The Ups And Downs While Trying To Be An Entrepreneur
Wait, don’t Google it, let me explain.
Have you heard of the difference between causal reasoning and effectual reasoning?
Well I hadn’t either. But when I did, it gave me that tingly, joyous feeling that resonance beckons. It helped me make sense of the loneliness I had been feeling in the pursuit of entrepreneurship.
Wait, don’t Google it, let me explain.
I got locked down in Aurangabad. I was supposed to be there for a three-week project, but then the mighty forces of (human) nature had other ideas.
The three weeks quickly became three months, and the illusion of my “plans” swiftly fell through. Nothing is for certain; that is the only certainty.
It was again one of those full circles of sorts. I spent the first nine years of my life living in this little (ish) city. And there I was, some twenty years later, imbibing society-life, like my first memories vaguely remember it.
I was fortunate (again) to be living there comfortably with (another) one of my uncles. For the past few years, the concept of family has always been through the phone — a stray obligation that sprinkles enough guilt to warrant an escape, only for reason to correct course.
But now, in India, it’s family loving through and through. No escape needed, just spoilage. Lots of spoilage, and finally the idea of home is starting to feel real.
It’s been 8 months here since I have been back, trying to start something that addresses man-made injustice. The pandemic has arguably been the only hiccup so far, but I can hardly complain. In fact, it became a reason to engage more immediately in relief efforts.
I worked locally with the organization I had the three-week project with. Their roots across the city allowed us to deliver relief to thousands of homes where relief was needed. And then nationally, we used data to direct donors to the most economically vulnerable states.
It was a whirlwind of pain and hope.
Pain because the pandemic amplified the gap between the fortunate few and the unfortunate many — it suddenly sucks even more to be poor.
Hope because it brought out the best in people. I met people who cared and did, who put themselves aside for a second, who embraced uncertainty to provide an inkling of certainty to those whom certainty refuses to coddle. Humanity, on average, is good. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be better.
This whole ride has been a stark reminder of the need for long-term, systemic solutions to man-made problems. And it was time to refocus on why I was back in India.
Over the last few years, I have worked with several entrepreneurs around the world. They all talked about how lonely the entrepreneurial journey is. I used to just nod along: “yea yea, sure”. But now, for the first time, with a little more skin in the game, I can empathize with them. It’s real. It’s scary. It’s weird.
A month or so ago, I was sure I am going to start up in Aurangabad. I built this sophisticated decision-matrix to figure it out, incorporating the best of reason while dropping in a drop of heart. And I was convinced.
But it’s never that straightforward, is it?
There are so many layers to every decision, so many moving parts streamlined by guardrails, compressed by time, unperturbed by information that exists but hasn’t found you yet.
But what if there are no real guardrails? For instance, I don’t have massive amounts of student debt. Or unquenched wanderlust.
Or a newborn. I’m in this for the long haul so there’s no real rush to figure it out either, right? I can pretty much be anywhere, and start almost anything.
And what about the doom of objectivity? Objectivity is generally coupled with lucidity. Until you realize that your emotions and personal desires make for a perfectly objective reason. Long haul, remember? The longer I maintain my sanity, the longer I get to work.
All this doom and gloom leads to a swooping epiphany. I am so lucky to have these choices. Because I have invested in such few certainties, I can embrace the wave of uncertainty to push me towards a shore that makes the most sense.
I can’t float around forever obviously, but this floating time is precious. As soon as I make my first investment in something physically certain — office space, a hire — the anchor drops. It’s much harder to re-calibrate then. Most people don’t have so many choices. But maybe sometimes, being spoilt for choice is a valid notion.
So yes, Aurangabad might no longer be where I start up.
Mumbai & Pune
I was in Pune for a couple of weeks for a couple of complicated reasons. But then a connection, a meeting, and suddenly, possibilities abounded, flinging open the doors of a future in Pune that were very much closed. I certainly didn’t see that coming. And no, this is no romantic complication.
In Mumbai now, and this is very much where the heart sits. It reminds me of the best of New York — the hustle, the bustle, the convenience, the people. There also seems to be more of an ecosystem here of like-minded folks doing some version of something similar.
And I finally have my own space. As much as family is awesome, I don’t think I have ever spent this much time with it over the last 13 years. I am used to my space, and that’s one luxury that seems to have become a necessity.
I have spent the last week trying to get settled in as quickly as possible, and that’s exactly when time seems to race. An amazing aunt has lent me her apartment here which I’ve made into an area of isolated comfort. I am focused on productivity and that seems to be ramping up.
But it’s not always hunky dory, I still have so much to figure out about what I want to start. I’m also desperate to just know when I’m going to stop moving — but that is a symptom of luxury that I need to bear.
The mornings are normally full of hope — let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. But during the evenings, when weariness weighs in, everything seems a lot less appealing. The easier path seems so much easier, but never tempting. Because from the get-go, if I wanted to do something easy, I would not be going down this path.
But that doesn’t make the evening hopelessness disappear. In fact, it stings even more — “you signed up for this.” And you feel that just a few more straws and kaput goes the camel’s back.
Back and forth, back and forth it goes.
Causal Versus Effectual
Amidst this cerebral tug of war, there’s always room for an explanation. Understanding the war is half the battle, right? And that’s when Madhukar Shukla’s book dropped in to say hi.
I heard about causal reasoning and effectual reasoning for the first time, and my mind yelled hallelujah. Or eureka. Or something like that when something that’s not your tongue clicks.
Let me quote, because well, we shouldn’t recreate the wheel:
Causal reasoning involves finding the optimal solution to achieve a predetermined goal with a given set of means. The focus is on arriving at a solution which is the most efficient, cheapest or fastest, etc. It is a useful way of approaching a problem when the situation is relatively predictable and the means and ends are more or less clearly defined.
Sarasvathy likened causal reasoning to the act of solving a jigsaw problem. Solving a jigsaw puzzle assumes that the perfect picture already exists, and one only needs to find and put the right pieces together in the correct configuration.
(Shukla, Madhukar. Social Entrepreneurship in India (p. 54). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.)
Unlike causal reasoning, effectual reasoning does not start with precise objectives; rather, it starts with broad possibilities of yet-to-be-made future, and with the means and resources available to the entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs use these to make small experimental beginning, learn from the successes and failures of these steps, identify and co-opt partners, mobilize support and resources in the process, and tweak and modify their goals as they go along
(Shukla, Madhukar. Social Entrepreneurship in India (p. 57). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.)
As much as I think I have my idea all laid out in my head like a massive jigsaw puzzle, it is anything but. I have a vague-ish vision; I have resources and I (seem to) have the will.
Right alongside that is a fog of uncertainty. And the kicker is that the fog must exist. It should only lift as I tread along this path, unraveling permutations and combinations that I can’t even begin to imagine right now.
It’s embracing effectual reasoning, embracing the resources I have to steer towards a direction that makes sense but is not lucid. It will never be lucid, but it’ll almost always be about chasing lucidity.
While that might be true of the macro goal, the micro is all about causal reasoning. While I don’t know what the final jigsaw puzzle looks like, I can start seeing what the pieces are. And maybe causal reasoning is the way to manage the fruition of those pieces while holding on to effectual reasoning as a guiding light to the overall vision.
All the while, like we already know, uncertainty will be certain. And uncertainty is almost always the root cause of discomfort.
So it all comes back to that cliched age-old way of being — finding balance while embracing discomfort.
Nice, wow, that was therapeutic, thanks for reading. Hopefully, I saved you a Google search.