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To go from zero to one, throw away the solid rational analysis


I wrote my first blog post more than ten years ago now. And I made the first attempt to write and publish a story of fiction more than fifteen years ago now.

And in both cases, the moment I hit publish, I was staring at a giant zero. There were exactly zero people that were looking forward to reading what I had written. There were exactly zero people that even knew that I had written something.

From then, to getting the first reader and then the second and then the third, so on and so forth until today, where this number is in the thousands, it has been a gradual progress.

While the gradual progress has occurred in terms of the number of readers, that has only been a consequence. A consequence of another gradual progress.

During this time, there has also been a gradual progress in how and what I write.

While platforms like Medium, Amazon, Youtube, Soundcloud, etc have made it several orders of magnitude easier by removing the middlemen in publishing, this has an interesting effect on the people publishing new things.

Because it is so easy to do it today, there are thousands of writers, musicians, directors and comedians publishing their work on one or more of these platforms. This has increased the supply several fold.

If there were a thousand novels being published in a month thirty years ago, now there are a hundred thousand a month. The case is the same with blog posts, music albums, movies, and almost any other form of creative work. And naturally so. Everyone with a phone or a computer is a potential creator today. And they can reach over two billion people in the world (those with an access to the Internet) without getting off their couches.

And because of this increased supply, the odds of success are very skewed.

Previously, someone putting up a play or writing a book in one city had to compete with others creating similar things from the same city or nearby cities. They didn't have to compete with creators from across the world because creators from across the world found it very very difficult to reach this audience.

What happens when every creator can reach every person on the planet at any given time? This means that the blog posts I write are competing for your attention with the blog posts being published by hundreds of thousands of other people including the likes of Seth Godin, Brian Chesky, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. The books I write are competing for your attention with the books by JK Rowling, Dan Brown, Jeffrey Archer and a thousand other authors who have sold in the millions of copies.

As a consequence, the rewards for the work of creators is distributed like the pay of football players. Lionel Messi earns ten times more than Wilfried Zaha even though he is not ten times as good. In this global economy, being ten percent better can result in a differential gain of the order of a hundred times more.

Which is why, if you are a creator looking to go from zero to one (writer, musician, entrepreneur, anything), don't do it for the payoff. Because the odds of a big payoff are so low that the rational decision is always to not do it. It is basic probability. Probability of success multiplied by the potential payoff is always lower than probability of failure multiplied by the cost of creating and shipping.

But, that doesn't mean don't do it at all. It just means don't do it for the money, the fame, the success, the audience or anything else that you classify as a payoff.

Do it because you really want to. That's the only way to go from zero to one.

That said, I'm embarking on a new creative path of being a standup comedian, where I have to go from zero to one. When I first had the idea of doing it two months ago, I had the rational analysis in front of me, recommending me to drop the idea and do something else with my time.

But I really want to do it.

So I have my first act coming up on the 20th of February. So, if you're in Amsterdam, head over to Mezrab that evening and laugh at my jokes. Or just laugh at me. 

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