Tackle the Hardest Problems First

When taking a huge risk, take care where you focus your energy.

When faced with a risky project, there are essentially two ways to go.

Climbing Mt Rainier in the US Pacific Northwest
Climbers on Mt Rainier in the US Pacific Northwest

You can choose to make some fast progress by working first on the easy aspects of the project to make progress and achieve early successes.

Or alternatively, you can identify the big challenges, the breakthroughs, those that can indeed “kill” a project if they fail, and then choose to tackle them first.

After all, if the hard stuff can’t be done, why do the easy things at all?

Big risks can be expensive, in both time and money. When the stakes are high, go for the big stuff first.

Bill Gross founder of Idealab tells the story of one of  one of his favorite TED Talks where Astro Teller described how Google mitigates the risk on Moonshot projects. As Gross puts it: “He believes that since they are trying many bold things which might not be possible, they go in early with an attitude of ‘How are we going to kill our project today?’ To encourage that attitude, people don’t get fired when projects get killed for good reasons, they get celebrated, or even promoted.

He shared the great news about their Project Loon, which is trying to bring Internet connectivity via high-altitude balloons to parts of the planet with no access.  He also shared two projects they recently killed, a vertical farming project and a lighter-than-air variable-buoyancy transport craft.  Both of those were exciting projects that reached early endpoints because they prioritized the most difficult parts of the project – the parts that were most likely to kill it.