The next time you decide to do something – whether it’s the pursuit of a client, the hire of a new employee, the development of a new product . . . whatever it is – chances are the success or failure of that endeavor will be largely determined right at the start.
That’s because how you start anything you do is exceedingly important, which is a statement to which most people would readily nod their heads. Yet in my experience, far too many people don’t start these major initiatives well at all.
They don’t think things through, they don’t plan, they don’t challenge themselves with difficult questions. They’re driven by excitement, or impatience, or too much passion for a particular idea. And all they want to do is get it going, as quickly as they can.
The temptation to start something without getting it right can result from a number of things. One is impatience.
I remember a few years ago, I was working toward a major transaction. It was going to have major implications for the company I was working for at the time, and also for me financially. I wanted so badly to get it done, but it seemed to me that time had come to a near stop and it was driving me crazy. I felt like I just needed to take some sort of step to make something happen, but there didn’t seem to be a step to take.
Finally I called my lawyer. I told him I just wanted an hour to talk to him about all this, and that I didn’t even care if he billed me. He listened patiently and then gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten from a human being: He said he understood it seemed at that moment like it was taking forever, but that in the long term I would look back on this and it would seem like it had been a quick process. And about the process, he cautioned me to be careful about short-circuiting it rather than letting it play out as it should.
He was right. Today it does seem in retrospect like it happened quickly, and I’m very glad I let the process play out because the outcome was much better as a result.
Yet in the moment, we so often want to get the outcome instantaneously, and we’re not willing to go through the process that’s required to make the outcome the best it could or should be.
Another reason starts sometimes go wrong is that many in the business world are embracing a weird misapplication of Thomas Edison’s “Fail Fast” concept. Edison encouraged people to fail fast and fail often, by which he meant two things: First, don’t waste a bunch of time on a concept that’s not going anywhere. And second, don’t be so afraid of failure that you aren’t willing to take risks. All of that is sound thinking.
But this is not: Rushing an idea of the box before it is really ready, and then – when it’s not working – pulling the plug on it quickly, only to pat yourself on the back for “failing fast.”
That is not the idea. The wisdom of “fail fast” that you don’t get bogged down in something that’s not going anywhere. But failure isn’t the objective. Success is. Before you start anything, it’s essential to make sure you’ve got a good foundation in place, and that you’re willing to take the time that’s necessary to really get it right.
If you fail fast, you still failed! No, you shouldn’t be afraid of that because failure is inevitable in life. But there’s a difference between not being afraid of it and not doing what you can do to prevent it. If that’s how you approach things, you deserve no credit for failing fast. You accomplish nothing positive or productive by doing that, and remember, positive and productive accomplishments are the idea.
Another reason we sometimes don’t start things correctly is that we’re too invested in an idea. A new employee will be amazing and turn your whole enterprise around. A prospective new client will change everything as set you up to double your revenue. That product brainstorm you had at 3 in the morning is so cool, and everyone you talk to about it (which is pretty much everyone) thinks so. You’ve got to get it on the market yesterday!
And you’re so convinced this is going to be the biggest turning point of your life, you almost don’t want to really think it through critically. That might force you to ask tough questions about it, and you’ve already made up your mind that you’re in love with it.
That’s not good. If an idea is really solid, it will stand up to scrutiny. If it’s a good idea but it has some flaws, scrutiny will help to correct those flaws so you can launch it and make it work over the long term.
If all you’re trying to do is rush it out of the box, you’re much more likely to end up telling people, “Hey, at least I failed fast!”
Even ideas that are well thought-through and planned out can still end up having flaws. But the stronger you start, the better the chance you can pivot and still achieve success. Maybe you hire a person, and it turns out the person isn’t quite the fit you expected for the responsibilities you had in mind. But because you did your due diligence and you know this is a very strong person, you can pivot to a different position and you can still get an amazing employee out of it.
Pivots can work, but they have to follow a solid start in which you asked the right questions, allowed processes to play out and really developed a solid plan for success.
Everyone is eager to get to the outcome. I understand that. But without a strong start, the outcome is not going to be what you want. Take a step back, do it right and start off on solid footing. You will wait a little longer for the outcome you wanted, but I promise you the wait will be more than worth it.
Written by: Wade Wyant
Red Wagon Advisors