So You Say You’re Bad at ____.
I went to a workshop this past weekend run by RISD for students/ alumni/ community who were interested in learning more about the basics of starting a business. So business plans, pitching, funding, legal issues, etc. Totally invaluable to where I am right now, because otherwise I’m stuck with hunting down people more experienced than I and peppering them with questions, hoping they don’t get sick of me before I run out of things to ask. But I also went in, without realizing it, with a lot of baggage of what I percieved to by my own limitations. That is for me, in a word, math. And the importance of it to a business has always been a far-off, daunting mountain that I was afraid of climbing.
I don’t have a great history with math. I was pass/fail most of highschool, and though I had some good teachers who tried their best, I felt like my mind was blocked from comprehending what they were telling me. I thought, in the typical low-self-esteem, self-blaming way of any teenager, that it was natural stupidity.
So after the first talk of this workshop, a fantastic run-through of business plans by Bill Foulkes I raised my hand and asked:
It was only later that I realized that the very way I framed my question was self-defeating and self-obstructing. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
His response piqued my curiosity, because I remember being okay at math up until that point. (Really, it was algebra that did me in. Geometry was a piece of cake though.) So when the final speaker of the day came around (the young but sharp Chris Tolles) and he told us all we’d be doing a workshop of pricing a theoretical product, I was, albeit nervous, curious to see it in action.
So he gave us the low down on our ‘product’. We made gaskets for space shuttles, but with NASA shutting their program down, Russia was going to be our only customer. They were pretty steady customers but there wasn’t going to be much growth. We could, however, switch to making rubber linings for floruescent lights, which had certain advantages over the current market products. Then, without much more than that, he told us-
So I turned to the woman next to me at my table and started thinking aloud. Not about numbers, but about questions.
And it struck me. I was figuring out the math equations. I didn’t have any numbers yet, but that would be the easy part. This wasn’t a test where I couldn’t use a calculator. The test would be the real world.
How f–ing cool was that?
As the workshop turned to discussion, I found my hand raising again and again. This was fun. This was exciting! In school, they gave you those word problems like “two trains are heading towards each other…” and I’d always wonder why we cared about when they crossed or where they collided. But this is like that problem only applied. We were the train company trying to plot the most scenic route, trying to find speeds that were efficient yet allowed for good viewing, finding the cost of the food in the dinner cars per customer, designing the interior furniture to be relaxing and period-esque. We were dealing with real problems in all their beautiful, crazy complexity.
This was math?
At this point it also dawned on me how my belief in my own incapability and limitations had held me back. So much so in fact that I’d been unable to even ask a question about it without being self-deprecating.
So I’m going to start taking notice of that from now on. What kind of questions do I ask that I preface with “I’m just/not very/but I”? Because it could very well be the reality that the only limitations I have are the ones I put on myself.