The Monk and the Riddle

Summary Written by William Zahn
"There’s nothing wrong with cashing out and making a lot of money – unless those ‘other things’ you intend to get to are what you’d rather be doing all along."

- The Monk and the Riddle, page 48

The Big Idea

Get Off the Deferred Life Plan

"The Deferred Life Plan: Step One: Do what you have to do. Then eventually – Step 2. Do what you want to do."- The Monk and the Riddle, page 65

The majority of us go through life on The Deferred Life Plan. We work because we need to get paid so we can eventually retire and afford to do the things that we want to do. Komisar asks the question, “What would it take for you to be willing to spend the rest of your life on” what you’re currently doing?

What that question asks of us is, if our lives were to end suddenly, would you be able to say that you truly cared about what you’ve been doing?

That powerful question serves as a kick in the pants for those who might be “serving time” in their current position. It encourages us to take control of our business and lives because we do not know what the future holds in store for us, nor how long that future is. The message is clear: define the type of life you want to live and go create a business or career that allows you to be passionate about your work.

Insight #1

Decide What You Want Your Life and Business to Be

"Rather than working to the exclusion of everything else in order to flood our bank accounts in the hope that we can eventually buy back what we have missed along the way, we need to live fully now with a sense of its fragility."- The Monk and the Riddle, page xiii

We see it happen far too frequently. Someone starts with a dream, but puts the dream on hold to do something else. They have some success (or not) and they learn of other opportunities, putting their dreams on hold for those opportunities. Though he is speaking largely of Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs, who get swallowed up by the “casino economics” of the valley, Komisar’s lessons apply to everyone: the quickest way off the deferred life plan is to be clear about what we want.

Having a clearly defined mission, or a sense of purpose, allows us to evaluate opportunities as they relate to our mission. Further, having passion for what we do has the added benefit of attracting the support of others, whether it be an investor in our business or an employee who can help us realize our mission: “It’s the romance, not the finance that makes business worth pursuing”.

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Insight #2

The Unimportance of Failure and the Importance of Passion

"If you’re brilliant, 15 to 20 percent of the risk is removed. If you work twenty-four hours a day, another 15 to 20 percent of the risk is removed. The remaining 60 to 70 percent of business risk will be completely out of your control."- The Monk and the Riddle, page 152

The fact of the matter is that the success or failure of our business is largely beyond our control. One of the main points that Komisar makes repeatedly throughout the book is that failure largely doesn’t matter if we are working towards something we are passionate about. In fact, passion may insulate us from the damaging effects of failure. “There must be something more, a purpose that will sustain you when things look bleakest. Something worthy of the immense time and energy you will spend on this, even if it fails”.

Purpose, which is largely dependent on how much value we create for others, in our work helps us move beyond any setbacks. It helps us deal with the 60 percent of success that is left to chance. Those of us who wait for things to be perfect before starting our businesses are leaving too much up to chance. Start your business even when things aren’t perfect. Even if you fail, you’ll still gain in the long-run.

“The Valley recognizes that failure is an unavoidable part of the search process,” says Komisar. “Silicon Valley does not punish failure. It punishes stupidity, laziness, and dishonesty. Failure is inevitable if you are trying to invent the future.”

Failure, in many instances, comes with its own set of rewards. If you go out and try to start a business that you’re passionate about, failure brings you a step closer to the correct solution. Don’t be afraid of failure; the market punishes not trying more than it punishes failing.

We’ve all heard the story of the MBA who tries to help the Mexican fisherman expand his fishing business so that, one day, in 20 to 30 years, the Mexican fisherman can afford to do all the things that he loves (and is currently doing now). The Monk and the Riddle encourages us to pursue our passions now.

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Randy Komisar

Randy Komisar is a general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. He joined the firm in 2005 and focuses on the firm’s digital and greentech practices.

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