Finding your discomfort zone

I have been down in DC the last few weeks, among other things, talking to lawmakers and regulators about cryptonetworks and cryptocurrencies.  As part of that, I’ve been spending a lot of time with attorneys — specifically securities attorneys — getting into depth on issues like the definition of an “investment contract” and case law like Howey, Reves and Forman.

Separately, I’ve spent a bunch of time over the past 9 months helping USV portfolio companies getting ready for the EU’s new privacy regulations, the GDPR.  As part of that I have spent a bunch of time with tech teams, attorneys and others unpacking not only what the regulations require in different cases and what it will take for companies to comply, but trying to think about ways to make data security and privacy compliance easier for small startups, assuming that new regulations in the US are looming.

This is not a post about cryptocurrencies and whether all ICOs are securities, or about how we should be thinking about solving privacy and security problems online.  It’s about getting comfortable in that sweet (& sour) spot where you know a little (or a lot) less than everyone else in the room about whatever problem you are trying to solve.

I am not an attorney, am not a PhD computer scientist, am not an economist or monetary policy expert, and am not an MBA and don’t have a background in finance. Yet every day I find myself in the middle of some set of issues drawing on all of these specialties, typically with people who are seasoned experts in one area or another.   It can be intimidating, but it’s also incredibly stimulating and exhilarating.

There have been many times during my career where I have stood at that crossroads and had an opportunity to either stay in the comfort zone or wade into the discomfort zone (starting at USV 6 years ago was one of those moments).  I’d like to say that I’ve always headed straight to the discomfort zone, but I can’t say that that’s true. It has taken time for me to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

One of the great things about working in the discomfort zone is the ability to be honest about your limitations — in a room full of lawyers, leading with “i’m not a lawyer and you guys are the experts, so…” can be really freeing.  Once you can do that, you can open yourself up to lots of interesting and important situations.

A while back, I tried using this heuristic for prioritizing my time: what’s the hardest thing I can be working on right now?  That has helped me guide myself to the discomfort zone more and more, which I will keep doing as much as I can.

 

   

  • > “i’m not a lawyer and you guys are the experts, so…” can be really freeing!

    Yes! But not just for you! Often “experts” have preconceived ideas and notions that only a “non expert” can debunk or see past.

    One of my favorite quotes is “Everyone knew it was impossible, until a fool who didn’t know came along and did it.”.

  • jason wright

    It’s always the same. the person talking about the specialist subject that has been the repetitive meat of their career seems super smart. get them talking about an entirely unrelated subject and they suddenly seem less so. we are not what we know. we are what we would like to know.

  • “You’re not living until you’re living outside of your comfort zone.” This was taught to me by a mentor when I was starting my first venture.

    Love this paragraph…

    “I am not an attorney, am not a PhD computer scientist, am not an economist or monetary policy expert, and am not an MBA and don’t have a background in finance. Yet every day I find myself in the middle of some set of issues drawing on all of these specialties, typically with people who are seasoned experts in one area or another. It can be intimidating, but it’s also incredibly stimulating and exhilarating.”

    Kudos to you Nick for putting yourself out there. Very inspiring and a great reminder. Thank you. :)

  • Tom

    You may not have any of the credentials you cite in your post (e.g,, lawyer, PhD, etc…) but you are extremely wise and honest, not to mention intelligent, in your assessment of the discomfort zone we all experience, but often do not critically analyze as you did. True leadership is making decisions within this zone I suspect.

    • For real, as many CEOs and other high level leaders operate their daily