As life pushes you to the brink of the wall, you are forced to innovate. That’s not the complete story though, the truth is that you only have one option, innovate or die. An adage in my local language says “ta ba sun aguntan kan ogiri, a poju da seni”. Literately translated as “when you push a sheep to the wall, it will have no other option than to attack you”.
Now that’s counter-intuitive because a sheep is known as the gentle and meek animal that is perfect at following instructions. But at what point will it so break free from its nature to the extent of attacking shepherded or any other agent? That’s the point where all humans seem to get also before they realize the urgent need to innovate.
There is a fundamental assumption in the adage though, the assumption that the sheep will choose life over death, the assumption that the sheep will choose to innovate instead of stagnating and the assumption that the sheep will rather have more option than one option. The assumption is not unfounded though, the assumption was made because the focus of the adage is not to teach about the sheep but make a point about human nature; we will always choose life over death, innovate than stagnate and more option than one option.
My question though and the puzzling of my mind is that why would we wait to the point of being pushed to the brink before we take this necessary action?
Option in the context of the essay is anything that improves your chances of attaining a set goal.
Knowing one more person in your field of endeavour improves your chances, so does learning a new skill and cultivating a healthy habit. You can extrapolate that list in the light of the definition given.
When do we create options?
I have observed that we tend to create options more when we have less of it. When the proverbial sheep in my illustration was being pushed to the wall, it did nothing, when its options were being stripped away from him, it did nothing, and when it was finally left one option, it sorts to create more for itself.
That’s the very behaviour I have observed in humans. The twist here, however, is that the reserve is the case in our story. A good percentage of us start out in life having close to zero option. You can only go to one kind of university because otherwise would mean, you can’t afford it. You only eat a type of food, you can only have a conversation with a select individual, in fact, only a stratum of the society is available to converse with you. You are kind of boxed.
It is at this point we sort to create options for ourselves. We seek to break out of a given social strata buy educating ourselves, upskilling ourselves, and making important bets that could potentially lead us to break free from our initial conditioning.
It is important that you know that so you can understand what the time is meant for and that you might use it wisely. Another tragedy which I often notice at this point of life is that all too often we seem to contend with the few options that we have created. It operates like a diminishing marginal utility, where getting more means to get less satisfied with more. If you can, avoid that tragedy. Work so much that diminishing marginal utility will not explain your option but increasing marginal utility. Because really, the more options, the better your life tends to be.
How do we create options?
We create options through experimentation.
What do I mean? You see when you start in life with close to zero option, a lot is stacked against you. Basically, the system of the world may not play at your favour until you choose to experiment on things. Experimentation entails bets, what are my chances of nailing this? If I nail it, what awaits me on the other side? Bets are important as you seek to increase your options in life.
I have a mental model through which you can quickly access if a bet is worth it…
“…when a thing has a finite, known and acceptable downside with unknown, infinite and acceptable upside, the best course of action for things like that is to accept it.”
That is the code for taking the best. Think about it this way, you have done your research about someone and you believe he can be the catalyst to a venture you are involved in, and you decide to cold mail her/him (the best), there are two possible outcomes in this scenario:
Downside: S/he refuses to reply or replies with a no.
Upside: S/he chooses to reply with a yes.
Now is the downside known? Yes. Is it limited? Yes. Is it acceptable? Absolutely yes.
The other side, is the upside known? Yes, but maybe not fully, s/he can do more than you are asking. Is it acceptable? It’s an upside for your decision, so hell yeah.
Then go ahead and cold mail that person. If the downside happens, fine. But if the upside, you would’ve increased your option in a never thought of way.
This is a pattern that I’ve noticed in all human endeavour. You are not left out.
But as we increase in option, we tend to relax. Law of diminishing marginal utility sets in. Why is that? Because erstwhile we have close to nothing to lose, but now “a lot” at stake. By our nature, this just pulls us back in our shell.
Be deliberate about creating options for yourself and you won’t regret such a decision.