“Dive in and figure it out”
Let me start this essay with an admission; I love working with friends and I have had the pleasure to work with my good friend Cathy across a number of roles and companies over the past 19 years, what a treat! Cathy works with me today as I am building my consulting practice and I always count on her as a trusted adviser, work partner, and close friend. The following story comes from a “run of the mill” interaction from earlier this summer.
I have been doing a lot of speeches and presentations over the past few months, and I have been “re-sharpening” my PowerPoint (PPT) skills in the process. While I am nothing more than a novice, the presentations are pretty functional and have been well received. To see a little more about that, take a look at the “Public Speaking” section of my website, www.levisayconsulting.com. I was in the middle of working on a revision for an upcoming speech a few weeks back and I hit a proverbial “pothole” in the process. I had a PDF version of a document that I had used for another consulting assignment, and I wanted/needed to incorporate a few pages into the PowerPoint speech template. While stumped at the limit of my PowerPoint skills, I immediately called Cathy looking for help.
After a brief explanation of my dilemma, she asked me to send over the PDF doc and she would take it from there. When I asked her how she was going to do the PDF-> PPT conversion, she was open to say that she didn't know but that she would “dive in and figure it out.” “Dive in “ she did and a bit later that day, the PDF was part of the PPT presentation and the speech when off with great success. While the speech has come and gone, Cathy’s quick response, and that spirit of “learning by doing” has stuck with me over the past few weeks.
So often we are intimidated by starting new things, craving to be immediately competent/proficient at some new skill/technology without putting in the time to “dive in and figure it out.” Think outside the work world for a second and imagine that you wanted to learn to play the piano, or take on the challenge of learning a new language. While tempting to think that you could sit down at the keys and play Chopin or Debussy in your first sitting, the reality is that you would start by sitting at the piano and learning individual notes, practicing scales, learning to read music, etc. The simple truth is that competency/proficiency take time, and that road requires work and time. Malcolm Gladwell is famously quoted in his book Outliers that "an extraordinarily consistent answer in an incredible number of fields ... you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good." While I am not here to debate the specifics of the “10,000 hour rule,” I do want to suggest that success takes work and excellence takes practice, and that it all starts by taking Cathy’s advice to “dive in and figure it out.”
Think about the challenges/opportunities that you are facing today in your professional or personal lives. Rather than wishing/hoping for some quick fix or easy path to success, my advice is to get busy “starting.” It may be messy, it may sound a bit out of tune, it may not go well at first, but you have to start somewhere! To close with the famous quote of Goethe, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.“