How my straight A obsession is killing my ideas

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Those of us brought up in the Asian culture are not strangers to our obsession with scoring straight As in school. In some countries, the education system defines As further to high As (A1, A*, A+) and low As (A, A-, A2). It breeds a culture where everyone is obsessed with hitting the high As. If you hit the low As, well, ya it gets you a “good job” that’s prefaced with “but you can get an A1 or A+ next time”.

I honestly thrived in this culture. It somehow was easy for me to score straight As consistently. All through elementary and high school I would always study exam papers and grading systems — then find the most efficient way to score straight As and more often than not, high As. 13 years of this 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It became super ingrained into my personality, thinking, heck! It became a lifelong habit! (Talk about lifelong learning)….

When I got to the real world aka working world however, I realized there’s no exam papers. There’s no clear grading systems. Every company, culture, geography, government has their own system of “grading”. I didn’t hold a day job for long before I plunged into the life of an entrepreneur. Now here’s the interesting pattern I saw once I started my own company:

  • For all client projects, I’d deliver great, stellar results and on time. In the most efficient manner ever.
  • For my own company’s products, ideas and features, where there’s no “client” or “external deadline” involved, it takes FOREVER to ship! Many products I built 80% of the way, I never got to the final 20% to ship it out.

WHY is it so so easy to ship things out for clients and so so hard to ship things out for myself? It all comes back down to my habit of scoring straight As. For client projects, there’s a CLEAR grading system. Ship a product as per the client’s requirements and needs by a certain date, you score your A — denoted in the real world by payment.

For my own products, there’s no clear way to score the A. You ship the product, then pray it works. Of course I’ve shipped a number of products of my own (7 companies to be exact) and for the past 9 years, my companies and ventures have been profitable on their own — without any external funding. But! within each company, there was hardly any innovation or new features. They all become stagnant after a while.

All because of my fear of not scoring As.

Launching a product is scary. You never know how users and the market will react. You may find you totally wasted your time. In other words, it’s super duper easy to score an F. There are no B C D E. Just either an A or an F. I hate this feeling and do everything I can to avoid it — resulting in being extremely slow in launching my own products and ideas.

I have no solution to this. I’m still working hard to change my fears around this. It’s hard to kick off a habit you spent your whole life practicing. It will take time but I strive to do better by starting small — by running weekly “micro experiments” in my life or hey, pushing out random articles like the one you’re reading now on a weekly basis. It may lead nowhere but hopefully the consistency helps me kick the habit off.

If you are an ex-straight A practitioner too and managed to kick the habit, do share in the comments how you did it. We could all learn from it together.

Thanks for reading! :)