I was reading Nick Flynn’s new book The Ticking Is The Bomb and he recites in the Allegory of the Cave which came from a Plato dream.
In this dream prisoners, locked-up in a cave since childhood, are chained in such a way that they cannot look away from the wall they are facing. Even their heads are fixed, somehow, in that one direction. Behind the prisoners, some still children, is a walkway, sightly elevated, and along this walkway the jailers, or their assistants, carry various objects back and forth. Beyond the walkway a fire burns, continuously, a large fire, and this fire casts light onto the objects, which then cast shadows on the wall for the prisoners to contemplate. The object might be something benign, a bunch of carrots, say, but as a shadow the carrots can appear frightful – each could be a knife. Or an apple could be a rock that could crush a man’s hands. Or his son’s testicles. Or a jar of milk could be a jar of acid, if all one sees, all one is allowed to see, are shadows. And the jailers grunt and snort, sounds that echo off the walls and so seem, to the prisoners, to come from the shadows themselves. And don’t forget the fire, which makes another sound, and which heats their backs, perhaps too much, and fills the cave with smoke, making it hard to breathe. It must seem a little like hell, with its silent goons carrying menacing shapes, with your head strapped into place, though this allegory comes from a time well before we perfected our modern-day concept of hell.
I have found this to be quite true in startups as well. If all you see are TechCrunch articles or tweets of possible competitors, you can’t help but imagine the worst. All you can do is try to get out of the cave and into your customers offices and work on actually solving problems and adding value. The rest are only shadows.