Technology advances faster than social norms.
Large gaps between accelerating technologies and stagnating social norms create lucrative opportunities. But these opportunities are only available for a limited time. In that moment, people can capitalize on the difference between the real and perceived state of the world. I call this sliver of opportunity the “Go-For-It-Window.”
You know you’ve found the Go-For-It Window when you’re simultaneously woke and confused; when you’re shocked your idea doesn’t already exist; when you know something nobody else does; and when it feels like others see the world in black and white, while you see the world with vibrant, technicolor glasses.
Opportunity and popularity are inversely correlated. Sometimes, the paths that look safe are the riskiest, and vice versa. If you’re looking for an under-exploited opportunity, you’ll have to go against the herd. Thus, I frame the Go-For-It Window with a quote from investor Jim Grant: “Successful investing is about having people agree with you… later.”
As a general rule, people are blind to opportunities in the Go-For-It Window. But in retrospect, they seem blindingly obvious. To remove the blinders, you have to escape the myopia of social norms. As Alex Danco said in my interview with him: “Investors arbitrage the state of the world today — before they get started — with the state of the world after they’re done disrupting it.”
Good news. You don’t need any secret knowledge to discover ideas in the Go-For-It Window. But you will need a blend of James Bond confidence and a willingness to ignore the taunts of the crowd. Otherwise, you’ll drown in the sweat of criticism.
To illustrate how the Go-For-It window shows up in real life, I’ll draw on four examples: two from the past, two from the present. I’ll take each in turn.
Past Examples of the Go-For-It-Window:
Airbnb: When I first started using Airbnb, half of my friends thought I was insane. Renting a stranger’s home was reserved for hippie couch surfers who were running away from their childhood. Airbnb didn’t just extend the frontier of technology. It pioneered a new social norm. By matching latent demand with under-utilized supply, Airbnb’s founders commoditized trust, changed the way we travel, and capitalized on the Go-For-It-Window.
NBA Three-Pointer: The NBA introduced the three-pointer in the 1979-80 season. Social norms, not math, halted adoption. At first, people thought the three-point shot was a cheesy gimmick. In the first season after it was introduced, making 21 three-pointers in a season was strong enough to rank in the top 20. But in 2016, Stephen Curry made 13 three-pointers in a single game. The three-pointer was introduced almost four decades ago. And yet, the truth still defies intuition. Since most NBA teams still don’t shoot as many three-pointers as they mathematically should, the Go-for-It Window is still open.
Current Examples of the Go-For-It-Window:
Skip the graduate degree: Too many kids go to graduate school. But graduate school isn’t as necessary as it once was. People can build their own credentials now. They can start a project, write online, or record YouTube videos. This year, thousands of MBA graduates will enter the workforce with more than $100,000 in student debt. Graduate school isn’t just expensive. It’s time-consuming too. If you want to demonstrate value to a future employer, there are cheaper and faster alternatives to graduate school. For example, starting a successful blog is a simple way to build your credentials. Employers know that a strong personal blog signals intelligence and curiosity, so when they find a writer they admire, they sometimes try to hire them. Kids know this. Parents don’t. Thus, the-Go-For-It-Window is open for people who want to start writing online.
Here Come Home Schools: In the next decade, somebody will build a billion-dollar business for home schooling. The Go-For-It Window is wider than the Grand Canyon. People can teach themselves now. The bottleneck to learning is curiosity, not access to information. As the famous line in Good Will Hunting goes: “You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.” Most public schools are suboptimal. And private schools are walk-right-out-the-door-expensive. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 20 percent of college graduates didn’t have basic quantitative math skills. Only one-third of college graduates could read a complex book and comprehend what they were reading. Homeschooling startups will match students with parents and teachers. Together, communities of parents will hire teachers and pool resources for toys, books, and computers. As it stands, the logistics are easy compared to the societal challenges. People don’t like taking risks with their children. Will society look down upon children who are homeschooled? Will homeschooling harm college acceptance rates? Or will the university landscape change as well?
The Go-For-It-Window is the hanging curve ball in the middle of the plate. It’s the right opportunity at the right time.
Opportunities in the Go-For-It-Window close fast. They’re fleeting. When you sense an opportunity, act on it. Research the idea, speak with industry experts and outline a solution.
No matter who you are, where you work, or what you’re interested in, there are hidden opportunities in front of you. If you’re blinded by outdated social norms, you’ll miss opportunities in the Go-For-It Window.
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