doing teaches you a lot more than planning

I am a planner by nature. Give me a new project or venture and I get excited just by the prospect of thinking through the strategy and coming up with a robust plan to move it forward. Those early brainstorming sessions when ‘anything is possible’ are like a narcotic to me and if I am not careful, I can stay in that mode too long.

The problem with staying in the planning phase is that you are dealing with too much theory. Creating contingency plan after contingency plan is really just a smokescreen for giving in to The Resistance and until you take some sort of action to put you in front of your customers or the recipients of your ideas, you really have no feedback that is useful.

This weekend my wife and I experienced a perfect illustration of the power of doing. We have been talking about helping my sister expand her Ugandan fashion business in the US for close to two years but we have not really taken any steps to move things forward. About a month ago, my wife signed up for an event through our church that showcases different vendors in a ‘bazaar’ format and we decided to set up a table with my sister’s fashions to drum up some business.

The event was this weekend and we only made one sale.

But, man did we learn a lot about how we can be more successful next time. Not only did we interact with real life prospects and hear the kinds of things that interested or did not interest them, having the deadline of the event forced us to put together the beginning infrastructure for us to truly move this venture forward.

Instead of taking weeks to come up with a full-fledged e-commerce site for the business, I spent a few hours updating her existing website and the shopping cart I was able to create was quiet useful – a true MVP that I can now use as starting point to get to the right solution over time. Because I had a deadline, I had to ship.

Another outcome of the deadline is that it forced us to work through the issues of pricing, shipping costs, profitability and time-to-market with my sister and again, although we still have a lot of issues to resolve, there is forward momentum.

Finally, the one sale could be seen as a failure, but it is actually an excellent motivator to do a whole transaction from start to finish and ensure the client has as enchanting an experience as possible. The feedback we get from serving this one customer will be worth multiples over any spreadsheet we could have put together of projected sales and expected customer responses to marketing.

When it comes to launching a platform (in this case, my sister’s US presence for her business), I believe doing will always trump planning.

angst and The Resistance

Last night my daughter was reviewing her homework with my wife when my wife noticed that she had not done the writing assignment correctly. It was a very simple assignment that she had done several times before. She was given a list of words and she had to create three sentences that used all the words.

In her first version of the assignment she had used the wrong form of one of the words and ignored using some of the others.

So my wife asked her to do it again and the tears began to well up in her eyes:

“But its too hard”

“Why won’t you help me?”

The ensuing soap opera lasted almost an hour. She went into her room and sat staring at the paper but writing nothing and complaining about how it was too hard.

Her younger sister, trying to be helpful, suggested a strategy:

“Why don’t you think about something you like and then write about that.”

Her suggestion was met with indignant venom “I tried that already and it didn’t work!”

I doubt she had.

So I made another suggestion:

“Why don’t you take out a blank piece of paper and write out a few sentences to try out some different ideas.”

More resistance: “I already did that”

“When?”

“When I first wrote it.”

“So you haven’t done it this time around?”

“No.”

“So take out a piece of paper and try.”

So she took out a piece of paper and I left her at it. Several minutes later when I returned, she had written one sentence and couple of words but was back to pouting.

“This is too hard. Why won’t Mummy help me?”

In the end, my wife told her that it was up to her whether or not she did it, but she would have to face up to her teacher tomorrow if she didn’t do it. This morning it was unclear whether she ever did the assignment.

Besides the inherent melodrama of an 8 year old, what was going on here? My daughter has had an ease with words since she could speak. She reads at several grade levels above her own. And almost every day she writes a story and gives it to us as a present.

The issue was not that the task was unreasonable, or too difficult. The problem was not that my wife refused to help her.

I believe her problem was The Resistance (or as Seth Godin refers to it, the lizard brain).

The Resistance is that part of our brain that aggressively fights against you every time you want to create something or do a piece of work that really matters. The Resistance hates art because art comes with risk. Art comes with a possibility of painful rejection if somebody does not like what you made. If somebody does not like the work that you poured your heart and soul into.

The Resistance believes that its noble cause is to protect you from that pain so it puts at the forefront of your mind the possibilities for failure and minimizes any vision of success.

When my daughter was faced with the simple task of creating something new The Resistance made sure she forgot about all the times she had done this before and convinced her that it was too hard.

