We all get big ideas but why do so few of us make our plans a reality? Why is it so hard to get something out of our heads and into the world?
I’ve wanted to write a book, any book, since I was in college—I graduated over 20 years ago—and I’ve wanted to write a specific book, an Agile Business primer, for the past 5 years.
Like many people with big plans I’ve struggled. It wasn’t that I lacked a specific skill or a specific motivation. It was more that I lacked the alchemy that joins passion, practice, habit, and support that would result in a book being in the world with my name on it.
And I’m not alone in this.
Most people I talk to at most companies I visit have plans for themselves. They’d like to advance their career, birth something into the world based on a personal or professional passion, and achieve some upgrade of their lifestyle.
And though we have these big dreams and big plans, execution escapes most of us, most of the time. Perhaps many of these ideas should die on the vine. But there are many that should not.
And this isn’t just a personal thing. Great companies are great because they are able to aid and abet this appetite for individual achievement, align it with the organizations own vision, and allow everyone to join forces for a time to the great benefit of individual, company, and customer.
And it is my direct experience with this management style that allows me to announce the official launch of my first book Agile Business: A Leader’s Guide to Harnessing Complexity, and add “best-selling author” to my bio since we’ve had the good fortune of being on a few Amazon lists this weekf.
[A quick self serving side note: the book is only $5.99 until August 2nd, 2013 so go grab yours now (then come right back and finish reading this because I've got some important things to say).]
Create Your Own Reality
I have the good fortune of working for a great company. I’ve had good jobs in the past but this is the first one that I can classify as great.
What makes Rally great isn’t the people, or the technology, or the fact that the offices have kegs, foosball and a view of the mountains. We have all that, and it sure helps, but the real gold in working at Rally is an organizational commitment to one value: Create Your Own Reality—and yes, we have other core values too, but this is the one that stands out most for me.
Creation is Not a Linear Path
There’s not a map for creating the life or career you want but colleges and traditional HR departments like to pretend there is.
At Rally I was encouraged to write this book, and I was also shot down on more than one occasion—once the project was referred to as DOA by a senior manager. And most of the guidance I got amounted to zen koans and a bit of encouragement to “keep going” towards the goal of the book.
I tell you all this because this is what you need if you’re going to make something real: perseverance towards a goal and people who are willing to tell you when you are missing the mark.
The commitment to this value at Rally is not that unique. It’s really what any good teacher will do for you and it’s what life, and markets do for us whether we are in a company or not.
Creating Your Own Reality is what you should be up to all the time anyway. Some environments just make this easier than others.
Steps to Creation
You can use these and I recommend them all. But they work because they adhere to some first principles of creation:
Have a Vision: Start with a vision of where you want to go, what you want to create, and who you’d have to be to make that happen. This isn’t just a market vision, though that’s important. It’s an identity vision. Who do you have to become to bring this thing into the world? What excites you about that? What scares you?
Do Stuff: While the more emotional stuff can be interesting to explore here it can also be a trap. Don’t fall into the tar pits of self-reflection. Instead focus on what you need to do to make something happen. Sure we’re talking about a shift of identity on some level but that is driven by a shift of behavior. Your focus should be on doing something concrete.
One pivotal moment in working on the book came when an author I know asked “do you have an outline?” and “do you have an editor?” This lead to and obsession with making these two things happen and that made all the difference.
Iterate: Your vision, your outline, your requirements doc, and your product will not be right the first time. Or the second time. Or the third. Keep going until you know it’s right. The next step will help you know.
Build an Economic Model Around a Customer: So you want to build something that people will love? Great. But who are these “people” and what do they really want. If you want to make a project real then you need to have a customer and a vision for helping that customer. Be prepared to be wrong and be prepared to try again.
Rinse and Repeat: OK I’ve probably said this enough but it bears repeating. Creation is not a linear process. This means you’ll have to revisit parts of your plan again and again.
Collaborate: This book did not become real until I stopped laboring alone, and began to invite my incredible colleagues to co-author with me. This is not the easy way of course—collaboration is not simple and it’s often unpleasant. It is, however, essential if you want to create great stuff.
You don’t need to go overboard the way I did and get 35 co-authors—plus several other editors, marketers, designers and advisors—but you do need other people invested in the success of the project.
You’re always Creating Your Own Reality
These principles may not be exhaustive but they are a great start.
Creation is challenging but it’s made easier if you admit to yourself that you have agency. Sure there are many things outside of your control, but identifying these is part of claiming what power you do have.
Begin with the assumption that anyone who ever created anything of importance had some combination of power and vulnerability.
It’s the claiming of the power and the admission of vulnerability that make great things possible.
What’s next for you?
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