How to thrive in the poor learning environment of young industries

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In his research, psychologist Robin Hogarth introduced the concepts of a poor and a friendly learning environment to illustrate that the feedback an actor receives from the environment in which he acts is of a different quality. In turn, the quality of this feedback affects the quality of the inferences the actor makes.

Simply put, in some environments learning and getting better is a simple task. In others it is very easy to deceive yourself that you are an expert, while at the same time having a very weak factual understanding of reality.

Chess is a good example of a friendly learning environment. The clear and unchanging rules of the game and the near-instant feedback you get from your moves guarantee that the more you play, the better you understand and get better.

At the other end of the spectrum are poor environments in which information is hidden and complicated and feedback is delayed, inaccurate and rare.

Related: Here’s Why Startups Need to Build a Learn-on-Work Environment

Unfortunately, the environments in which startups more often than not exist are more bad than friendly. New, innovative startups thrive in sectors that are untapped and rapidly changing, meaning information is scarce and your knowledge of the market can quickly become outdated.

Fortunately, while it’s hard to change the fundamental qualities of the industry you work in, you can certainly influence the quality and frequency of the feedback you receive, which would by definition make it a friendlier learning environment.

This is the main reason why the industry standard first steps for running a successful startup are all about collecting reliable feedback and information about your concept. Idea and product validation is key to avoiding self-deception, as they increase the likelihood that the inferences you make about the market and your own startup are correct.

This is of course easier said than done. Collecting accurate feedback from the market is a skill in itself that you need to develop. It’s very easy to be misled by vanity stats that aren’t direct evidence of movement toward true product-market fit (which should be your ultimate goal in the early startup stages).

For example, you can get a lot of interest from investors in your project. While this is generally a positive sign, it’s not necessarily a true indicator of the viability of your idea. Investors may be investing because of your resume or great sales skills, while also being as blind as you are to the true future potential of your project.

Yet investors risk only a small portion of their capital, while as a founder you risk years of your life that you could not get back. Therefore, it may be unwise to proceed with your ideas based on this single point of feedback, even if it might be tempting.

Related: Creating a culture of learning in the workplace

The best leading indicator of product-market fit and the future success of a startup is the so-called market pull – real, proactive interest from your consumers. Therefore, the best way to make your learning environment friendlier is to choose a key performance indicator that is as close as possible to how actively your customers are using your product or service.

This is usually some sort of usage statistic. For example, if you’re creating video content, “hours spent” could be your north star, as it’s a function of how many people watch your content and for how long (i.e., how engaged they are) — the most important things you should care about. By actively measuring how your actions change this central KPI, you can make much more informed decisions and would not waste time as an This, in turn, would result in effective growth in your audience size and engagement, which would naturally lead to business growth.

In other words, focusing on it will make your learning environment friendlier. The feedback you receive is clear and readily available, which in turn would reduce the chances of self-deception and increase your chances of long-term success.

If you don’t make your learning environment more friendly, you leave your success to chance, and worse, it doesn’t allow you to draw the right conclusions from your successes and failures.