Connect The Dots Looking ForwardMarch 22, 2013 1:56 pm
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.” – Steve Jobs
The first statement there – ‘you can’t connect the dots looking forward’ – is stated with so much conviction, that most people perceive it as a fact. In which case, you are left with just one option: to ‘believe’ that the dots will connect down the road, and keep moving forward. It sounds like an exciting option, but it is not. Of the three things that humans dread the most – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, Uncertainty is the most unsettling. Unfortunately, that is the defining characteristic of your life as soon as you start moving ‘off the well worn path’.
That statement – ‘you can’t connect the dots looking forward’ – is misleading in many ways – it depicts the path taken by a person with no idea whatsoever of where he wants to get to. While that might have worked very well for a genius like Steve Jobs, for the rest of us, it would be foolishness to waste our limited time and effort on activities that would fit this description from Steve Jobs: “None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life”. The story of Steve Jobs (or at least the way he describes it in his speech) is a sequence of happy coincidences with an overdose of serendipity, that has a negligible probability of happening to anyone other than Steve Jobs. While it is definitely impossible to connect the dots looking forward, it would probably not be a great idea to follow Steve Jobs and learn today’s equivalent of calligraphy – yes, if you find something that is ‘beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture’, and you find it fascinating – go right ahead and dive deep into it. For the majority of us though, such serendipity can basically be ruled out. Or let us just say, that it has not happened yet. What do we do?
Let us look at that statement again : ‘you can’t connect the dots looking forward’ – What if it is not a fact? What if you could actually connect the dots looking forward? On paper, this suddenly opens up a wide range of possibilities. Now you could try to paint a path with dots that would take you to your destination, or at least in that direction. And work on the dots. Build those skills that will take you from one dot to the next. When you look at it that way, it suddenly sounds like a fundmental thing to do: that you should try to connect the dots looking forward and have the draft version of a path to where you want to get to.
Yes, the path will change. The dots would be hazy. Things around you will change that would make some dots useless or redundant. But what you will have, is a sense of direction. If you are not Steve Jobs, it is a good idea to try to connect the dots looking forward and have a strategy that moves you in a general direction. Everything will change, including the destination, but the dots would be more meaningful. And you are betting less on low-probability, life-changing events and more on building relevant skills and a solid platform for success. Trying to connect the dots looking forward will help you increase your surface area for a positive black swan event.
You still have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. “You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.” – We can’t thank Steve Jobs enough for phrasing it that way. But we should try to connect the dots looking forward. Here is PG:
“I think the way to use these big ideas is not to try to identify a precise point in the future and then ask yourself how to get from here to there, like the popular image of a visionary. You’ll be better off if you operate like Columbus and just head in a general westerly direction. Don’t try to construct the future like a building, because your current blueprint is almost certainly mistaken. Start with something you know works, and when you expand, expand westward.”
Connect The Dots Looking Forward. You will fail in finding a destination but you will definitely succeed in finding the general direction.