(Re-post from my 6/9/14 Surf Life Executive Coaching blog.)
My answer to whether the risk is worth taking is, it depends. Here are four recommendations I’d make to anyone who is contemplating making a really radical life or business change, yet is seemingly paralyzed by the fear of losing job security, balancing family, or other practical, modern-day considerations.
1. Make sure you are “on purpose”.
Before you can answer whether the risk is worth taking, ask yourself this: Is this my purpose? Is this truly what I’m about and the reason I was put on this earth? If you come up with a resounding yes, then the risk may very well be worth taking. Consider for a moment you found your purpose which, for many people, often takes half a lifetime. Now that you know your purpose, why would you want to waste your time on anything else? Your life will go by quickly. You don’t want to be on your deathbed wishing you had done things differently, do you? When we are on purpose, we resonate more, we feel excited and invigorated, and we attract the resources and people around us that we need to achieve our vision. That resonance will have more impact on us being successful than if we were just given a big pot of money and told to create something we weren’t that into.
Purpose is the platform to our vision, which in turn drives our everyday actions and choices.
You can’t ever succeed if you don’t risk it. But risk it with purpose. You will often read in popular entrepreneurial writings that entrepreneurs hardly ever do something because they are driven to make a lot of money. Many of the ones who became successful did it because they believed in their idea so much and were driven by the value it could bring to the world. If you believe in something that much, then the risk is worth it, because with that drive and passion, you are that much more motivated to find the right path forward.
2. Minimize the risk.
Leaps don’t just happen over night. I think it’s time to insert a surf life metaphor for you. A big wave surfer doesn’t just drop down Mavericks (a big wave in Northern California) one day without first having started in baby waves. She practices for years and years and keeps pushing her limits. She trains. She visualizes. She gets her mind as well as her body prepared. She grows her competency. In other words, she does things to minimize the risk.
The concept is similar when thinking about risks on land, in life and in business. When I started my first social impact organization, I had contract jobs on the side and worked on my idea with the other part of my time. I didn’t start by renting office space and carrying monthly payments, making a website and then looking for clients. That would have opened me up to too much risk. I thought about minimizing the risk through partnerships, and through making baby steps by collaborating with other programs and institutions to serve their clients first. Then I spun off. Whether it’s considering leaving a career and going after the idea of your dreams, or taking a leap of faith with a courageous conversation, think about how you can start to do a pilot run of it.
Test the idea. Take baby steps. Shrink your idea into parts.
Be sure you can answer these questions:
Why am I doing this?
What do I want to get out of it?
How will I do it?
3. It’s more about persistence and less about failure.
In my work as a social entrepreneur, I actually had to deal with the difficult decision of winding down an organization. It had succeeded in meeting its mission for women for 11 years. On the outside that seems like 11 successful years! But the truth of the matter is, there were many failures over that 11 years, too. Looking back, if I stopped everytime I failed, there would not have been an organization. But I chose to be persistent, and that is the reason the organization kept going. So, you will fail. It’s actually inevitable in many courageous and creative pursuits. But it’s not the failure that matters; at the end of the day, persistence is most important.
How many waves does a surfer wipe out on before they can pop up on just one? (Yes, here I go with the surf metaphors - they're just so good!) Many. And it’s not failure - it’s learning. We need to have a growth mindset when thinking about courageous transitions. Instead of seeing failure as failure, see failure as learning and move on.
4. Forget about what others will say.
This is perhaps the #1 biggest fear I see in people – fear of how you will appear to others and the shame you might feel if you fail.
Take it from me, if you live your life fearing what others think of you, you WILL be held back from your potential.
When you are worried about what others say, you are relying on others to define your potential and (worst of all) to give you permission. I learned this the hard way in my leadership. As a young leader with some amount of organizational power, there were some times I uncomfortable with the power, and would rely on seeking permission from others – from my board, from my colleagues, from advisors, from my team. At the end of the day, I wasn't listening to what my voice inside me said. It is very common in organizations for many people to work through the leader and it is important for the leader to hold multiple stakeholder’s agendas. At some point, however, you might find yourself needing to make a decision for yourself, and only YOU know you best.
Now, when I am in a highly creative state of change or new creation, I purposely distance myself from certain critics and people or just don’t offer too much information on what I’m doing. If they aren’t resonating at the same frequency that I am and are doubtful of my plans or ideas, they often become critical and quick to judge. This makes it harder for me to be successful, as I then find myself in a spiral of doubt, and well, doubt doesn’t help anyone. Surround yourself with the people who aren’t going to judge you for the moment, and keep yourself at a distance from those who are. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying to avoid people who can give you honest and critical advice, but at the end of the day make sure they are in support of YOU and not just projecting their own fears of risk onto you. It can make all the difference.
Have you found yourself in a position where you feel stuck and are afraid of venturing down a new path for fear of failure? What did you do to decide whether the risk was worth taking? Inquiring minds want to know!
