In early February I saw a Facebook post written by an acquaintance that read something like, “OMG, I am simply beside myself with a great idea, can’t sleep, so excited, etc.” While others were congratulating her, I felt pity.
I felt her pain because I know she is in the throes of business building. You know how it is when you’re molding your business. The ups and downs are part of the landscape. If you’re like most, your restless, creative mind brings disorder as well as inspiration.
The Curse of Creativity
Don’t you wish it would stop? There are times I’ve thought, “If one more great idea comes furiously flapping in my face like a bat looking for food on a moonless night, I just might go crazy. While I’m grateful for sparks of creativity, my left brain is thinking, “No thank you very much to new ideas. Can we all just get back to work?”
For the past few years, I’ve made it my New Year’s tradition to choose two words to frame the coming year. It’s April already, and they’re still firmly stuck to my steering wheel and framed on my desk, so I haven’t given up. But I tell you, these are hard words to live by when you’re prone to great ideas.
The theory behind the year’s word choice is this: I force myself to choose two exclusive words, one to internalize and one that inspires action (sometimes a very specific action). Just seeing the two words one on top of the other, reminds me of the brutal importance of editing.
Editing, cutting things out, saying “No” to stuff… is not easy.
If you want to accomplish anything in twelve months, you must say no to a lot of alluring prospects. If you’re honest, you probably have some excellent choices on your table. The trick is choosing whom to listen to, and what to build. Editing is more difficult than writing. Just ask any writer.
I was stymied the whole month of January, I admit. Hogtied and buzzing with new ideas after a professional, spiritual and personal shake-up mid month, I knew this was Officially Not Good. While the self-created upheaval provided an exhilarating start to the new year, I realized I had been hoping and expecting a different kind of year. You know, the kind where you’re just pedaling consistently hard; not having too much fun, not pinching yourself with disbelief, just plodding forward. It’s why I chose these strong words in the first place. Listen. Build. Ugh.
What happened, right at the get-go, was a bit of a boondoggle of my own making. “Uh oh,” I thought for a second, “Maybe I could change my words to ‘Play’ and ‘Pray.’” I quickly decided it’s no fair changing my Words of the Year. That would be a sign of drama, which I’ve sworn off for good. If I were to see these words bear any fruit, I would have to buckle down and quit changing channels.
And anyway, they were already on my steering wheel.
So I’m (still) committed. The lightning strikes of creativity are beginning to lose their power over me. This doesn’t mean I did not act on some of these ideas raining down. But I didn’t run in every direction trying to catch them all, either. Instead I continued doing my usual work, while allowing them to fall to the ground.
My commitment to listen meant that I had to personally “check in” when something made an impression, but not lift a finger or move in its direction until I had bounced it up against these 15 decision-making guidelines and talked it over with a friend or colleague.
All that patient listening will have an impact on the “building” part of it, which will be coming right along in Q2. I can feel it.
Creativity’s Evil Twin: Your “Next Best Move”
Entrepreneurs often kid themselves into thinking that every creative impulse could be defined as their Next Best Move.
This happens a lot when the work that got you to where you are now isn’t new anymore. The fun part was beginning it; now the finish line is nowhere in sight. In fact, you can’t even imagine being in the same place this time next year. It must be time to do something different, bold, daring!
Whenever I feel like things aren’t happening as fast and dramatically as I would like, I start falling prey to the “Next Best Moves” trap. Most creative types love to imagine and discuss NBMs with their team, their masterminds or their friends. We imagine this new project, product, addition of skillsets, etc. will fill in for whatever excitement (and potential new revenue) is missing in our business.
Have you ever felt that desire urging you away from your beaten path? Like a fox, you stop, prick up your ears, and dart toward it. NBMs are significant and “game-changing.” They are not what you’ve done in the past. They are moves about which you’ll look back and say (for surely someone will ask about the time the big transformation occurred), “Now, that was a good move.”
In your imagination, that NBM is a turning point, the year you finally hit a specific goal because you’ll have finally deviated from the common and fruitless path you were once on.
Except that’s where the whole house of cards comes crashing down.
The hard truth is that many times your next best move is indecipherable from that move you just made.
Most likely, your next best move is boring.
It looks a lot like last month’s move, and the move before that. Your next best move may actually be no more than a mere, small adjustment that folds easily into the direction you’re already moving:
- Adding a tool that makes you more productive
- Asking your prospect what they need to move forward
- Asking a current customer for a referral, or a repeat order
- Redesigning your home page of your website so that it’s clearer to your buyer personas
It could be something that’s not nearly as fun as developing something band new, but flows in the direction of the moves you’ve already set in place to get you this far.
Predictability means staying on track, and doing the work. But it also frequently defines your next best move. It may not be the most exciting NBM you could take today, but chances are it will allow your business to gain momentum that results in success. The day you realize you’re pretty predictable, and also productive, is a day to rejoice, because you’re doing the thing that defines a successful business.
The Power of Predictable Moves
In the business classic Good to Great, Jim Collins describes the flywheel, a large, heavy, horizontal disk you must turn to bring up to speed. One dogged revolution at a time; the wheel slowly makes one turn on its axis, then another, then another. Eventually, it takes on a life of its own, its weight and momentum creating a force that easily revolves by its own weight and momentum.
Can you identify which move contributed the most to this flywheel’s energy? No, all the pushes to get it up to speed were important, and they all were nearly identical. It was the succession of simple, repetitive, boring moves them that got the wheel moving so fast.
If the flywheel theory makes perfect sense to you, you may already own the title of Chief Buzzkill on your team. While everyone else is falling in love with the latest new idea, you’re shooting holes in it.
Stick with it.
This shiny new idea, as James Chartrand describes here, will own you if you let it. Like a faceted rubber ball ricocheting off its own energy, the dynamics and enthusiasm of your team for this shiny new thing can be difficult to rein in. Before you spend too much time on it, make sure this NBR is a genuine contribution to the overall goal, and not just a diversion from work that’s lost its luster. Failed sparks of genius take a huge toll on a business (in time, energy and motivation) if they don’t produce results.
If you’ve listened and qualified a particularly good idea, maybe you’ve decided that you really do have an idea worth exploring. The next step is deciding how to move in on it. Will you pounce or will you quietly sneak up on it? Maybe you’ll get some outside help to research or establish preliminary steps.
When you do decide to take action and build on it, make sure it contributes to your core competencies, your talents and skills. You don’t want to undo work that got you this far by chasing something new.
With the responsibility to edit your life and business to ensure progress, comes responsibility for your own happiness. If you try to fit thirteen hours of joy into eight hours, you’ll make yourself miserable.
If you chase after every creative jot and wiggle your brilliant mind can dream up you may satisfy that inner creator who always likes to feel busy, but you’ll also feel like you’re always missing something just out of reach. (I know this because I’m all to familiar with this tendency.) The only thing you’ll really be missing is the opportunity to grow and develop a sense of purpose that’s the hallmark of a well-lived life.
If the grass is always greener, go peek over that fence over there. It has bare patches and weeds, maybe even more than your own patch of sod. What a relief, then, to get back to your real business at hand and build it big. Build it steadily, one revolution at a time.