But this is not an ailment that only afflicts 8 year olds – it is something that I constantly struggle with and watch other highly talented and intelligent people fight.

It comes in the form of procrastinating on moving an important project forward by focusing on imagined future roadblocks instead of dealing with the work that needs to be done now.

It comes in the form of overloading your schedule with a long list of important things to do, when you know in the back of your mind that you are avoiding that one piece of writing you have to do or that one phone call you have make.

It comes in the form of never giving yourself time to pause and reflect because you will realize that you are putting up smokescreens.

Writers call it writers block.
Salespeople call it call reluctance.
Busy people say they are overwhelmed.
Perfectionists say they have to do some additional work on it before its ready.

What they are all saying without using the words is that they are scared.

Scared of their own potential to make an impact.
Scared of their own ability to change the status quo.
Scared that if they truly stepped out and did the work, they would become accountable for the results and people would expect them to keep producing. But because The Resistance has convinced them that they are inadequate, they fear that even if they are successful the first time, they will be unable to repeat the results.

My daughter was scared.

And I am often scared.

But I am learning that if I am truly going to live out an authentic life that reflects my true potential, I have to fight The Resistance and win.

The good news is that The Resistance is much more bark than bite. It can be countered by taking some simple steps and building habits around them.

Step One: acknowledge The Resistance and expose it for who it is. Make a point to start watching yourself and questioning why certain things that are important to you are not getting done. Ask yourself the question: “What am I resisting?”

I’ll give you a hint … your first answer to that question is probably wrong. Especially if it has nothing to do your emotions and what you fear. Once you start digging deeper and getting to the core of your resistance, you have a good starting place.

Step Two: find evidence that contradicts the fear and emphasizes the opportunities for impact and positive change that you could have if you did the creative work you are avoiding.

Step Three: do the work. Take action and keep taking action. Then ship. Hit the publish button. Press send on the email. Pick up the phone and have the conversation.

Step Three is the only way to truly counter The Resistance. Because by taking action you disprove The Resistance’s theory that you cannot or shouldn’t do it.

This blog post is just as much for me as it is for you. Publishing it is me countering The Resistance and determining within myself that I have things to write about that matter and need to be written.

I wrote this post on my phone during my commute to overcome my excuse that I don’t have time to write. And it worked.

Writing this post is also my notice to The Resistance that I can see what it was doing with my daughter but I will have none of it. I will teach her how to defeat it.

And she will win.

What are you resisting?

For more reading, see Seth Godin on the resistance.

starting with what I have

This weekend, following my resolution to ‘take action often‘, I decided to help my sister with a business she is building.  Earlier in the week, she posted photos of some of her products on Facebook and immediately when I saw how beautiful they were, I knew that I needed to help her create a website around the business.

So I asked her for what type of website she was looking for – and the sample she sent me was something that definitely exceeded my design skills at the moment.  My old approach would have been to begin backtracking on what I could actually do.  This time however, I spent several hours researching and eventually found a WordPress template that I can easily customize with the CSS I know and meet several of her needs all at once.

In addition, while at a children’s birthday party, I showed her Facebook photos to two of our friends and they are seriously interested in her products.  So I can help her move her business forward too.

The confidence I have about what I can do with CSS actually comes from the tinkering I have done recently with this blog – something that happened again because I decided to get more serious about posting frequently and forced myself to start customizing the design of the blog to what I want.

Taking action is definitely giving me a satisfying momentum.

Now to apply this to my simplification project.

taking action

I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker a couple of days ago.  We were talking about how both of us are getting restless with the need to ‘make things’ – to create.  I tend to have a lot of ideas, but my problem has always been execution – actually implementing the ideas.

When I start implementation, I always seem to stop long before the finished product, even if I know that I have the skill set and creativity to make something beautiful.

Unfinished poems, unfinished stories, unfinished drawings, unfinished business ideas – the list is endless.

I know what the culprit is – Seth Godin’s ‘lizard brain‘.

I think the best way to defeat the lizard brain is the increase my output and ‘fail often’ so that I am in a constant state of motion and don’t have time to overthink things.

So my new approach is to lower the bar and prioritize action over perfection.  If I have an idea that I can’t shake from my thoughts, I need to make sure that I ‘make something’ related to the idea – however small – so that I can get momentum.

Create version 0.1, ship it, and then improve it from there.