If you had just one tool for improving yourself, what would that tool be? A casual study of the world’s self-made millionaires, past and present, may not reveal it, but all of them were likely successful bootstrappers. Bootstrapping, at its simplest, refers to getting by in an entrepreneurial endeavor simply with what you have. You take what you earn and cycle it all back in. Only grow as you are able – no major loans.
Thus, the ultimate life hack is, arguably, bootstrapping. Bootstrapping is a time-honored way to grow a business, but it can also be used for learning a language, improving your skillset, designing and creating something and much more. Bootstrapping is a way to go from essentially nothing to a more desireable result. It comes in a variety of flavors, with variations from numerous cultures. The following terms are not exactly synonymous, but they are related. Most of these terms have complex meanings; I’ve only given one for each, and generically refer to all of them collectively as bootstrapping.
Kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese term for a Chinese concept. The gist of its meaning is continuous improvement by slow degrees of change. It has applications in quality improvement (at least in the US) but can be applied to many disciplines. You don’t set out to be perfect immediately. Start with what you have and slowly improve it through continuous/ daily actions. This methodology can be applied to anything. I use this principle to improve my websites and that of clients. The wikipedia definition of Kaizen gives a much fuller explanation which mentions three core principles that must be applied. I’ve only covered the gist.
Top-down design. Top-down design/ modelling is a process typically used in software development and programming. However, it is used in other disciplines. Start with nothing but functional specifications, write up the skeleton/ outline, then flesh out each section. Using this technique, I’ve written 1,000-3,000 line programs in just a few days, when the industry standard has been 2 lines of code (including research, design, coding, testing, and revision). I use top-down design to write books, e-books, manuals, and larger articles as well.
Bootstrapping. Bootstrapping is a classic method used by entrepreneurs for starting a business with pretty much nothing, and reinvesting all revenues and efforts back into the business to help it grow. Loans are at an absolute minimum, if any at all, and growth is controlled. (Keep in mind that most new businesses fail in the first year, some because they grow to fast for their cash flow.) Bootstrapping is also applied to numerous other disciplines. Want to know more? Read Guy Kawasaki’s article The art of bootstrapping and Seth Godin’s free ebook The bootstrapper’s bible.
In an article in the Consumerist entitled How to: move to New York City, Ben Popken mentions the term tunnelling as a way to use the resources in your current job to help you on your way to a better career. This is very much in the same spirit as bootstrapping: use what you have to get what you want.
Refinement is probably the most general form of bootstrapping, but is more in the vein of Kaizen. It is sometimes used synonymously with top-down design, but I feel that it has some distinctions in the stage of use in a project. For example, stepwise refinement is used in mathematics and physics to use existing data to develop a formula, then refined to be more accurate bit by bit, as new information is available. The distinction for refinement is arguably that it is used in a later stage, after the fact, to improve what you know to already be incorrect, whether that’s a formula or software or something else. SEO techniques often use “tweaking” of content, which is essentially stepwise refinement. You could also say that physical tools have gone through a long history of refinement, with existing tools used to create new tools, then refine older ones.
In the generic definition, bootstrapping is a non-linear activity. Small actions combined eventually produce a greater synergy and exponential growth or successes. These techniques can thus be used to build a new career, a new product or software application, slowly build a successful business, fix something that isn’t quite right and so on. When applied to bootstrapping your life, each unit of action you apply must not only be within your ability to do, but you must feel in control of each action, and each must carry you forwards. This is a necessity if you want to be a self-starter.