faith and reason and startups

Faith is often mischaracterized as the opposite of reason, a belief held outside of rationality. But irrational belief is not faith, it’s just simpleminded credulity. And those who have no reasons other than reason are no less simple.

Faith and reason, properly understood, are intertwined sources of truth. The encyclical Fides et Ratio states this more elegantly:

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth

In this light, I contemplated Fred Wilson’s note about investing on faith. The implication for some may be that this is investing without reason. However, Wilson’s leap of faith is no less legitimate than “pure” reason. Unlike religion, truth for startups has an ultimate arbiter in this plane of existence: return on investment. There are legions of startups that had all the reasons in the world to succeed – great idea, huge market, killer team – and yet they failed nonetheless. I’d bet that experienced startup investors have succeeded as many times on what Wilson calls faith as they have by stacking up reasons.

Coincidentally, the next day, Steve Blank posted on the startup transition from faith to facts. It might seem hard to argue with his view that startups begin on faith and must quickly move to facts to succeed. Again, I wouldn’t draw the divide that sharply. I’d say faith is a requirement throughout the journey, and so are facts. From day one, you must believe in what you’re doing, have faith informed by reason. And also from day one, you must engage with the facts; endlessly and relentlessly collect, examine and act on available facts with all your reason supported by your faith.

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