I have learned over many years that launching products is really hard. Actually, it's more broad than products: completing anything is really difficult. The closer you get to the finish line, it seems more obstacles pop up and get in the way. These obstacles can, and do, convince all but the most tenacious to give up. Giving up is a personal defeat and, obviously, I want to keep going. I know that I can force myself to take a few more steps but doing so risks health, relationships, and livelihood. A death march isn't good enough for me.
I believe that we all want to want to do something meaningful, important, and impactful. Aside from our own bad habits, the world tends to put a lot of challenges in our way. How do I keep going? I ask myself this everyday, especially when things are going well. Sometimes the answer is to ensure I'm moving in the right direction, and other days the answer is to make sure I'm not burning myself out. I've noticed that the difference between a good day and a bad day is one simple thing: Perspective.
Obstacles are rarely created spontaneously. Sometimes they can be subtle but most often they are easily observed if only we were to look. We tend to wait until they fester long enough to feel truly insurmountable. Practicing the art of managed perspective allows us to notice things we would otherwise ignore (deliberately or not). When there is an obstacle in our path, perspective again helps us in profound ways. Every obstacle creates a space to learn learn; where there is knowledge to be gained, there is an opportunity to seize.
This perspective management seems obvious but that doesn't make it easy to implement. In fact, it is extremely difficult to maintain. I'm certainly not the first advocate of managed perspective (something about lemons, life, and lemonade). However, I can share a technique (full disclaimer: not my idea) that I've been using with success. This technique requires believing in two fundamental concepts:
- Perspective is malleable.
- Obstacles can be transformed.
As with most things of importance, it starts with a moment of contemplation, a pen and paper (or spreadsheet, don't call me a luddite, please.), and a deep breath.
Obstacle, Strategy, Opportunity.
I really love ideas that can be packaged up into meaningful, easy to understand initialisms. This is the inverse of S.O.S., because we're going to be just fine. Obstacle, Strategy, Opportunity. This is not about being successful, but to stay motivated and push things to completion without a death march.
Step 1: Identify the Obstacle
The first step is to write out the obstacle that you feel is blocking you. This step is very important, because often times we fail to clarify exactly what the obstacle is. It may be uncomfortable to look intently at the very thing blocking your path. Without that experience we will never understand what is stopping us. The enemy of transforming obstacles into opportunities is insufficient clarity. Identifying the obstacle in full means this we fully understand it. It's good to sit down and explain the obstacle to the best listener available.
Step 2: Develop a Strategy
Don't get elaborate. The strategy should be the minimum viable strategy that could result in success, but most importantly should focus on learning. It is ok if the strategy ultimately isn't successful as long as there is learning. Some of the best inventions of our time originated from failure, rather than success. Vulcanized rubber was a terrible mistake which turned into practically a new industry. The strategy must involve staying observant and focusing on learning as much as possible. The opportunity does not come from overcoming the obstacle, but learning about the situation and environment.
Step 3: Explore Opportunities
The place we all want to be is the land of Opportunity. Certainly to overcome any obstacle requires intrinsic motivation, and what is more motivating than an opportunity. Combine that focus with a belief we can overcome (thanks to a good strategy), and a deep understanding of the obstacle. Suddenly everything becomes possible. In some cases, you may find the obstacle isn't even worth tackling because the same opportunity could be found elsewhere.
The greatest inventors and thinkers through history constantly made mistakes and failed, yet in the end they succeeded because each failure provided more information and new opportunities. Eventually the obstacles crumbled or became irrelevant.
If you remember you will be fine, you will be.
Photo courtesy Flickr user Larry W. Lo