From early 2007 through about February of this year, I ran an online charity group called Homespun Helpers. The idea was that people could make whatever they wanted, from baked goods to crocheted baby bonnets. They could donate to any charity they wanted. All you had to do was post a picture of the items to our Livejournal community blog, tell us where the items were going, and then I’d keep a running tally. Over the period of the group, we donated about 7,000 items to all kinds of charities all around the world. The idea really had me thinking all the time, and I had all sorts of grandiose ideas that I would bounce off my poor, defenseless friends. One day I called a friend with this ridiculously complex concept (I can’t even remember what it was now). She stopped me. “Do you know how to do this part of this step?” “No.” “Well, do you know how to do this this and this?” “Um…no.” “Maybe you should rethink this?” “Maybe.”
Sometimes, I wonder if I have really shaken the temptation of trying to run before learning how to crawl, then wobble, then walk. For example, I’m out here in my blog world offering marketing advice in a lot of my posts. Should I be? I have never worked for or with a Fortune 500 company. I don’t have a story about how I took a little start-up and made it into a Fortune 500 Company. I’m okay with the fact that I haven’t become a power house. I’ve been at this for less than a decade. But should I be blogging from the vantage point of someone who knows stuff? Maybe not. Maybe I’m trying to run before I really know how to walk.
Lots of runners
In a lot of the conversations I have with people in the Social Media world, it seems like this problem of rushing is a bug that bothers many individuals and companies. Last night during #custserv, for example, someone mentioned that companies are training their CSRs to do live chats before the people have really mastered the phones. Companies are rushing into Social Media saying, “Oh, it’s gonna be great, we’re gonna sign up for Twitter, we’re gonna end up with 5,000 followers in the first day, we’re gonna convert 3500 into customers by day 3, and it’s just going to EXPLODE from there!”
Well, as many of us know (and you don’t have to be around for very long to learn this) that kind of thinking tends most often to lead to Heartbreak Hotel. That, in turn, can lead to ongoing feelings of failure and discouragement. Really it shouldn’t though! It’s just that we’re all trying to get to the top as soon as we can so that we can then….what? Set a new standard? Buy a house in the mountains? What are we rushing for?
Enjoy the bumps and bruises of learning
Learning can be ugly sometimes. When little kids are learning how to walk, they often fall down, then bump their heads on the table as they try to get up. Learning how to ride a bike without training wheels can be pure torture. Falling down over and over on the driveway is hardly enjoyable. Few things are more stressful than learning how to drive. But we do all of those things because we know that the pay-off will be worth it eventually. It takes a lot of time to learn how to walk,then to run, then to skip and hop and jump, but we keep at it without even knowing what we’re doing. We keep trying to figure out bike riding because we envision ourselves riding through beautiful forests and up steep mountain trails. We go through the sheer terror of learning how to drive because we know the independence that comes with that skill.
Why should our work be any different? Learning how to use Social Media may seem really boring compared with all of the case studies you see about how this or that company became ruler of the world by making 1 tweet. But it’s worth it to learn how to do it right, isn’t it? Writing an e-book sounds like a lot of fun if you compare it to reading 5,000,000 blog posts and 2,000,000 books, but imagine how much more skillful and knowledgeable you’ll be if you just give yourself time!
The pot on the stove is bubbling
Keeping ambition in check is hard, especially when it feels, if you believe the stories out there, that you are in a horse-drawn carriage at the Indianapolis 500. However, I think it’s essential to keep that ambition tied to the anchor of reality. I am trying to learn everything I can so that I don’t take steps backwards. I am leaving myself a trail of breadcrumbs so I don’t get lost on my way to the giant house made of candy. I am enjoying the journey. I view it like the process involved in making, say, mashed potatoes. You put the taters in a pot of water, and at first you are just trying to get the water bubbling. But slowly and surely, the boiling really starts to go to town, and all of a sudden your pot lid is on the ceiling, defying gravity momentarily.
Do you find that you or your company try to run before you know how to walk? Do you jump into things reaching for the heights before you look to see what you’re jumping into? Tell me your perspective. I’d love to hear it.
1st Image by clifford shirley. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/fotomedia
2nd Image Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/roxinasz