It is easy to stare at a screen and say, ‘I could do that.’ Very few of us either attempt the action or have the opportunity to try. We see coverage of hurricane and think we would survive the storm surge. We watch winter olympians and think we could replicate their talents. We see entrepreneurs succeed and think they just beat us to identifying of a good idea that was easy to scale. We see nonprofit organizations and think anyone can give away a service for free.
So here is a chance to try. Navigate a cargo ship through the Suez Canal and see if you have what is takes to become the ship’s captain.
We do not need more trouble. Walking into a trap after ignoring warning signs is a problem of our creation. Learning from others’ mistakes is a far more valuable use of our time. The value of an affinity group is to share successes and failures. To be a voyeur, not the voyager who paddles over the known waterfall after numerous parties navigated the same waterway. If we come to collect you because you got caught in the bear trap, it is a waste of everyone’s resources. If you got caught in a sticky situation because you were the first person down the trail, then we are ready to assist. If we share what we learned, the benefit is not only better decision-making, but it allows all of us to focus on the work that matters.
The boulder is going to fall off the cliff. The question is when? It is easy to think of the boulder as the greatest threat to our future. Perhaps we can design an app with 24-hour monitoring to alert us of any movement, build bracing and a cable retention system, or move our operations. Or, we can assess the probability of failure and then move forward with the work that matters. Too often the boulder consumes our attention, when in all reality it may stay perched for another decade. What would a decade’s worth of distraction cost us?
“Michael, you’ve had two ideas today. And one of them was great. And the other one was terrible.” – Pam Beesley, The Office
The challenge for all of us is to understand which of our collective ideas are great and which ones are terrible. It may seem obvious when Michael Scott is standing in a parking lot spelling out ‘Marry Me’ with a canister of gasoline and asking Pam, “Hey you know what? I’ve got gas all over my hands and my shoes. Would you light it? Would you do the honors please?.”
The work that matters is when two ideas are indistinguishable at a glance. The one that makes the organization better may cause more uncertainty than the idea that feels safer. That is why we assemble a board, to make sense of the terrain that sits in front of us.
What is your great idea? Which idea did you pass on that turned out to be a major liability? What is your Kodak Films passing on digital images moment?
Seth Godin is the master of keeping it simple. I borrow his expression ‘doing the work that matters’ frequently. Seth’s blog post simplifies the difference between choices and decisions and our confusing of the two. We encounter choices in our real-time wayfinding process. What if we streamlined our efforts by making quick choices, so we open bandwidth to focus on the decisions that matter. Make a game of choosing by spinning a wheel, asking the opinion of the next person we encounter, selecting the adventurous route, or going left. Decisions impact the work that matters and requires time and information. Which TSA security lane to stand in at the airport is a choice. Which person to join you for a month-long expedition is a decision. Make time for the decisions that matter, few remember how quickly you navigated TSA, but many benefit from your decision to commit to the mission.
A template for a spinning wheel if you are game to choose differently.
Read the Q&A section on Banksy’s website* and be prepared for simple responses.
Question: Best and worst part of creating Street Art?
Answer: Make your mistakes in public.
What is worth doing, even if it contains mistakes? What risks are we willing to take in order to connect an idea with a community that may care? Who are we willing to disappoint in order to complete our quest?
The opportunities that cause me the most anxiety are usually the ones that I need to explore. I said ‘yes’ to a university experience even though I did not have all the answers and was bound to fail repeatedly in a classroom of strangers. I agreed to work on consulting engagements that challenge my approach and yet I continue to look for ways to serve and add value. Travel brings numerous opportunities to fail publicly and yet I continue to pursue a destination even when I make a wrong turn or plan poorly. I participate in sports that provide moments physical pain. My original front tooth lies somewhere on the side of the road in NH thanks to a cycling team crash in High School. The very public mistake of inadvertently brushing my front wheel against another rider’s rear wheel left me more committed to my craft.
As Seth Godin reminds us, do work that matters. I highly recommend Seth’s audio book, Leap First: Creating Work that Matters. The development of the audiobook inspired the publication of Your Turn, which is equally engaging. I have been handing out my extra copies to people who are trying to create change and are willing to succeed and fail in public.
I look forward to seeing our mistakes in public venues. Our art matters.
* Banksy is not on Facebook or Twitter but his art continues to be discovered wherever he produces it.