One Wing Effort, One Wing Grace
Be careful what you wish for was what I was thinking as the group I’m currently working with was assigned the task of coming up with a whole lotta new ways of doing business in a short amount of time. Like, a hundred or so new ways. And have it done in about a day or two. So, I’ll just be really honest here and say the perfectionist in me was solidly freaking out. With little background in business (ok, I dabbled in social enterprise once upon a time) I did my usual routine when I’m lost-at-sea and that’s to hit the books! I speed-read and inhaled the first half of the Business Model Generation book all the while taking notes and hoping for a miracle.
And then a miracle showed up.
I spat my first idea into a shared goolgledoc and that first idea was fun! And another idea came up, and another. I was through the sticky resistance and I was loving it. I worked with my team, riffing on each others ideas all the while sharing in the hilarity of being unconstrained in our thinking and building off one another’s half-baked initial offerings.
So then as this project washes up I’ve been encouraged to reflect on how I approached this whole thing in the first place. What was it that made me switch automatically into “homework mode” and decide, sub-consciously, that I should first be a good boy and attend to the assigned reading?
First thing to say is that I’ve definitely had a lengthy apprenticeship in — and have been rewarded professionally and personally — for showing up well prepared. And I work in an industry that prides itself on preparation to the Nth degree, and in my current role I stress preparation to all of our students! So part of this reflection for me is around integrating the two views of a) putting in your groundwork, and b) relaxing the reins a bit and letting things play out.
First. I think there’s something tremendously useful for me about getting in prep around the background context of the project you’re working on. A psychology professor of mine used to really stress the combinatorial process of creativity, where the more random ideas you have smashing about in your sub-conscious, the more likely you are to come up with some lightbulbs. This has always been true of my experience.
So I think getting myself a relevant background understanding, especially a useful framework, is super important, because it sets the stage for the random interactions to follow. But, if we scratch away a little more honestly, there’s also something else going on in here too. The preparation I do is helpful to ameliorate my anxiety around potentially showing up with nothing to offer my team. And importantly, the potential shame I’d feel if I turned up empty handed when I could have just worked a little bit harder to be in a better position to contribute. I can point to stinging times in my history where this has been true for me. Again, where I come from, the motto is “Service before Self”. You put in the prep work because your buddies are relying on you.
What would have happened if I hadn’t put in the extra reading I did before hand? Nothing too much dissimilar to what did happen! I still would have come up with ideas. Some of them may not have been that good. Some of them might have been better! It all would have been fine.
So to the second point then. Just relax! There’s never, ever, going to be a way of getting everything 100% sorted. This is an area I need to constantly remind myself of Mr-Perfectionist-Me. But I can tell you that I felt in my bones the point where I had read enough of the Business Book to be like “ahh ok yep now I get it” and I was ready to completely set aside the rest of the book (about half of it) to launch into the idea riffing stage. And I was away in fits of laughter after that, and I even surprised myself how much fun it was.
There’s a favorite saying I’ve mentally bookmarked from the meditation-contemplative-tradition a wise friend once told me:
“One wing effort. One wing grace.”
I love that, and it’s a line for me to constantly remind myself to live by. Do what you can, then let the rest go!