There are many factors that come into play when starting a business, managing a business and creating a product or service that people love. But in my experience what separates mediocre business and business leaders from great ones is the ability to get ideas to go, to move, "to ship." The most creative and effective people (the doers, hustlers, movers, shakers, and innovators) are people that have had plenty of opportunity to say "no" to that nagging voice in the back of their heads telling them to drop the idea and yet, against the odds, they say, "Yes, let's go for it!"
We all have ideas, talent, creativity, and thoughts (and if you don't think you do just remember what you did with a box of crayons and some paper when you were a kid); unfortunately for most people they don't always share those great ideas or thoughts with the world. Why not?
In Seth Godin's book, Poke the Box, he addresses this initial fear in all of us (a fear built from many years of conformity and mediocrity) and speaks to the notion of getting your ideas to a starting point. He suggests that our biggest problem isn't financing, resources or even a lack of good ideas. Our biggest problem is that we stink at telling ourselves to go for it and then hustling to make it happen. He talks about the seven imperatives of initiative building which include: being aware (of the market, of opportunities, of who we are), being educated, being connected, being consistent, building an asset, and being productive. Those are six and we're usually pretty good at those (or at least we can get better at them).
Whether launching my own business, helping the family with a legacy business, talking to entrepreneurs, consulting with business leaders, or listening to people and their ideas, here are some of my current thoughts on moving ideas to "yes, let's go for it!" mode. I think it is one of the most important talents to have in this day and age and I don't see it often enough.
1) Doubling: most people think the idea or the new product has to be right or correct (without flaw) straight out of the gate. Doubling is the idea that you innovate on your way to innovation; you should always be tinkering with the idea to make it better, but this shouldn't prohibit you from pushing it out. Apple famously does this with each new generation of their products. They don't wait to ship; they know they'll get it better in the next generation.
2) You have to conquer risk: one foundational reason we don't ship our ideas is because of the risk involved. The lack of taking risks is caused by fear – fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking ignorant/dumb/stupid/incompetent/etc. We avoid risk because we've been trained to avoid failure. "Failure is not an option!" Well, maybe it is and maybe it's okay? You have to have the audacity to try it again. Fail and fail fast; learn from your mistakes and move onward.
3) Show up, on time, ready to go: A recent survey found 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. population is "consistently late," especially when it comes to work costing over $90 billion in lost productivity in the U.S. Much of the success of innovative organizations is their ability to show up, on time, with the proper tools (people, skills, technology, etc.) to be successful and ready to go. I am still amazed at the number of meetings that don't start or stop on time. That would be a good start for most of us.
4) Have an insatiable desire to understand how something works and how it might work better: In Poke the Box, Godin writes, "Curiosity can start us down a path to shipping, to bringing things to the world, to examining them, refining them, and repeating the process again." We have to constantly have our receptors out there for new ideas and continuous learning opportunities. The automobile came about because we found out how to do it better than with horses, the TV came about because we wanted more than to just listen to the radio, and the iPod came out, and replaced the CD player, because Jobs proclaimed, "I want to put a 1,000 songs in your pocket."
5) Institute "think sessions.": Josh Linkner wrote in Fast Company magazine about instilling creativity throughout one's week. He suggests that we should take 5% of our 40-hour work week and unplug from the tactical chores of business, letting our minds wander creatively. I always think that reading creative magazines, journaling, sketching ideas, waking up early, having "you-time," running, or going to the beach all count as part of my think sessions – those times when it's just you and your thoughts.
6) Being a good steward of your ideas: Your idea, creativity and talent are only on loan. In a great TED talk about creativity, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic, educates us about the origins of creativity or what the ancient Romans called "a Genius." "A Genius" used to be thought of as a spirit that came over someone and assisted the artist with his/her work. This artist was only a vessel that the "Genius" worked through. Frank Sinatra once said of talent, "Talent must not be wasted. Those who have it must hug it, embrace it, nurture it and share it lest it be taken away from you as fast as it was loaned to you." So remember, it may be your great idea, but inspiration is only on loan to you. You may only get this one time to ship it. Don't miss your chance to go for it.
So why write this article this week? I want to encourage all you thinkers, dreamers, doers and go-getters in Bennington to go for it! Additionally, even if you have a 9-5 job, are a stay-at-home mom, a retired member looking to reboot your next chapter in life, or a student with a crazy idea in your dorm room — go for it!
— Matt Harrington is the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce