjust tactics on a continuous basis, but we always measure what we are doing against or core beliefs that are the underpinnings of our strategy. And, while tempted by new and interesting ideas, we use these core beliefs to help us decide when we shouldn’t do something, even if it looks attractive.

We also revisit our strategy on a regular basis. We talk about it quarterly and do a deep review – both looking backwards and forwards – once a year. While we evolve parts of it over time, our clear understanding of what we are trying to accomplish helps us have clarity when presented with a strategic option that we shouldn’t pursue.

I find deciding not to do something to be incredibly liberating intellectually and emotionally. And, when I leave a big new idea on the cutting room floor, I make sure I sweep it into the trash and move on, never questioning the decision.

Reece – thanks for the early morning run, the talk, and the opportunity to talk this stuff through in advance of writing this post. Stay in the moment and keep kicking ass.

  • Reece is going to do great things.

    “Deciding not to do something” doesn’t have to be limited to big decisions (which it sounds like yours was) to be incredibly important and impactful. Startups should ask themselves regularly–what if we stopped doing X? Founders, employees should do the same. What are you doing that’s creating noise instead of signal? What can you stop doing? (I can stop commenting…there–done)

    • Thank you, Charlie.

      That means a lot to me coming from an experienced guy like yourself.

  • So, do you share the something that you don’t do with someone that might be interested to do it? Or do you through it all into the trash.

    What about a website for “ideas I don’t want to to do but I am willing to share for anybody else to do”?

    • In this particular case, it’s not a specific idea that we don’t want to do
      that someone else should do. In general I don’t feel like it’s important to
      put all the ideas I dump out there as the idea isn’t the driver of activity
      in many cases.

  • Giving advice like my tumblog subtitle “embrace what is, mold what will be” is easy. But it’s damn hard in practice to pass up on an incredible opportunity, even more so when you’re living on a tight budget. You caught me pre-morning post and motivated me to pick up where I left off on emptiness.

    Your current commitments and strategy demand a level of discipline and conviction that’s unnerving for folks outside of the venture industry. Glad to hear you had a good run and talk with Reece. Looking forward to

    Flew though Denver for business Monday, and had good thoughts of the hackers and builders of Boulder. Heading home through Denver again today, your airport is HUGE (my gates are on different continents). I’m thankful for the extra exercise :).

  • Anonymous

    It’s funny I was just reading the post and looked over to the right to your book’s title “Do More Faster”. While I haven’t read it and I know it doesn’t say “Do More of Everything Faster”, it was an odd moment.
    I’ve found that the consciously made decision of not doing something is much better (and more difficult) than when you don’t even know about what that something is. A simple question like “What else am I missing here to understand the entire landscape?” can help.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m sure this community would love to hear about specifics.

  • Brad – great to catch up this morning and loved our discussion.

    Always interesting to see how mentorship evolves beyond the traditional master sensei and young grasshopper relationship.

    And totally agree with figuring out what “not to do.” Deciding what you don’t want is as good a filter to determine what you DO want as any.

    Thanks again, Brad. Back to kicking ass. 😉

    • The best mentor relationships are two way! I wrote about that a long time
      ago and believe it in my core. My guess is I learn more from you than you
      learn from me, you just don’t necessarily realize it.

      • +1000… but I do realize you’re constantly mining for knowledge. 😉

        I started holding office hours recently and I get so much out of it even
        though I’m the one who is supposed to be giving advice. I love it.

  • Bradbernthal

    The problem of deciding not to do / “killing” programs (especially those that are underway) is acute outside of market sectors. We seem to accumulate activities without shedding them. Opportunity costs are difficult to imagine because, when you’re fully occupied, you often don’t realize what else you could be doing. For those of us in academia, budget cuts can force hard decisions, but budget pressures often do not track whether a program is valuable/worthwhile. I’m going to initiate a campaign on our team at Silicon Flatirons this spring where we each have to propose the program/initiative that we would propose for the chopping block.

  • Anonymous

    Very true, very difficult. I posted something related a few years ago as it relates to negotiations:

  • Dude, I am feeling a lot of man love going on here. and it’s a beautiful thing.

    Like the great philosopher Charlie Sheen said in his interview last night – I’m just living for the moments in the moments. It’s on!

    It also reminded me of the scene in Rising Sun where Sean Connery schools Wesley Snipes in the relationship between the kohai and the sempai (I’m quite sure I butchered the English translations here). Very zen of you guys.

  • I’ve been fortunate enough to get to hang out w/ you guys many times, most recently last week in Orlando. I always learn something & hope that it’s indeed ‘two way’, as you say.

  • ‘Deciding not to do something’ is tied to the often life-changing’ decision of deciding to do what you really want. One gives strength to the other.

    Reading this post made me feel good in general and about some large decisions I’ve made recently.

    Thnx for writing this.

  • I think we do too much. Think about it. If you go for a camping trip, not taking your cellphone and laptop is crazy. I remember going for a 3 days hike trip in the jungle of Bornea, one of my mates was insisting to ask US to carry a laptop for him to use at the top of the mountain. Crazy idea. But, apparently there was a weak signal for him to email his boss an email.