Startup Your Life

“Personal fulfillment is created, not inherited or earned.”

- Startup Your Life, page 14

Startup Your Life is a guide to finding happiness using concepts from startup culture. Ideas like failing fast and product market fit are all relevant when applied to our professional, romantic, and financial lives, and in the way we make decisions and establish routines. The entrepreneurial mindset is about following a process that requires discipline and constant readjusting.

Author Anna Akbari realized that she could use the entrepreneurial approach as a way to improve her life after hitting a hard spot in New York as a new graduate with a sociology degree. She targeted different aspects of her life and systematically transformed herself through a series of personal sociological experiments. After spending time in the entrepreneurial world, she’s now an innovation consultant, and believes that we can all be “serial reinventors” of our own lives.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Disrupt your Assumptions

"Whenever we believe there’s just one way of thinking or doing something, we become complacent."
- Startup Your Life, page 65

Businesses have business models and individuals have mental models. Mental models make us operate on autopilot. They’re great for coping with the variety of situations we navigate in a given day, like meal planning or driving a vehicle. But they also create irrational biases in our outlooks, which can limit our capacity for empathy.

Akbari urges us to disrupt some of our mental models that are considered conventional wisdom, like “just be yourself.” Although comforting, just being ourselves in all situations often doesn’t end well. We always need to adapt and compromise to some degree.

Ways to escape your mental models:

  • Engage with people from outside of your usual groups
  • Ask people how they got where they are to help you accept change and adjust your vision
  • Remain aware of which of your ideas are inaccurate or out-dated, and scan for updates.

Our mental states need to be dynamic to reflect the world’s dynamic nature. Disrupting our mental models and creating more diversity of thought can lead to more opportunities. Just as companies like Blackberry floundered when they started to rely too much on groupthink, we need to be flexible to stay competitive. Unlearning is hard, but we need to continually reflect on our way of thinking to know if a mental model is limiting us. There’s always more than one way of doing something.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Make Decisions Based on Experience

"Experimentation is the best path to clarity and sustainability."
- Startup Your Life, page 50

Anyone who has struggled to make a decision can probably see how more experimentation could have made the decision easier. Experimentation is the new planning. Once you’ve observed, and created a vision and hypothesis, start to experiment to increase your confidence about one option or the other. At the least, you’ll become more competent and maybe even more lucky.

Indeed, luck is now considered by researchers to be a result of our openness to experiment and an upbeat attitude, rather than just something that we stumble on by chance. Almost all successful startups will have a path full of experimentation, but somehow individuals usually seem to think they’ll get it right the first time.

Psychologist Richard Wiseman says people increase their luck by:

  • Noticing chance opportunities
  • Making decisions by listening to intuition
  • Projecting positive expectations that become self fulfilling prophecies
  • Exercising resilience

If we make a habit of paying close attention to our surroundings, we can turn our lives into a constant experiment where each result is a part of a bigger picture, not an end in itself. Inventor Thomas Edison conducted thousands of failed experiments in his life, but his persistence led him to some major breakthroughs. Negative results can be the best kind of results when they provide information we can apply to make the next attempts stronger. Once you’ve identified many of the wrong paths, the right ones start to appear.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Establish Product Market Fit

"As you try to find your niche—whether it’s personal or professional—staying nimble and picking up on contextual clues is key."
- Startup Your Life, page 80

Whether it’s the job or dating market, catering to your audience is about figuring out where what’s essential for you overlaps with what interests them. This takes empathy, and operating from an empathic perspective is the result of observing your audience.

The most successful personal reinventions and product innovation comes from getting the details right. Gmail was in beta mode for 5 years, but it allowed them to experiment, refine, and grow their devoted user base and technical capacity while making absolute sure that their product fit the market. We should all go into beta mode periodically, if it isn’t forced upon us already.

Credibility matters too when it comes to finding an audience. We earn it through loyalty and “everyday heroism” like offering up a seat or being present with a friend. You win people over with who you are, not just what you can do. And even when you feel you’ve got your market figured out, you may need to change course or start over at any time, given the fluidity of the market—and of life.

If happiness is something that we create over a lifetime, then staying in action is what counts. Make sure to regularly disrupt your assumptions, use experiments to make decisions, and find and adapt to where you belong, and you’ll have the best chance of a fulfilled life.

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Sheila McKnight

ABOUT Sheila McKnight

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