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Editor’s note: Trust your instincts, you’ll get farther

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There once was a time in my formative years when I obsessed over what made a story worthy of the front page. It had to be newsy, of course, but I knew any good editor likes to bring variety to a page, so I tried to learn the magic of The Post’s mix.

I studied the likes and dislikes of the editors who did the choosing like an old Kreminologist might analyze the import of the seating arrangment at a May Day parade. I got to be pretty good at guessing where a story might land.

Then, one day a colleague showed me a piece he was finishing, asking what I thought. I immediately began assessing its chances for A1, weighing the pros and cons.

“Oh, I don’t care about all that,” he shrugged, “I just want it to be good.”

Wham.

His comment struck me like a thunderbolt, bringing sudden clarity, and I’ve never been the same journalist since.

I realized that day that I could not manufacture success by following some formula. I had to trust my instincts, and let the chips fall where they may. And just like that, my stories got better.

It sounds simplistic, but I think we can all overanalyze sometimes. We end up playing it safe, or worse, become paralyzed in our decision making. Why would anyone start a business right now, with the market in such turmoil? Why boost the marketing budget when customers are spending less? Why invest in new initiatives when there is so much uncertainty?

It is easy to find reasons why not to do something. Riskier, to plow ahead, especially in this sluggish economy. Inc. magazine last week published its annual list of the nation’s 500 fastest-growing private companies. About 50 firms in the Washington area made the cut, many of them government contractors who do consulting or information technology work.

All had to show they were able to increase revenue during the past three years, not an easy feat given the three years we’ve just been through.

It will be curious to see if these firms, battle tested in one of the nation’s most challenging economies, are any more durable than companies born during boom times.

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