I have been head down the past two weeks. Back to reading, back to designing, back to social mapping, back to advising and consulting - and enjoying it all. I tend to focus my support for companies and people on identifying opportunities rather than barriers. Partly because experience has taught me that you cant embrace opportunity and defeat at the same time, as much as you may want to think you can hold those two emotions at the same time, you can’t – so don’t even try. Most people spend too much time thinking about their defeat, the competition, and the barriers to opportunity and let it define their path forward. They worry about the startup halfway across the world that has the same half idea, or the colleague in the next office who is outselling them. They think the field is too crowded and they wont stand out, so they don’t even try. They quit or get beat, usually they beat themselves. The reality is, the field is usually wide open, because everyone else is worried about each other, quits, or doesn’t even try - you just have to put in a little bit of the right work.
As much as I want others to succeed at their venture, their dream, their idea, what have you, they have to make the decision to do it. Unfortunately, the first decision most companies, entrepreneurs, and people starting out on something new make is to map the field and then copy people who are doing something that is working, trying to keep up. Or, they focus on the people who are in the crowded space trying to understand what isn’t being done yet so that they can try that – even if they have no idea what that is and don’t believe in it when they figure it out. Even worse, is when companies look at the competition and try to focus on all their efforts on cutting them off instead of building their product the way they believe it should be built.
The result: poorly built products and services, unhappy clients, lack of clients, and lack of progress. They look around and wonder “Wait, we built it, its good why isn’t anyone using it?” or “How come we can’t move forward, we can’t make progress and are seeing no results.”
I’ll tell you why: You spent more time focusing on your competition than you yourself. If you care so much about what they are doing and how what they are building is better – go help them build it, because you will get nowhere with your own product. You didn’t focus on your audience, your customers, and what they wanted – you built a product defined against your competition, not as a reflection of your values or your customers needs. Keep in mind, it isn’t just sartups and individual brands who fall victim to this, large companies do it to, politicians do it too, even actors and musicians. If you try to be something you are not, try to copy someone you are not, and fail at achieving what you desired – it’s pretty obvious why.
I found myself saying one thing over and over this past month:
“You can either clear the field or run down the field. You can’t do both.”
The irony of this analogy is, if you actually do succeed in clearing the field, you still have to run down the field at some point if you want to win. Why not just start by running. Focus on running down the field, with better technique, greater speed, and a fervor that brings fear to anyone who stands in your way. If you aren’t strong enough yet, hit the gym – do your pushups, focus on fundamentals – then start running. Let someone else worry about trying to stop you, let them look over their shoulder, and let them call an audible on their game. Your job is clear, get down the field - there will be other people out there doing the blocking, you just run down the field.
To make it simple I’m going to stop telling you what you shouldn’t do and start telling you what you should do:
1. Identify what you believe (why you do what you do).
2. Identify what you want to build.
4. Define each teammate’s role and let each do what they do best.
5. Start running down the field, building your product, your brand, your idea.
6. Keep your head up and see the field, seize opportunities.
7. If someone is trying to tackle you, run past or through them, don’t turn back.
8. If you get hit, get up and do it again, learning from what you did wrong.
9. Run down the field.
Remember you are on offense, play like it, and let your team all fill in the roles accordingly – you run down the field - the blockers will take care of the rest.