Fuck Moderation – Balance through Extremes
This was originally written as a guest post on BostInnovation.
The irony of the conventional wisdom is that it hides a truly important point, which is the need for balance in life. While moderation is insidious, balance is important and beneficial. Balance creates interesting cross-polination, a diversified interest base, and an ability to use one strength to compensate for another when you need to. Balance creates stability and strength. On an individual level, It’s very fulfilling to have a diverse lifestyle, in the spirit the Renaissance man, but moderation is not the way to achieve true balance.How Extremism Creates Stability
In physics, the moment of inertia quantifies the ability of an object to resist rotation. The more weight is out on the extreme of a given object, the higher the moment of inertia, and therefore the more stable it is. The best real world example is a long straight pole. With most of the weight way out on either side, it provides a very stable counter-balance that can be very useful when walking across, say, a tight-rope between the Twin Towers.
Innovation is Extreme
On an entrepreneurial level, all real innovation happens at the edge. There is simply no better way to learn an industry and try to fix a problem than starting a company and devoting all your mental and physical energy to solving or improving some important issue. Startups are extreme by definition, and that’s one of the things that makes them so disruptive. Innovation is extreme. Leave the moderation to large companies looking for 5% annual growth. Even within a startup, balance through extremes is important. For early teams, it may mean finding complementary founders, both of whom are amazing and strong in very different areas, like technology and marketing, for instance.Extreme Abstinence
On the other side of the coin, there are many extremes that can be dangerous. In those cases, I think the best solution is to go extreme in the other direction, by abstaining completely. For example, I don’t gamble or watch TV because I don’t like those extremes. So I go to the other extreme, by eliminating them completely. It’s not worth watching a single episode of a TV show, and I certainly don’t want to get hooked. In business, what you choose not to do is just as important as what you choose to actually do. It’s much easier to not start a project, or a feature, or a new market, than to do it half-assed.
Focus on 1-3 Extremes at a Time
By definition, being involved in something to the extreme is nearly all-consuming. Therefore, it’s important to focus on only 1-3 areas at a given time. When starting a company, especially in the early stages, it’s difficult to be extreme in much else. But it’s good to have at least 1 counter-balanace. For me, it was training for an ultra-marathon (50 miles), which I used as an excuse to get me back in shape after 6 months of not working out due to injury. I ramped up my running to 30-40 miles per week, finished the ultra-marathon in just over 10 hours, and had a great time doing it.Vary the Extremes for Diversity
While I enjoy living in extremes, I’ve found it important to vary my involvements over time to create a diverse perspective. I love staying physically fit and active, traveling, understanding different cultures, cooking, starting companies, learning, and much more. But in order to gain real depth in each of those areas, I had to really focus on each for a period of time. By choosing to dive in on a few things at a time, you can afford to be extreme. As you rotate through your various potential interests and projects, you’ll find yourself with a much deeper knowledge base than if you had moderately pursued them all over a longer period.
Choose what you want to do wisely, then do all of those things fully.