Just ship it!

Sometimes we can get overwhelmed and bogged down in trying to make an idea perfect – so much so that great ideas never make their way to reality.

Seth Godin talks about how shipping – the art of getting something out the door and into the real world – separates the “ok” from the great.

And it’s true. We need to take pride in what we do. We need to thrash around, work to make something perfect, and work hard at it. But the best approach is often to get the idea out there, into the real world, and refine it as it grows.

Example One – Check out this early version of Twitter:

Example Two – The first iPhone had no App options. Steve Jobs didn’t think they were needed and risked messing up the user experience (Instead developers could build pages that worked for the Safari browser already installed on the phone). Later, he changed his mind and the iPhone went from no apps to “there’s an app for that.”

Example Three – Almost any event I’ve seen repeated from year to year in a department with a consistent staff dedicated to growing or improving it. At our school, ResLife does some “fencepost” events that we are known for. It’s been amazing to see the improvements from year-to-year as Residence Directors brainstorm how to streamline processes and build in new, creative, energizing ideas.

The math of action

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.

What’s next vs. what’s now


At this time of the year we are already talking about next year’s RAs and potential changes in the RD staff. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about what’s next.

I’m guilty of it. I like thinking about the future and doing a little stratgizing. It’s what I do.

But when we do that, we easily forget the entire semester that remains. 110% of the time that has just passed still remains. There’s a lot that can happen. There’s so much space for life-changing events and conversations.

It’s exciting and important to think about what’s next. But it’s also important to think about what’s now – to seize and live out the opportunities that are right here in front of us.

Don’t miss the now moment because you’re fixated on what could be next.

Creating connections – proximity vs. affinity

Take a second and think of your three closest friends. How did you meet them? How did your relationship grow?

In the Residence Life world, we focus a lot on relationships and connections. It’s all about helping people feel welcome and helping them become part of a community.

Most of the time, we’re focused on proximity connections – creating environments and opportunities where people can connect to the people who live near them.

But that creates tension when people are connected elsewhere. They have other groups of friends and are less interested in most wing or court events.

So what’s your experience? My guess is that it’s similar. Those three closest friends you thought of are friends because you did something together over time, not because you were neighbors. You shared an interest. You worked together on a project. You served alongside each other in a club.

At my undergrad ten thousand years ago, I didn’t hang out with the people who lived next to me. I found connections through the things I did – a campus ministry, the campus paper, and a service organization. Once we connected around common interests and common goals, we became friends and even (for a few) roommates the following year.

What if we encouraged proximity connections, but also found effective ways to encourage affinity connections? We would seek people out, care for them, invite them to that wing event, but also point to other activities like a club or organization they would fit well within (at APU, think D-Groups, intramurals, clubs).

Proximity does matter for connection. But let’s face it, everyone on a college campus is in close proximity to each other. Maybe the affinity connection is more important – getting people connected in decentralized things that run from year to year.

As a living area, that means our role is to connect to individuals and point to resources. Along with that, we should create events that bring those existing affinity connections together, letting groups of people connect with other groups of people. Don’t worry. Those open mic nights, competitions, and broomball still have their place!

So if you’re an RA, here’s a freeing fact. There’s no reason your residents are required to connect with the 12 people who live near them. But, there should be a place where they find their fit. So don’t just be an event planner. Be a resource! Help people find connection wherever it exists.

**Side note – living learning and theme communities are a little different – in those you have both proximity and affinity. Seems like a good match, right? Also, proximity connections work best before people have any other connections. So they’re still important in a freshman dorm or for new transfers. But once people establish friend groups, the idea of building community with 30 people placed next to each other by chance becoming best friends becomes less likely and more frustrating.**

Put the trash in the leader’s van

On the way back from a recent staff retreat, I was driver of van #2. The bosses were in van 1 with half our group, and I was following with the rest.

But on the way to the retreat, my van had the luggage and their van had the food. But on the way back, somehow the luggage got loaded in their van.

This was important. Because on the way back, luggage stays luggage. But food is gone. It becomes trash.

That was fine, because we were going to stop and unload it before we made the three-hour drive back home. Except that once we got on the road, van 1 decided the priority was getting home, not unloading the trash whose fumes were quickly filling our cabin.

It was no fault of their own, but because they couldn’t smell the problem, it didn’t exist.

It’s the same in life. If you want change, the person who can make the decision needs to feel the pain.

It can be through communication, but most of the time, they need to be close enough to feel it. This can be tricky for those of us in middle-level roles. We get paid to make things happen – to fix problems. This isn’t an excuse to bring every issue to your supervisor. Or to be that complainey do-nothing. Really. Fix things and make things happen.

But once you’re that kind of worker, when it’s important, it’s reoccurring, and there’s a solution, you need to let a problem sit and be felt a little longer than you may be comfortable – long enough to have a new conversation about it. Let the feeling get to the leader so you can look at the systemic fix instead of throwing on another bandage.

The trash thing worked out. We cracked some windows and made it back home without many problems. But you can bet the next time we’re loading vans, I’m going to be the first one out there to help put that luggage in the right van…

Want to find out what’s really important? Stop working for two weeks.

Mark Batterson says a Change of Place + Change of Pace = Change of Perspective.

I start back to work tomorrow after two weeks off to help take care of our brand new baby. One thing that was interesting about handing off all my “residence director” work three days into the semester  and coming back three weeks into everything was the perspective it provided.

As an RD, I do a lot of things. Most weeks, there’s much more than 40 hours of work to be done. But when it came down to it, only a few key things were the “absolutely must be handed off or this thing won’t work” tasks and responsibilities.

That’s not to say the rest of the stuff isn’t important. This is a relational job, and some of those relationships can be put off. That doesn’t really mean they aren’t critical. But it’s been helpful as I start back to think about those key pieces that had to be done and build everything else around them. (It also helps to see what disappeared without anyone missing it. Maybe those things will just stay on vacation.)

So unless you want to deal with sleepless nights and a crying baby, two weeks off for newborn care might not be your best option. But maybe it’s worth stepping back and thinking about what would really need to be done if you were gone for a while. Then work to maximize those pieces.