(Re-post from my 5/6/14 Surf Life Executive Coaching blog)
The other night I was hanging out at my surf buddy Alex’s home. Alex is a mathematician who teaches computer science and researcher at U.C. Berkeley (she’s also a total ripper). I noticed a cartoon-like cut-out of her face placed on a shower background with a conference logo on it. When I asked what it meant, she explained that the running joke amongst mathematicians is that all the insight and best ideas come to them in the shower. It got me thinking for a second. So mathematicians generally get their “ah-has” in the shower. Where have I gotten mine all these years? It got me thinking a little more about innovation and insights and inspired me to share a few key lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1. Talk to unlikely partners
One of the innovations I worked on in my career (among a few) was an entrepreneurship education program for immigrant women. I was trying to figure out how to use technology and creative media to create greater access of the program to more women. I started the project in 2001, developed the non-tech prototype over a period of years, got pilot funding in 2007 to develop the media, and then a second round of funding in 2009. It was a LONG, creative process. At one point, we even won the innovation award from the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, the national governing body for our industry.
Hands down, talking with people that had absolutely NOTHING to do with immigrant women, entrepreneurship and non-profits often challenged and stretched my perspective throughout the innovative process and helped us look at problems differently.
We are often so deep in our own innovation and building it, that it is easy to get lost in that perspective and easy for that perspective to narrow. When you talk with people who have absolutely none of the normal assumptions you would have while developing your innovation, product or idea, out-of-the box ideas start to generate. You also open up your idea to people who think and solve problems differently.
I remember in one week talking with a marketing professional for Chiquita bananas and then a juice entrepreneur, a community college professor and two veteran engineers of HP. All had such interesting and different insights to share on our work and thought about how to approach or solve for things in different ways. This was one of the things I enjoyed most about the process - bringing together a hybrid of perspectives and coming to a new idea or insight based on these conversations.
Others see what you sometimes can’t. The richest ideas always came from this type of cross-pollination of perspectives.
2. Shift perspectives
In addition to getting outside perspectives, it is equally important to be shifting YOUR perspective and your team’s perspective all the time.
This is an exercise that is done a lot in coaching. You can be sitting and twiddling your thumbs over something, but if you move to a different part of the room, and look out the window, you will see it differently.
Back to Alex – my mathematician friend. That same night, her boyfriend hands me a piece of art that he had scribbled on a napkin. My first instinct was to twirl it around in different directions. Each angle I shifted it to, I saw something completely different on the napkin. At one angle I saw a rooster. At another angle, a face … and at another, a metropolis. But it was all the same piece of art. The same concept applies to innovation. Shifting yourself around in relation to the issue you are trying to innovate on can lead to new thinking. When you look and shift perspectives, the questions to contemplate are:
How do I add value from here?
How can I make it better?
How can I solve the problem?
Does it match what the end user is requesting?
Looking back, this is one of the biggest lessons I have learned about facilitating innovation. If you try to solve too many problems in one go, you may end up being a jack of all trades and master of none and not solve any problem well. By having a laser focus on the problem you want to solve, you are more efficient in solving the problem at hand. Focus on what’s most important first and then add the bells and whistles as you go. My intention is not to spew the same ole same ole. But from experience, all I want to say is when at all possible, simplicity is golden.
4. Trust your instincts
In my experience, instinct plays a key role in knowing which way to take your innovation. Very often, big picture thinkers have the ability to hold a lot of diverse perspectives in their heads, which allows them to see a path or trend forward, sometimes at a subconscious level. This becomes challenging for the leader, because they may be taking leaps of logic in their head, and will need help deconstructing their logic model in order to bring people along into what they see. Sometimes, there is so much advice and input that it’s hard for the leaders to access this intuition.
You take in information and then you need to trust yourself and take responsibility for directing it in a specific way. It’s almost like finding your wise, centered voice on the innovation. Many will want to give you all sorts of advice. Take some with a grain of salt. Ultimately, trust your instincts.
5. Understand that innovation is a function of time
I remember discussing this point back in college with an über smart philosophy masters student in my metaphysics class. He said to me as we were conversing on some philosophical concept: “innovation is just a function of time.” In other words, someone is bound to eventually come up with the idea you have. And very often, innovation is happening simultaneously; just because you’re thinking of an idea and it is original doesn’t mean someone else isn’t thinking of it too.
Case in point, I launched Surf Life only to realize a few months down the road that a fellow surf instructor, whom I met in Costa Rica years ago and who now resides in the Netherlands, was in the early stage of launching Beach Life Coaching, another coaching and surfing combination model for women. And she was working on a retreat to Costa Rica, too! We had no idea we were each working on such similar concepts. It didn’t surprise me that someone in a parallel universe was putting together a very similar set of things.
You have some choices here. Either accept innovation is a function of time, see what you can share and learn from the other person, believing there is enough of a need in the world for you both to serve, or you can whine like a baby and feel sorry that someone is "taking your idea" when in reality they probably just came to it on their own. (I highly recommend the former, especially if you are in the business of solving problems and making the world a better place.) Understanding innovation is just a function of time, frees your ego of the “I came up with this first” mentality and propels you to collaborate or even rethink what you are doing. The realization that me and my friend were working on similar things prompted us to connect and share our experiences and ideas, and to even think about collaborating on a future surf and coaching retreat for women.
Hope these tips have been helpful to think about. It’s important to note that this is just my perspective; I know there are other innovators out there, and let this be a post that invites other perspectives into the mix. Have you spent years innovating on a concept or idea? What did you learn? When did you come to your “ah-hah” moments? In the shower? On the loo? We’d love to hear from you! (Hey, that rhymed!)
Executive & Leadership Coach | Global Explorer | Founder, Surf Life Executive Coaching & Brown Girl Surf