Last week, I wrote about an experience I had with Bob Taylor that reminded me of the importance of diving in and making more bad stuff in the name of figuring out how to make good stuff faster.
A lot of heads nodded along in the comments, then TomC chimed in with a comment that you could just tell was driven by a lot of pain and spoke to a very real dilemma. For ease of reading, here it is again:
“Tough to make mistakes when they cost money to make. I, at times, am petrified into complete inaction because I know that the $10 or $20 or $500 is money I cannot afford to lose. Right now, I am trying to buy a domain name. Simple right? Well, first there is the $10 for the name and then the hosting and then the time to create the site and then the time to promote the sight and try to get a top ranking… but what if the name that I choose isn’t the right name? And this applies to a lot of stuff… like what if the copy I write is wrong for this product? Do I still order the brochures… or booklets.
When you don’t have a dime, making mistakes can completely crush you. Then you have to somehow pick yourself up and do it again. It’s a panic attack waiting to happen, all because the $100 you spent on something means that now you have a late payment fee on your credit card which bumped you over your limit… now the mistake has cost you $70 in fees plus the $100 a week of lost work and NO income… and now your wife is furious because you keep trying.
If you can afford to make them, make them… if you can’t afford to make them… What? Wait until you can? Or make them anyway and be prepared for the consequences?
I have the same trouble with self help gurus telling me that the most successful people make fast decisions… I assume that leads to a lot of mistakes. I can’t afford to make fast decisions either… and then the self help guru says coyly… “You can’t afford NOT to fast decisions”. Ughhh
Perhaps writing this was a mistake.”
He brings up a great question. It’s a whole lot easier to take risks, spend time and money needed to get to a place where you’ve figured out how to create amazing things when you’ve got the time and money to spend.
But what if you don’t?
What if every hour spent chancing failure is an hour you currently need to earn the money to pay your rent and keep your family intact? Then what?
In the self-help world, it’s become vogue to offer some variation of “you can’t afford not to do this, so dive in and let the chips fall where they need to.” That’ a pretty tough pill to swallow. I agree, there is a certain amount of irrational catastrophizing that can ride along with the process of risking action and failure. And that needs to be dealt with. In fact, I speak to much of it in my 2010 TEDx talk and my next book.
But there are also a lot of practical “on the ground” alternative ways to pursue a craft, goal or process that can make it more humane.
Let’s start with a bit of a reframe. First, making bad stuff is not the same thing as making mistakes. Nobody sets out to make anything poorly, we all strive to hit homeruns on the first try. But in the learning stages, it rarely works that way.
With rare exception, you’ve got to make a bunch of bad stuff in order to build the knowledge and skills to have the ability to make good stuff. So, it’s important to reframe making bad stuff not as a foolish, high-risk pursuit, but rather a necessary part of any quest to position yourself with enough skills and mastery to generate enough joy and/or money to consistently have your effort return way more than your investment.
When you start from this place, it helps frame what you’re doing and why in a way that makes it a lot more palatable. Still, money and opportunity cost can be a huge issue.
So what else can you do?
1. Make more bad stuff on someone else’s dime – Many fields have some variety of either paid or unpaid internships. These can be great ways to start taking action under the guidance of someone with expertise who’s in a position to accelerate your journey and will essentially underwrite your bad stuff. Sometimes you’ll even get paid a bit of money while learning.
And if there are no paid or free internships available, see if you can create your own, find people whose wings you’d like to operate under and ask if you can help them in exchange for the opportunity to learn.
2. Make more “virtual” bad stuff – Instead of spending the money needed to go through the iterations needed to get good at something in real life, see if there’s a way to do a bunch of that either for little or no money online. Are there online tools, forums, training sites, videos, classes that would allow you to either learn your process or give you enough of a knowledge or skill foundation so that once you finally had to make the leap and spend a bit more time or money, you were in a position to start making good stuff a lot faster.
I test product and copy ideas all the time in social media, in the form of quotes, posts, surveys, questions or even sample copy. Or I create a smaller, more discrete group of digital compatriots that allow me to learn and test very quickly and for no money. That allows me to hone ideas, marketing and copy before I ever have to invest more time and money to make, sell or distribute an actual product. If learning without spending money is a priority, there are a lot of ways to do it (or spend very little) by tapping the online world.
3. Make more bad stuff as a group – Find a group of likeminded people who are interested in learning the same thing as you and form a group to share the burden and costs of the learning process.
4. Make someone else’s good stuff as a stopgap – Study someone else’d proven methodology as a tool to accelerate the path to a level of competence that will allow you to make good stuff more quickly, albeit via someone else’s process. Then once you’re enough in the black to be able to take more risks and make more bad stuff in the name of learning and creating on a deeper level, begin that process as phase 2 of the journey.
I’m sure there are many other ideas and approaches that can help relieve the burden of making the bad stuff needed to get to the good stuff. And I don’t mean to make light of the challenge of going through a learning process where there is some cost involved when you’re already having trouble making ends meet.
If there’s no way to avoid spending a bit of money and allocating the full monty of time needed to learn what you want to learn, then adopt a far more deliberate process that allows you to set aside what you need with the understanding that it will require a bunch of bad stuff to be created and it may take you months or years longer than someone else with more resources available to them.
And in the interim, do as much gratis learning online or through internship or even observation in an effort to get the most out of those moments when you finally do have to drop some time and money.
Curious, what do you think?
These are just a few ideas, but you guys are way smarter than I.
Have anything to share?
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