Nurturing an Exponential Mindset: Two Lessons on How to Expand Your Thinking

In the US, we have a saying (which I first heard from my former Mozilla colleague David Asher):

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

I’ve thought about this saying quite a bit. As silly as it sounds, I believe it is one of the main reasons why (startup) companies don’t always get to proper product/market fit: It is too easy (and too tempting) to start believing you found the solution upon the first indication of your product or service hitting the mark—and then pushing ahead, declaring victory, and using your newfound hammer.

Keep your eyes on the prize and constantly evaluate if what you have built will truly meet your clients’ needs because, generally speaking, it’s better to have a full toolbox than just a single hammer.

Mindset brain

Here’s another saying I’ve been thinking about:

You don’t know what you don’t know.

It’s one of the most vexing problems for each one of us: the classic dilemma of not knowing what we don’t know. I’ve had countless encounters with this particularly nasty beast during my career—anything from small hiccups which are easy to remedy to large challenges leading to near-catastrophe.

It is one thing to realize you have gaps in a specific domain and are choosing to ignore them (the reasons for this being manyfold—from simple time constraints to being too arrogant to accept the insight that one has those gaps). However, it is another, completely different thing when you simply don’t know what you don’t know.

These gaps are more common today than they ever were before in history—simply because our world moves on this crazy exponential curve, resulting in more and more “stuff” which you ought to know about, take into consideration, and act upon.

A solution lies in the continuation of the quote above:

You don’t know what you don’t know – but the crowd might.

Rather than falling for the lone genius fallacy, engage with an as big, diverse, and relevant a crowd as you can. Establish open, trusting, two-way communications not only with your employees but also your customers, supporters, folks in related businesses up and down your supply chain, and people working in different fields but who might just have the answer you are looking for.

Your role and responsibility as a founder, CEO, or leader is not to always have the answers—your role is to set and communicate the vision and enable the best answers and solutions to emerge.

Being vigilant in nurturing a nimble, inclusive mindset will help you navigate the wild swings of the exponential age.


Portions of this content were originally published on The Heretic as “If All You Have is a Hammer” and “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.”