Expanding my horizons

I grew up in a small farming town in Alberta, but I was always interested in starting my own business.

It seemed like being an entrepreneur could lead to a life full of freedom, creativity, and purpose.

But the only businesses I knew of were the ones I could see around me: Main Street shops, realtors, lawyers, hairdressers, print shops.

When I started my own businesses, they looked a lot like the businesses I'd seen growing up: a snowboard shop, WordPress freelancing, an online news site.

They weren't profitable and required a ton of energy to run.

I tried to brainstorm new ideas, but all my ideas were "small-town ideas." They weren't giving me the freedom, creativity, and purpose I wanted.

Our experience limits our imagination.

People believe that great entrepreneurs develop novel ideas because they're exceptionally creative, brilliant, and visionary.

But the truth is, everything we come up with is a reflection of what we've seen, heard, and experienced.

This means if we want to develop better ideas, we need to expose ourselves to new experiences, gain new skills, make new connections, join new communities.

We need to expand our horizons.

In old strategy games, like Red Alert, a player starts the game in an overhead map shrouded by darkness. The only way to reveal your surroundings is to explore. As you make moves, more of the map is revealed. (This is called "the fog of war.")

If you want to expand your horizons, you need to explore.

For me, it was making the jump to a new career in tech (at the age of 28) that unlocked new possibilities.

The tech industry exposed me to new business models (SaaS), new communities (podcasters, bootstrappers), new skills (marketing, coding), connections, and insights.

It took years for me to accumulate everything I'd need to launch Transistor with Jon in 2018. But it was worth it: it delivered on my dream of having a small, calm, and profitable company.

Here are ways you can expand your horizons:

  • Move to a different city

  • Go to a meetup in another city

  • Attend a conference

  • Speak at a conference

  • Interview for a job at a different company

  • Change the industry you work in

  • Become a contractor, and work for clients in a variety of industries

  • Follow interesting people on Twitter, and interact with them

  • Join an online community, like MegaMaker

  • Start an online community (use Meeps!)

  • When you travel, meet up with folks you know online

  • Start a podcast, and interview people you find interesting

  • Listen to interviews of interesting people (I enjoyed this one with Casey Neistat)

  • Take a course (online or in-person)

As you explore, learn to recognize the size & shape of good business opportunities. Also, try to accumulate every advantage you can along the way: new skills, capital, market insights, distribution channels, expertise, experience, community connections, and partnerships.

This process can take a long time: I joined the tech industry in 2008 and didn't launch Transistor until 2018.

There's no guarantee of success, but you'll increase your odds by getting out of your bubble and exploring. Expand your horizons!

Justin Jackson
Co-founder, Transistor.fm

Published on July 31st, 2021
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