Monday, April 11, 2011

Might As Well Jump....


When friends and family learn about my involvement in Checking For Charity one of the first things they ask is, “how did you go about starting a nonprofit?” Jump is the answer that most naturally comes to mind. I don’t say it to be smart or short or because I think 1984 era Van Halen rules. I say jump because it encapsulates one of the most important lessons that I learned during my innovation journey.

I am part way through Seth Godin’s new book entitled “Poke The Box,” which is dedicated entirely to the importance of starting. Seth argues that while there are many traditionally recognized components to bringing a new venture to fruition the most important factor is largely ignored. That factor is the person with initiative; the person with the guts to say “go.” Below is a clip of Seth describing the concept behind Poke The Box.

I think that Seth has innate ability to simplify complex topics into digestible little knowledge nuggets that truly inspire you. What really sets Seth apart is his ability to choose topics and examples that transcend any one industry or situation. Poke The Box is no exception and based on what I have read so far I definitely recommend reading it.

So when I turn to my friends and family to say that I started my charity through my willingness to jump, I am really telling them that I could have never envisioned what Checking For Charity has ultimately become. By rallying the right people around an inspiring idea and by actually getting the ball rolling on the idea we were able to see where the 'magic of the start' could take us. Here are a few other lessons learned further validating the importance of the start.

1. Planning Is Overrated – Planning is very important, but that is not to say that it isn’t overrated. Planning to implement a new venture or project is great to work through your thoughts and to thoroughly explore the challenges you may face. The problem with planning is that you are focusing on a snapshot in time while life is a moving target. By the time you have thought of “everything” the reality in which you are operating has already changed. Planning also has a way of becoming the focus. Instead of focusing on the objective people often become consumed with putting together a perfect plan to reach the objective. If planning is not getting you a step closer to your goal it is putting you a step back. You cannot plan for everything and all the planning in the world doesn’t guarantee that you will carry that plan out; execution is the real challenge.

2. Improvement Is Iterative By Nature - Rarely do we as humans get anything 100% right on the first try. So the majority of how we improve is done by implementing and correcting over time. If it is guaranteed that you aren’t going to be perfect from the start then you know that you will inevitably be course correcting. By delaying your start you are delaying the value adding component of the process. George S. Patton put it perfectly when he said,"A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week." By beginning the process now you enable yourself to keep pace with reality versus having your plan become more and more outdated prior to implementation. As things change you will be able to moderately update your strategy and business model versus completely recreating the wheel prior to implementation.

3. There Is No Substitute For Experience – I had read numerous books on innovation and entrepreneurship before I started my charity journey. I had been involved in the great game of hockey for more than 15 years before I started my charity journey. My education throughout college was focused on fundamental management principles and character based leadership. All of these things undoubtedly prepared me to navigate the startup process. However, in hindsight the most impactful single action that I did throughout the entire process was to jump. I didn’t know what I didn’t know about starting a nonprofit until I started. Looking back I don’t even think it was possible to for me to learn the majority of those lessons in advance. The same holds true for any endeavor. Preparation is great and should never be discounted but experience is our primary educator. What jumping did for our organization was force us to confront and conquer our challenges now versus deferring the confrontation of our problems until we had the 'perfect plan.'

I am not saying to go out with guns blazing with complete disregard for the world around you. I am not naive enough to think that every venture you undertake will be successful. My point, much like the premise of the Seth’s book, is merely that improving your ability to “jump” is one of the most important and rewarding skills you can develop as a leader and a teammate.

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