Starting Things

When approaching new projects, we typically define the end goal or outcome before any work starts. Based on that goal or outcome, we work backwards to determine the individual tasks and requirements to accomplish the goal. Additionally, we assume that this is the only way to do things. But, sometimes this isn’t the best way to reach an outcome. Sometimes, we need to allow the creative process to take over and determine the outcome. We forget that process is more important than outcome, and here’s why:

As Bruce Mau has said:

When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.

Much too often, we wait for others to give us permission so we can go do that thing. We have forgotten to take initiative. Instead, we choose to accept whatever comes our way. We either let our beliefs limit us, or we describe our jobs as grandiose, neither of which works.

Why is there no one responsible for starting things (in organizations, let’s say)? If you think about it, if there is no one starting things, then what actually gets done?

True innovation requires us to start things not knowing whether they will work or not. It requires following a creative process that determines the outcome for our projects. It requires taking initiative at every level in an organization. Starting things is not limited to R&D labs, but should be an overarching cultural approach. It should be how we do things.

Because we are proactive individuals, the onus lies with us to take the initiative and do the thing we wish others did.

When I talk about starting things, I mean taking initiative for doing things that we think ought to be done. It’s about seeing the change in our minds from the things we see outside and then bringing that to fruition. Starting things is about making a positive difference in the world in small ways either through side projects or at work.

Of course, starting things requires us to take the initiative (most important!), the skills to bring about the change, and the value added to the world. Without the initiative part, nothing comes through. That means not waiting to be picked by others and doing the right thing regardless.

Starting things requires understanding the principle of divergence and convergence. Only when we are willing to fail can we come up with anything original. Yet, failure is the one thing that we run away from when, in fact, we should be embracing it. Only by failing can we make insanely great things. Starting things requires having a safe environment where one is free to make different, reasonable mistakes.

Just because we start things doesn’t mean that we will always succeed. There are times when things might work and times when they won’t, and that’s okay. Regardless, we need to put in the work/effort. It’s all part of the process, but we need to keep starting things. This is why Richard Branson has over 200 businesses (!) with Virgin®. His thinking was if one business failed, there was always another.

Starting things doesn’t require a rank, position, or fancy job title. You could be in the lowest position in an organization (or elsewhere), but still able to do something to make a difference. This requires taking initiative, doing the right thing, and not waiting for others to do the same. In your job, try to start things in small, harmless ways. If you think doing something will help make things better, then go do it. Stop asking for permission to do things. Assume the permission. We can always ask for forgiveness later for our “mistakes”.

These are things that might come in the way of you starting things:

Starting things doesn’t have to be big or life-changing. It can be the little things at work that can collectively add up to make a big difference over a period of time. Moreover, doing things that work helps you build trust with others.

Be aware of your self-limiting beliefs as they can stop you from taking initiative. This is the one thing that can paralyze us before we can even get started. Ditto with perfection; it can stall us before we even get started. Focus on defining (and solving) the problem without overthinking it.

Asking for permission for every little thing can also stall you before you get started. Plus, it might not be in your best interest to ask first since others might reject your idea outright before you even have a chance.

Just because you take initiative and do things doesn’t mean they will always work out, which is why you need a safe environment so you have the freedom to fail. Only then can you succeed. This requires your bosses/colleagues at work to support you.

Don’t wait for things to happen. Instead, go make them happen. Don’t expect others to do things that are obvious in your eyes. If they are important enough to you, then go do them.

To share a personal example for starting things, I start (write) drafts for this weblog all the time. Whether I publish them is a different story. The point is not to finish all of the drafts, but to get into the habit of starting drafts. Only when you get into the habit of starting drafts is there any possibility of producing something that is of lasting value.

In the end, we should be able to see the change that we want to bring about in the world. This goes back to self-leadership. Without seeing that change in our minds through external observation, it would be hard to make a difference. Starting things requires us to see and observe. When we see things, we need the courage to take the initiative to do the right things and the freedom to make mistakes in a safe environment.

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