Fred Wilson shares profound advice from his father about problem solving and subconscious information processing:
“He explained that I should start working on a project as soon as it was assigned. An hour or so would do fine, he told me. He told me to come back to the project every day for at least a little bit and make progress on it slowly over time. I asked him why that was better than cramming at the very end (as I was doing during the conversation).
He explained that once your brain starts working on a problem, it doesn’t stop. If you get your mind wrapped around a problem with a fair bit of time left to solve it, the brain will solve the problem subconsciously over time and one day you’ll sit down to do some more work on it and the answer will be right in front of you.”
I know this works for me when I actually do it. We’re in the process of moving right now, and I’m amazed how my mind is working on different ways to arrange our stuff and charting our moving day plans as I’m doing things like making dinner or sleeping.
“Almost nothing worthwhile is easy, and it’s hard to just jump in and be good at something difficult right off the bat. Think, say, of Twitter, whose business plan, such that it is, has always been something along the lines of “Get big and popular, then just flip the switch and start making money when we feel like it”. There is no switch.
“The only reliable way to succeed at anything is to actually do it, repeatedly, with concentrated effort. True for individuals, and true for organizations. Athletes, artists, businesses.“
– John Gruber (emphasis mine)
True for tech companies (like Gruber’s context), but also so true for everything from blogging to the job you’re doing to relationships and everything in between.
(Think Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule from Outliers or Seth Godin’s ideas from The Dip)
In “The math of action” we talked about how action matters as much as creativity for impact.
One way to apply this is to filter others’ input through the lens of action and ownership.
We often celebrate ideas, but ideas are cheap – implementation makes the difference.
In brainstorming sessions, it’s good to hear a wide range of thoughts. Occasionally you’ll hear from someone who’s full of ideas (often just before your deadline to complete a project), but they have no stake in the final product. Their ideas don’t affect their life.
I’ve learned that if someone is giving input without owning the work to make the idea happen, their input should hold less weight than input from the person who is willing to put in the work.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for brainstorming. There’s a place for everyone’s ideas to be heard. This also doesn’t include the opinions and ideas of the boss or supervisor who has handed you responsibility for a project. They do have a stake in the outcome. They should be in the loop throughout the process.
But on a team, when it comes down to it, the ideas from those who are ready to step into the ring and put in the work matter more.
Encourage action and ownership by encouraging the people who are setting that example.
How many times have you sat in a meeting where hundreds of great ideas are tossed around, but in the end, not much happens? In his book Making Ideas Happen, Scott Belsky repeats the adage that creativity (or productivity, progress in our projects, and growth in relationships) is 2% inspiration and 98% perspiration.
He looks further at this idea through a simple formula: Creativity x Action = Impact.
So someone who is incredibly creative (a perfect 100) but doesn’t translate those ideas into action has very little impact. (100 x 0 = 0)
But someone who’s marginally creative (a 50) and even marginally moves those projects forward (a 50 again!) can have an exponentially greater impact. (50 x 50 = 2,500!)
This has huge implications for higher ed, where thinkers thrive and “vague-agendaed” meetings can creep up from every corner. We can have all the ideas in the world, but if we can’t move them into reality, we miss the point. Moving ideas to action takes practice. It takes systems. It takes a willingness to fail. In fact, we can count on some things failing.
In the ResLife world that changes how we look at events, projects, and even tactics for growing RAs. Try things. See what succeeds. Move forward and learn.
We need to go through quicker learning cycles, moving ideas to action.
One quick, incredibly simple example. I put together a “lessons from last year’s RAs” booklet this year – by emailing the RAs at the end of the year and requesting feedback. We just needed enough to fill it out. Is it perfect? No. But it’s MUCH better than what we had before like this – nothing. And in the end, it was a useful, helpful piece that carried more credibility than some of our training sessions because it was from RAs to RAs.