Friday, September 17, 2010

Break It Big!

A couple of weeks ago, I spent the day reviewing marketing materials for a company that I've been helping. My goal was to quickly understand what was working, what wasn't, what would be required to work, and how to get there. As I talked with people, it became clear that the answers were not that hard to find. In fact, most everyone I talked to knew what they were. However, even knowing what was required, it seemed next to impossible for anyone to act upon it.

The problem was simply that the solution required a significant departure from the status quo. Why is that a problem? Well, it's okay to make mistakes when you're operating within the boundaries of what is considered to be normal or reasonable or sane. You can always attribute failure to luck of the draw or trying to follow orders. However, when you step out of bounds, well, then... IT'S YOUR FAULT! So, better to stay in bounds.

The problem with staying in bounds is that it's highly unlikely ever to achieve a breakthrough while being careful not to break out. Pretty straight forward, but here's where it get's kinda pitiful: there are times when you know exactly what to do, clear as day, and yet, you hesitate, because exactly-what-to-do would be way out of bounds. So... you have choice.
  1. Ignore what you know to do and stay in bounds.
  2. Slowly creep up to the boundary (and beyond) hoping that no one notices and quickly retreating anytime you get an inkling that someone might
  3. Forget about the boundaries and break out
The marketing folks I'd been talking to were clearly pursuing the second strategy. They knew it was time to do something really different. They wanted to do something really different. However, they were afraid to do something really different. So, instead, they flirted with things really different being careful to stay in bounds.

Coloring in the Lines
Over the years, I've played with some truly amazing musicians, several of whom have gone on to be successful studio session players in places like Nashville and New York. These guys can play anything you want in any style perfectly on the very first take. It's remarkable.

I was sitting with one of my session playing friends a while back and he pulled out a recording that he and a group of fellow session players had produced. It was an instrumental album of original jazz compositions with lots of improvisation. As I listened to it, I was taken by its perfection. The timing was like clockwork. The pitch was dead-on. The inflections and nuances were all that they should be. It was a perfect recording. And it was really boring.

And then it occurred to me that these guys are all so good that they can easily make an impressive recording that is flawless while staying comfortably in the boundaries of their skill set. They were all coloring within the lines. However, museums are not lined with images that were flawlessly executed by experts staying in their comfort zones. They're lined with images that broke boundaries. Images that changed everything.

In or Out
The crazy thing is that the more important we make something, the less likely it is that we'll ever do something really important. Instead of breaking out, we hunker down. We hold our positions. We play it safe. We play not to lose. However, anything truly new. Anything that changes the game. Anything worth doing (in my opinion) involves breaking out of our conventions and comfort zones, trying something, falling down, getting up, and trying again... and again... and again...

So seeing as you're going to fail anyway, you might as well fail big-time, fail in a way that provides the greatest opportunity for learning from your failure. If you're going to break it, break it big!

So, where are the opportunities in your life where you're carefully inching up to the edge hoping that no one will notice? What are the situations where you know what to do, but where you're not doing it because it would be out-of-bounds? In which activities have you made success so important that being boring perfectly is more important than being interesting imperfectly? Where are you ready to break it big?

Happy Friday,

1 comment:

  1. WOW! I could have 5 dialogues from the flood of thoughts from this post. Especially in light of many recent conversations I have been having... Reading this was very re-orienting. Thanks so much!


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