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5 March 2013

The end of naivety

By Andrew Clifford

If you really want to achieve something spectacular, it's best not to know it's impossible.

One of the loveliest stories I have ever heard is of the mathematician George Dantzig when he was a student. Dantzig, who was later to become hugely influential in operations research, computer science, statistics and economics, had arrived late to a lecture. Seeing two formulae written on the board, he assumed they were homework and copied them down. The homework took him longer than usual, but eventually he gave it in, apologising for his lateness.

Some weeks later, at eight o'clock on a Sunday morning, he was woken by a banging on the door. It was his lecturer in a state of great excitement. What he had thought was homework were actually examples of unsolved problems in statistics that the lecturer had written on the board to show the class. Not realising that they were unsolvable, Dantzig had solved them.

I think of this story a lot. It reminds me of the great opportunities of naivety, of not knowing the limitations of what you are attempting.

Naive enthusiasm was great when we started Metrici back in 2005. The world was full of opportunities and we were blind to the challenges. We were blissfully unaware of the scale of the work in front of us. But bit by bit naivety wears away. The more work we did, the more work there was to do. We learned what works and what does not work. The constraints of the real world, financial and otherwise, began to bite.

Gradually knowledge and structure has filled in the gaps vacated by naivety. We now understand our product and its unique capabilities. We know how to present it. We understand our strengths and the challenges we have yet to address. We have a close relationship with a partner company, Managed Service Solutions, and we have built an effective organisation with them. We are no longer naive.

Lots of things have to change when you are no longer naive. I am no longer superman. I used to battle heroically against all odds by myself, but now the priority is to train people and share our technology. Commercially, we need to team up with people who have been this way before and know what works and what does not work.

To work with our larger group of colleagues, we need to go into the office, not just work from home. We need to focus on the main task of presenting the product and building the business. I have spent years thinking and trying out ideas, mostly through this newsletter, but now I need to focus on the solutions we have created. I need to cut the newsletter back to a less demanding schedule.

Although naivety has passed, I still think naivety is a good thing. If we had know what we know now, and had foreseen all the problems we would meet, we never would have done what we did. If we had started with all the structure we have now, we never would have explored ideas broadly enough. We never would have created a new product and a new business. But, in our naivety, we did it.

Next: Mary Verney and ruthless scope management

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