Avoiding the Downside Vs Achieving the Upside

How to achieve success by focusing first on not doing the wrong things than doing the right things.

For the past few months, I have been taking Tennis lessons. It’s a group setting and all students are at the intermediate skill level. Last week, during a typical drill session, all of us were hitting the ball into the net more often than hitting it across the net. Finally, the coach paused the drill and advised us –

“Just try to hit the ball across the net. It doesn’t matter if it’s IN or OUT. If you hit it across the net, there is a 50% chance that at least it will be IN. And there is another 50% chance that your opponent might make a mistake. So you have a 25% chance to win a point.

But if you hit the ball into the net, there is a 0% chance you will win a point. Your opponent doesn’t have to do anything to win points. She just needs to wait for you to continue to make mistakes.”

Unlike professional players, who play and place their shots wherever they want, amateur players make endless mistakes of hitting the ball into the net. Professional players win points. Amateur players lose points.

As our coach advised, to achieve success (i.e. to win a point), avoiding the downside (i.e. not hitting into the net) is probably more valuable technique than achieving the upside (i.e. hitting across the net and IN the court).

It is a step by step journey. In every step, you first try to avoid your downside and improve your chances of moving to the next step. The better you get at avoiding your downsides, the longer you stay in the game, and the closer you get towards your destination.

As you get better at avoiding downsides, and as it becomes the skill, you transition from being an amateur to being a professional. And when you become a professional, you start controlling your shots and focusing on achieving the upside.

As you begin the journey, at every step, it is quite clear what downsides you should avoid going to the immediate next step compared to what upsides you should achieve as it becomes apparent very sooner what is not working than what is working. The downside always looks clear. The upside always looks hazy.


As a startup founder, I can also correlate this advice on how we should run our business. The step one is always about what to avoid i.e. what not to do in your business to reduce the risk.

Some examples of things I carefully avoided since we started Avoma

  • not starting a company without co-founders
  • not jumping to building a solution without extensive customer research
  • not picking up a small market, etc.

I believe to win in the hyper-competitive market, you simply need to figure out a way to stay longer in the game. As long as we avoid making stupid mistakes of burning cash too quickly, building products that no one wants, etc., we will keep increasing our chances of winning in the market.

As long as you systematically avoid the downside in your life, you will continue to increase the chances of achieving your desired success.

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