uncertainty, agility, failure, and the bets that will make you a success – or – how to have your art, analysis, & cake and eat it too.
I have often felt like a creative freak. I am not left-brained (metaphorical not physiological) enough to create detailed plans for ideation & exectuion. I am not right-brained enough to feel artsy fartsy and anything-goes-about creativity.
When it comes to my business, I am comfortable figuring out how things work, what you need from me, and when my strengths truly shine over time instead of all at once.
I am a Virgo but I’m not a traditional perfectionist.
I am analytical but not obsessive.
I am innovative but not overly imaginative.
Frankly, I’ve felt like I was doing everything wrong even when I was having great success.
Shhhhhh. Don’t tell. They’ll find out.
Which is why I’ve been stoked to find books on this very subject dropping in my lap over & over again recently. If you’ve been hiding a similar style because you thought it was “wrong” or it just didn’t fit with the paradigms on display, you’re in luck.
There are more of us than we thought, for sure!
I believe we all have a lot to learn from each others creative styles. But I also believe that this blend of art & analysis is an asset in the fast-paced, conceptual age we are currently navigating (and continuously designing).
Settling on (or worse, waiting for) your “big” idea is a waste. Not even the venerable Mr. Jobs waited for his big idea. The big idea is a process – not an epiphany.
Which means that you need to get comfortable with “not knowing” more often than not. This is not about a lazy, post-modern denial of Truth. It’s about profound possibility. When you acknowledge that you don’t have the answers you’re more open to all the opportunities available to you.
Jonathan Fields just released the definitive book on this subject, aptly titled, Uncertainty:
The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas, and creations.
I recently shared with an interviewer that everything I do is a mistake. On purpose. Positively.
When you realize that every service you offer, every product you create is likely to have something that you will learn & grow from, you start to become comfortable with putting great value into the world in the form of mistakes. You can do it better next time and still be happy with the “great” you are creating today.
When you’re focused on perfection instead of value, you lose sight of what is important to the recipient of your product or service. You lose sight of what’s truly important to you.
And “failure” is becomes discouraging if not paralyzing.
When you’re focused on value, on understanding what constitutes money well spent or energy best transferred, failure is a bridge to greatness.
Eric Ries discusses this at length in The Lean Startup as it applies to business:
Even when experiments produce a negative result, those failures prove instructive and can influence the strategy.
Place your bets.
At each part of your creative process, you’re testing assumptions and [dis]proving hypotheses. You do this for yourself constantly. Yet, you probably try to avoid this when bringing ideas to market, presenting them to your audience.
But it’s placing your bets – publicly – that will truly tell you what to do next.
It’s not enough to make a thousand private mistakes. You need to put your ideas to the test with others: a list, a network, a mastermind, a focus group.
Keep your larger goals – the higher stakes – in mind and smaller mistakes will remain in context.
In Little Bets, Peter Sims dissects this strategy:
Experimental innovators must be persistent and willing to accept failure and setbacks as they work toward their goals.
Or if betting on the product of your creativity is a little too Vegas for you, think of them as proposals.
Proposals are new, sometimes radical, most often completely unproven. Roberto Verganti outlines this in his book Design-Driven Innovation:
These companies are instead making proposals, putting forward a vision. That is why I call this strategy design-driven: like radical innovation of technologies, it is a push strategy.
These proposals, however, are not dreams without a foundation. They end up being what people were waiting for, once they see them. They often love them much more than products that companies have developed by scrutinizing users’ needs. These proposals are wellsprings for the creation of sustainable profit.
When I think about agility, the image that comes immediately to mind is jumping back & forth over mid-line of a basketball court. Back & forth, back & forth.
Strength. Quickness. Reaction. Response.
Muscle movement happens fast & furious. But not without a thousand tiny course corrections happening even faster. Lest you fall over.
Agility is one of the most important physical skills of an athlete. It’s the rigorous combination of physical and mental performance.
Agility in business is the same. It’s shifting priorities. It’s responding to true urgency and not reacting to perceived urgency.
Agility is empathizing with customers and analyzing your numbers – then doing something about it.
You can achieve an environment of agility when you get cozy with uncertainty, embrace failure, and place bets.
That’s an environment for not only financial & entrepreneurial success but creative success. It’s self-fulfilling.
How are you creating an environment of agility in your business right now?