Book: The Monk and the Riddle

. August 17, 2011
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Since 80% or more of businesses fail, does it make sense to put your life on hold to make it big? Or is it better to find meaningful work that resonates with your values, helps others, and satisfies the soul?

This answer is not what I expected from the former CEO of LucasArts.

Here are some quotes from The Monk and the Riddle. You figure out the rest.

When we first left Mount Popa, I wanted nothing more than to get to my destination, but now I don't have the slightest desire for this trip to end. (p. 6)

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. My experience tells me if you do this for the money, you'll just end up howling at the moon. The money's never there until it's there. 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. (p. 48)

I can't muster the energy for a company whose founders never hope to accomplish anything more than making some bucks. By setting your expectations low, you almost guarantee mediocrity. (p.49)

Business isn't primarily a financial institution. It's a creative institution. Like painting and sculpting, business can be a venue for personal expression and artistry, at its heart more like a canvas than a spreadsheet. Why? Because business is about change. Nothing stands still. Markets change, products evolve, competitors move into the neighborhood, employees come and go... Business is one of the last remaining social institutions to help us manage and cope with change. (p. 55)

Deferring your life on the chance that [you'll] hit it big is a huge gamble. The high odds of failure don't justify betting it will buy you the freedom you want. The course of your life and the course of [your business] are not unrelated. Figure out what you care about and do that. If you can do it in the context of [this particular business idea], do it from the start. Don't concern yourself with exit strategies.
At key points in my life, I've found it helpful to ask myself a simple question about what I was doing at that moment:
What would it take for you to be willing to spend the rest of your life on [this idea]? (p. 77)

Riding the highs and lows long enough, never being able to see beyond the next peak or the next valley, makes one realize there is only one element in life under our control - our own excellence.
Here's what I tell the founders in the companies I work with about business risk and success: 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. (p.152)

If you're excellent at what you do and the stars are in alignment, you will win. Of course, you may run out of time first, but if you're excellent every day, you will have furthered your chances of beating the house as much as they ever can be. That should be your primary measure of success - excellence - not simply the spoils that come with good fortune. You don't want to entrust your satisfaction and sense of fulfillment to circumstances outside your control. Instead, base them on the quality of what you do and who you are, not the success of your business per se. Unless you understand what is truly outside your control, you are likely to make serious mistakes, misallocate resources, and waste time. (p. 153)

When I drill down, I inevitably find personal risks that need to be considered along with the business risks. Personal risks include the risk of working with people you don't respect; the risk of working for a company whose values are inconsistent with your own; the risk of compromising what's important; the risk of doing something you don't care about; and the risk of doing something that fails to express - or even contradicts - who you are. And then there is the most dangerous risk of all - the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later...
[Personal risk as opposed to business risk is] a different game of chance in which we have far more control. (p. 154)

Considering personal risk forces us to define personal success. We may well discover that the business failure we avoid and the business success we strive for do not lead us to personal success at all. Most of us have inherited notions of 'success' from someone else or have arrived at these notions by facing a seemingly endless line of hurdles extending from grade school through college and into our careers. We constantly judge ourselves against criteria that others have set and rank ourselves against others in their game. Personal goals, on the other hand, leave us on our own, without this habit of useless measurement and comparison. (p. 155)

If your life were to end suddenly and unexpectedly tomorrow, would you be able to say you've been doing what you truly care about today? (p. 156)

When all is said and done, the journey is the reward. There is nothing else. Reaching the end is, well, the end. (p. 173)