What do you think about in the shower?

The simplicity of the question belies its importance, according to Paul Graham, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, mostly known in business circles as the co-founder of the influential Y Combinator start-up accelerator, which helped launch companies which are now household names, like Airbnb, Dropbox and Stripe.

Mr Graham, who first came to prominence as a computer programmer, said that most people only hold one top idea in their mind at any given time.

“That’s the idea their thoughts will drift toward when they’re allowed to drift freely. And this idea will thus tend to get all the benefit of that type of thinking, while others are starved of it. Which means it’s a disaster to let the wrong idea become the top one in your mind,” he wrote in a blog entry.

He argued that as soon as start-ups begin raising money, their productivity suffers, something he puts down to the all-consuming nature of an activity as crucial to a business’s growth fund as fundraising.

“Money matters are particularly likely to become the top idea in your mind,” he said. “The reason is that they have to be. It’s hard to get money. It’s not the sort of thing that happens by default. It’s not going to happen unless you let it become the thing you think about in the shower. And then you’ll make little progress on anything else you’d rather be working on.”

Entrepreneurs should therefore do their utmost to keep funding rounds brief and focused, to avoid letting their thoughts drift off to money when idle.

That great ideas often come at such times, when the mind is allowed to wander freely, is a truth universally acknowledged.

The question, then, is what do you want those breakthroughs to be about?

Mr Graham wrote: “I suspect a lot of people aren’t sure what’s the top idea in their mind at any given time. I’m often mistaken about it. I tend to think it’s the idea I’d want to be the top one, rather than the one that is. But it’s easy to figure this out: just take a shower. What topic do your thoughts keep returning to? If it’s not what you want to be thinking about, you may want to change something.”

The Money Guru is a column presenting insights from some of the top business and investment minds from around the world. Are you looking for advice on a particular subject, or found useful tips you would like to share with a wider audience? Drop us a line on our Facebook Page.


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