They’re not, actually.* For most days when no one is paying attention they’re usually right.
The thing is, we only pay attention when the stakes are high (“BIG STORM COMING!!” or when we’re planning for a vacation) and then when the forecast is wrong we remember that, hang on to it, and share stories about that day we prepped for the storm, canceled a meeting, stayed home from work…and the storm didn’t come.
Sure, sensationalist weathermen competing for viewer eyeballs play into this, so it’s fun to have them be the scapegoats. But that’s not the point. The point is that people may talk louder about your failures than they do about your successes; or, worse, the naysayers speak up first and loudest, just when you’re getting going. That’s the risk in showing up every day and putting yourself out there.
Don’t let the fact that the critics talk – sometimes loudly – become an excuse for you not to show up in the first place.
* * * * * *
*NOTE: here’s the chart (original analysis here) on the accuracy of weather forecasts. If forecasts were 100% accurate, the solid blue line would lie directly on top of the dashed line. Pretty accurate, actually.
If you’re advocating for a shift, a new initiative that you’re pushing for from below, it helps to know what signs to look for (or not look for) as you gauge your progress.
In the beginning, any kind of new anything that’s not driven from the top will look like it’s not going anywhere. With this knowledge in hand, it’s a lot easier not to give up.
Change from below can follow two paths, not three:
- You toil away at an idea that the organization never ends up supporting or adopting (or you give up before it does)
- You toil away at an idea, garner support and evidence and early wins, and the idea takes off
It’s 3 that gets us into trouble….the unstated assumption that if something’s going to get somewhere tomorrow we’ll see significant progress today in terms of the support we’re getting (funding, encouragement, approvals) and the external indicators of success. Carrying this mental model around is the best way to ensure that you give up just when things are about to turn your way.
(by the way, the same thinking can be applied to work/salary/promotions, which often follow a step-change pattern when, of course, skills and responsibilities grow in a much more continuous way.)
It’s so, so easy to look all around for advice – to ask people who have done this before, who have more experience, who appear more qualified.
And you should get this advice. You should research. You should dive deep into all of the tacks you can take.
But don’t forget to ask – and give credence to – the most important person of all: you. YOU are the person gathering the information, you are the person on the front lines, you are the one seeing the whole picture, you are the one whose opinion matters the most.
There’s a fine line between asking what others think and being too concerned about making them happy – to your/your work’s determent. Remember, getting where you need to get isn’t the same thing as making your superiors/peers happy every step of the way.
So, WWYD – What would YOU do?
We have to give ourselves credit – we don’t hide from the hard, scary things in obvious ways. We get creative, and do things that look similar enough to important stuff that we can fool ourselves. For example:
- Yesterday I needed to call someone to have a “fish or cut bait” (that is, are you in or are you out?) conversation. I calendared it and everything (for me, not for him). But the calendar reminder came and went, and I kept on doing the “important work” I’d been doing. Tick, tick, tick….it took a while for me to stand up, walk away from my computer and make the call. I was probably busier and more productive in those minutes when I was putting off the call than I’d been all day long!
- The other day I was talking to the founder of a smart new nonprofit. He’s trying to get 150 institutions of higher learning to make a substantial change in their curriculum. Right now, for various reasons, he’s focused on getting 1 million signatures to an online petition as ammunition for those meetings (so far he has 8,000 signatures). Sure, the signatures will help, but why not call the 150 schools right now and talk to them? Why not commit to calling the first 10 this week? The strategies can (and will) be complementary, but it also will be easy for him to spend so much time focusing on the 1 million that the 150 (which is the real, harder goal) fades to black.
These are just two of many examples. We see this every day – we build our websites before we have any customers and hire staff before we have any clients – not because we don’t know what the real work is but precisely because the real work is so much harder, and being busy with stuff that looks a lot like the real work is a wonderful way to hide.
You only get to be first once, of course.
By now you’ve see these Old Spice YouTube videos. They are hilarious, Saturday Night Live skit-worthy comedy in 30 second spots put up in real time on YouTube in response to Tweets. To promote Old Spice!!
The agency producing them, Wieden+Kennedy, has been shooting nearly 100 of these a day, and everyone is talking about them. Google’s CFO just mentioned the ads on an earnings call, calling it “a glimpse of where the world is going.”
(Full backstory here, including 6 of the videos.)
You can’t plan for this kind of thing. It’s not like the folks at Wieden+Kennedy and the team at P&G said, as they were doing the TV commercials: “So if these things are wildly popular and they start exploding through social media, should we be ready to film 100 mini-commercials a day and throw them up on YouTube, without approval from all the people whose job it is to say no to this kind of thing?”
No, that’s not what happened.
What happened is that they created a system that was designed to move and to say yes, built on trust. The people whose job it was to dumb it down and mediocre it out either spoke their peace early on or got out of the way.
So they come in first.
On the days I don’t write posts, it seems just about impossible that I have a post in me.
On the days that I do write posts, I write them.
This means one of two things:
- I underestimate what is possible
- I accomplish the impossible on a regular basis
Pretty sure both of those are true.
(mind-bending side note: I wrote this post on a day I never write posts. What does that mean?)