By recognizing the now, future and hypothetical problems

There are the problems you have now, the problems you’ll have and the problems you might have.

You can’t work simultaneously on all of them.

Spend too much time on the now while ignoring the future and you’ll hit a wall eventually. Spend too much on all the things that might happen and you’ll barely make any progress. So the challenge is to distribute the right amount of energy between the now, future and hypothetical. And that distribution largely depends on where the idea, project or product is in its lifecycle.

For a new idea, mostly the now matters — fixing problems you don’t have yet will just divert your attention and prevent you from just launching something. Of course you’ll need a nice packaging if you want to sell your future product in stores, but unless you actually have a product and you’re 100% sure of the final form factor, it’s a useless problem spending energy on.

For an existing project or product, you have to spend time both in the now and in the future. The ball needs to keep rolling, but anticipation of the things that will go wrong is key. You know your server is going to be out of space in roughly 6 months for instance — it’s not mission critical, it doesn’t require your immediate attention, but it will happen. It has to be in your pipeline somewhere.

Then there are the things that might happen. It’s not that they don’t matter, it’s just they’re hypothetical problems and sometimes not worth worrying over. One of the things I think about for Cardstack is if wallets are going to be a thing of the past eventually and because the answer is most likely yes, when will this happen. There’s a window of opportunity in the transition period — as people carry less and less money or cards, some of them will be looking for a simpler alternative to their bulky wallet. But what happens next, once the transition is over?

There are a lot of if, potential outcomes and the timeframe is probably 3–10 years, but it’s clearly worth spending some brain cycles on this, especially when figuring out how to expand the product line. But it’s still not something I worry about in the day to day.

Another good time to think about the hypothetical is before jumping into a project, when in the idea phase. If the hypothetical seems too probable and is a potential show stopper, then it’s a no-go. A few months into a project is a bad time to realize you’re not comfortable with the hypothetical.