What is the critical question? Why am I not testing it?

What is the critical question? Why am I not testing it? These are two questions I ask myself every day. I heard Elizabeth Iorns express her frustration when startups didn’t test their critical question. Her point was that if the question is critical to success, then that should be the first thing to test because it’s the most important information. I agree.

“Work smarter, not harder,” is a terrible cliche because no one knows what it means, and, in my opinion, it’s often cited by people who are lazy or by workaholics. My interpretation of this is to ask and test the critical questions. It’s so easy to avoid the critical question because there are so many other things to do: make plans to test it, tell stories why it’s impossible to test, test secondary questions instead, double down on theories and expand the impact (justifying more diligence). This is all a lot of work! However, the work is easy to do and justify.

Working smarter is having the courage to ask that critical question lurking in the back of the mind. It’s emotionally taxing. We are all afraid of failure. However, the risk of not answering this question is far higher than not. Avoiding answering just makes this risk grow, which further justifies delaying answering the critical question, compounding the risk.

The problem with “work smarter, not harder,” is that it is incredibly misleading. It leads someone to assume that you can also work smarter and harder when really these are mutually exclusive. If you are working smarter and answering the critical questions, it’s draining regardless of the outcome. You cannot do any more than process the answer. Maybe it should be, “Work smarter or work harder. Either way, it’s exhausting.”

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