TEDxUCLA 2016: Push. Pull. Stretch.
Unfinished is the new finished
How many of you have ever had a hard time making a decision? Okay good, I’m not the only one!
I am a Type-A perfectionist and even the smallest decisions could send me into a spiral of perfectionist agony. So when it came time to deciding on a career — well, you can only imagine.
Growing up, I was so afraid of picking the wrong thing that I tried almost everything. I sold computers, I tutored kids, I wrote articles for the newspaper, I helped with charity events. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in my perfectionist panic I was actually experimenting.
It wasn’t until I took a sociology class here at UCLA that I realized how powerful experimentation can be. As part of an assignment, I asked, “What if I took an acting class?” even though I thought I was really shy. What if I had someone I’d never spoken to before to grab coffee? What if I asked a new “what if” every week?
Turns out I’m not as shy as I thought. Acting class was a blast and I got to play Monica from Friends. Now I grab coffee with strangers weekly, and I discovered it’s a great way to meet new people, a lot of whom have become my close friends.
So this class really inspired me and I began thinking about my decisions as experiments. When I was working in marketing, I saw that the technology industry was really embracing experimentation. I knew I wanted to next-level my experimental thinking, so I went across the country to study the intersection of people, data, and technology at MIT Sloan, where I got my MBA. Now I work at Uber, where we’re constantly using data to make decisions and experiment to come up with new creative solutions like Uber Pool.
Now what I learned about some of the fastest-growing companies in the technology industry is that we’re always in beta mode. We’re constantly experimenting with combinations of potential solutions to see what works, so not one outcome is a make-or-break. We’re actually just constantly testing new ideas and features to see if we can get to that next update to a better version.
So now I’m constantly experimenting, both personally and professionally. The same way we can’t just decide to make a five-star-rated app, I can’t just decide to be less of a perfectionist or a healthier person. Instead, I have to think of myself as being in beta mode, constantly running small tests.
What if I gave a presentation that didn’t have perfect formatting? What if I started going to Pilates three times a week? What if I tried that brand-new all-chocolate diet? Clearly a very important experiment! What if I gave a TED talk?
Thinking about decisions as experiments and staying in beta mode has really transformed my life. So what if we all put ourselves into beta mode? Wouldn’t that free us from the stress and agony of trying to make the right decisions all the time and save us from the fear of being wrong?
Some of the most successful people in the world are also experimenters. For example, Kanye West, a self-proclaimed genius, is actually always experimenting. His newest album The Life Of Pablo is described as a work-in-progress. In other words, it’s in beta mode. Not only has he changed the album title from Swish to Waves to The Life Of Pablo, he has also changed the tracklist and the platforms he made his album available on, starting as a Tidal exclusive before moving to Spotify and Apple. By staying in beta, Kanye can constantly be gathering more feedback about what people think of his music by looking at how many times certain songs are played or what people are saying on Twitter. The Life Of Pablo has hit number one on the charts and hundreds of millions of streams, and Kanye? He’s still experimenting.
Facebook is also constantly running thousands of experiments on hundreds of millions of people. Why does Facebook need to experiment? Well, they are trying to answer some really big questions, like “How can we connect the world?” And they know that they can’t just decide to figure the answer to that out. No one really knows what the answer is. And so they have to actually keep testing and experimenting until they get to a new insight. So maybe they’ll roll out a new Facebook reactions emoji and roll it back if it doesn’t do so well.
So even some of the most successful people and companies in the world are in beta mode. They’re constantly experimenting. By staying in beta mode, we get a creative license to constantly try new things, to be bold without worrying about the perfect outcome, so nothing is really permanent or final anymore. Everything is dynamic, fluid, and evolving. Unfinished is the new finished. Staying in beta mode is really the only mode to be in.
So I’ve tried lots of combinations of jobs and locations and industries and I’m still in beta mode, constantly experimenting. Because what I’ve realized is what’s far more interesting than perfection is possibility. There is no such thing as a final version anymore. We can constantly reinvent ourselves and keep optimizing.
So the next time you’re about to make a big decision and you feel that fear creep in, just remember that the next job you take or talk you give doesn’t have to be perfect. You just have to try and learn something new. Because once you’re in beta mode, every decision is just a small test and an opportunity to discover something new about yourself. And no matter the outcome, you can always just say it was just an experiment. Thank you.