Weekly Thoughts: The Taste Gap

Here is something that caught our eye this week:

The Taste Gap

From time to time, we speak with people who are considering a life change, whether it be geography, career, or relationship related. Although this type of conversation lends itself toward extensive discussion surrounding pros and cons, the dialogue rarely covers the potential for course correction or an evolving outcome. Most don’t concentrate on how easy or difficult it might be to fix a mistake if one is made. Instead, significant anxiety builds around the notion that making a decision will involve a degree of finality, which, in the event of a mistake, would be painful, devastating, and/or impossible to reverse.

It turns out, this limiting mindset is not uncommon among those who aspire to start a new endeavor only to subsequently struggle with the inevitable real-world messiness associated with creating something. On this point, Ira Glass, host of NPR’s This American Life came up with the concept of the Taste Gap, which he described in 2009:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.”

recent StartUp podcast episode touched on this dynamic in more detail, as aspiring podcaster Skyler Gronholz spoke with Gimlet Media’s CEO and co-founder, Alex Blumberg, about his struggles coming to terms with his actual podcasting abilities juxtaposed against his desired work product. From the podcast:

“Gronholz: He [Ira Glass] talks about how when you are first starting creating anything, your taste let’s say is set very high. But when you’re just starting out there is a huge gap between your ability currently and you need to be OK with that and you just need to start creating regardless of the fact that it’s not anywhere close to what you want to be putting out there.

Blumberg: I would add that that’s essential. The only way you can get better is by sucking and then learning exactly how you suck and then sort of trying to like, ok well, what if I do it different this time, you know? There’s no other way.

Gronholz: … I kept [thinking that ] if I can just listen to enough of Alex Blumberg talking about how he does it, I will be able to make a good product.

Blumberg: I wish it worked that way. I don’t think so. I don’t think you can get good at something like that without exposing yourself to fear and feeling bad. I’ve never seen it happen. I’ve never seen it happen. But I also feel like you can’t live a life without exposing yourself to fear and feeling bad.

While we are not “creatives” in the Don Draper sense of the word, involvement in our chosen entrepreneurial endeavour requires a fair amount of learning-by-doing which means sometimes we fall flat on our face in very public ways. When we look back on some of our first e-mails to business brokers and owners, it doesn’t take long to find a set of truly cringe-worthy exchanges that demonstrate how little we knew about the small business deal-making process. Over time, we have faced similarly steep learning curves related to employee onboarding, ERP implementation, contract negotiation, payroll administration, workers comp audits, and 401(K) policy design among many other topics. Ultimately all our portfolio companies struggle daily with the challenge of turning a small business into a bigger enterprise, and at the same time, Chenmark itself is constantly experimenting in an attempt to build the infrastructure to support and oversee a growing portfolio.

Frankly, relative to our own high standards, there are days we feel we are executing at a C+ish level when it comes to small business acquisitions and operations. Furthermore, it frustrates the hell out of us every day that we aren’t an A+, on all facets of every business, all the time. However, we don’t and can’t let that gap stop us from moving forward, because if we did, we would still be sitting in our kitchen in Connecticut talking about how great it would be, one day, to own a small business. Those who know the Chenmark team know that we have a firm commitment to a growth mindset, an unfailing belief in our own potential, and an understanding that success requires incrementalism and a bias for action. As Glass points out, we cannot let imperfections and fear of looking stupid inhibit growth, since it is the experience of the action itself — good and bad — that provides the opportunity to build a toolkit for excellence. Our only addition to Glass’s concept is that it’s a whole lot easier to bridge the gap if you have partners who can simultaneously hold the team to a high standard while supporting each other through the missteps that will inevitably happen along the way.

 
Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Capital Team

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