Are We Architects or Gardeners?
When speaking of his novel writing methodology, George R.R. Martin has a fantastic take on the difference between writer types. Essentially, Martin says there are two prototypes - the architect and the gardener.
The architect knows ahead of time how many rooms will be in the house he’s planning, what kind of roof he’s going to build and the type of plumbing he’s going to install. Everything is designed and blueprinted.
In contrast, gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They have a thorough understanding of the potential that seed has but they have no idea how many branches the tree will actually have. They have to wait for it to grow to actually find out.
Unsurprisingly, Martin is a gardener, as he attests himself and as suggested by the extremely elaborate maze of ever evolving plot lines his novels have.
A founder, just like Martin, is more of a gardener than an architect. It’s important to have an initial blueprint, but it’s dangerous to assume we can plan more than we are actually capable of.
Our job is to make sure we’re planting a quality seed in a part of a garden we believe to be fertile, without too many trees overshadowing us and with the understanding that we’re pretty qualified to nurture this particular plant.
I’ll go as far as saying that many of us start off with the belief that we’re architects, only to find out later on that we were actually gardeners. This is also a very important notion for VCs. Every experienced investor will tell you of the numerous times he underestimated a potential opportunity/market. This is usually us VCs taking the architect hat, trying to judge blueprints and houses while what we’re actually looking at are young trees growing dynamically based on a seed (no pun intended).
It’s critical that we don’t overestimate ourselves as architects and give ourselves the luxury of planting high quality seeds and navigate their growth as new information arrives.