Jim Collins has a popular business concept called Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs. It can be summarized as follows: run experiments prior to taking a big bet.
A business should be constantly firing bullets. Bullets are “low-cost, low-risk, low-distraction experiments” to test the market, understand your abilities, and collect data.
Firing bullets helps to calibrate your sights. With your sights calibrated, you can be better informed about where to make your next move. Once you’re confident that your sights are properly calibrated, you can fire a cannonball. Firing a cannonball means concentrating resources into a big bet.
Firing a cannonball without first validating the idea with bullets can be disastrous. This is how companies fail – wasting time and money on a miscalibrated, large bet.
Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs can be applied to a business career and education. Prior to firing the career cannonball, you should fire many bullets to fully understand if it is an area that you want to deploy your resources towards.
Fire Many Bullets
Early in a career and education, the emphasis should be firing bullets. What are low-risk, low-cost experiments that you can run to learn more about your interests and abilities?
These experiments can range from getting exposure to different projects and types of clients at your current job to working on side projects to writing online.
Similarly, at MyMBA, we’ve helped Members fire bullets by starting side-businesses and writing about fields they are interested in exploring further. Firing bullets are similar to asymmetric bets that we outline in Betting on Yourself.
Firing bullets helps you to calibrate your sights. Every time you fire a bullet, you learn more about your strengths, weaknesses, and interests.
Using the newly found data, you can recalibrate your sights prior to firing the next bullet.
For example, if you think you’re interested in real estate, you might fire a bullet by writing an analysis of the real estate market in your town. From that experience, you gain confidence that you’re genuinely interested in real estate. Also, your post gets positive feedback on the internet, so you gain additional confidence that you might have potential as a real estate investor.
Now, you can recalibrate and aim your next bullet deeper into real estate. Your next bullet may be to volunteer to help source new deals for a small real estate fund.
By firing bullets, you’re gathering data. Once you’ve fired enough bullets, you’re ready to fire a cannonball.
Fire The Cannonball
Jim Collins writes, “Then, once you have empirical validation, you fire a cannonball (concentrating resources into a big bet) on the calibrated line of sight.”
Firing a cannonball looks different for everyone.
One of MyMBA’s past Industry Partners, Emily Hochman, fired a cannonball when she founded Wellory based on her interest and experience in sales, startups, and nutrition.
Another Industry Partner, Anthony Pompliano, fired a cannonball by using his interest and experience in early-stage companies, rapid-growth startups, and technology to angel invest with Full Tilt Capital.
Cannonballs typically look like a natural extension of a bullet. For example, Jim Collins notes that the iPod started as a bullet for Apple.
The most important point of firing a cannonball is to be cautious of firing an uncalibrated cannonball. An uncalibrated cannonball is concentrating resources into a big bet that isn’t supported with evidence and data.
Finally, life is messy. Navigating the career path will never be perfect.
Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
By firing low-cost, low-risk bullets, you can help to navigate the path with more confidence.