What’s stopping you from doing it? Is it money? Time? Is there some class you need to take first, or some kind of equipment you need? It seems like everyone we know has a dream or a business idea, but precious few seem to execute the ideas and make the millions they think that idea is worth. I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone at points in my life; but what is it that stops us from pursuing the grand visions in our hearts and heads?
It’s Not A Lack Of Tools
I regularly marvel at the fact that we actually accomplish so little given what is available right at our fingertips. I sometimes think that maybe it’s the VERY AVAILABILITY of these tools that prevents us from doing things. I’m going to use a few examples, ranging from the small and personal to the grand and history-making.
The Small & Personal: My Magazine
Ever since I was a teen (before personal computers even existed) I’ve had a sort of fantasy about publishing a magazine. I mean a real, turn-the-pages, high quality magazine. I’ve realized a less-tangible version of that dream in creating sites like the one you’re on right now, or my pop culture site Dissociated Press. But the funny thing is that the only time I created a real, physical publication was way before I had all the amazingly powerful tools that are right inside the average personal computer these days. In the 80′s, I did a short run of a self-published magazine with a few friends. We used dry transfer letters, cut-and-paste, and TYPEWRITERS! It actually didn’t look too shabby. We would print it at the local copy shop and hand-assemble it. And I would argue that the challenge of thinking it wasn’t possible is what drove us to actually do it! Meeting and arguing about layout and content, having to actually MAKE SOMETHING WITH OUR HANDS really put a special spin on it. I could open Creative Suite 5 right now and get to work on a new magazine, and in spite of the fact that I could actually create a print-ready publication, the process would feel empty, and distant, and theoretical. And I’m probably not going to do it any time soon.
The Grand & History Making
Two amazing things happened back in the sixties. One was that a lot of people suddenly sensed that something was wrong in our culture. That people should be treated more equally, and that maybe we needed to be a little more responsible to the world around us, and our fellow humans. The other was that someone pointed at the moon, and said “let’s go there!”, and for some crazy reason a bunch of other people agreed. So a civil rights movement was born, with no Internet, no cell phones – hell, no PHONES in many cases, and around the same time, a bunch of people got together and built a bunch of 300 foot tall rockets to send men to the moon, three at a time. Can you imagine either of those things happening today?
As the humorous internet meme featured above points out, available technology seems to have little impact one’s actual desire to DO something. I would argue the same about other momentous and brave acts through history. GPS is available all over the world. The “G” is for “global”, in case you forgot. Can you imagine what Magellan’s journey was actually like? No electronic navigation, no idea what weather lay ahead, no ENGINE for cryin’ out loud! Heck, before Magellan, that whole “globe” issue was still a hotly debated topic itself. Or the Declaration of Independence? Setting pen to paper – when a “pen” was a fancy stick that you dipped in ink and used to scratch words onto animal skin – was a far different process in those days. It’s pretty likely that you had put some thought into things before you bothered creating an actual document. Can you imagine the founding fathers hunched over Microsoft Word 76, typing, deleting, trying to get the typeface right, with Clippy popping up saying “You appear to be trying to write a declaration of independence, would you like help with that?”
So What Is It That Really Makes Things Happen?
I’m going to take a stab at this, and then turn around and see if anything I’m pursuing passes muster. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts; when I’m done with THAT assessment I might have lots of time on my hands to post and review your ideas.
Vision vs Seeing
If you just look at the moon, and say “wow, that is really beautiful”, that’s kind of a nice thing. But there’s no vision in just seeing. Vision would be “That is really beautiful! I must paint a tribute to it!” or “That is an amazing recurring sight in the sky! I must erect Stonehenge!” or “Wow, that looks amazing! I think I will go there!” Seeing a problem or a possibility is hardly the same as DOING something about it, and the impetus to act usually comes from a vision. A dream. A hoped for outcome that is larger than simply accomplishing the original task. As in the case of a civil rights movement, where the real dream was a better world MADE POSSIBLE by equality, not simply creating equality for its own sake.
I would argue that intrinsic to many truly worthwhile ventures is a significant – if not insurmountable – challenge. Sure, you know that if you REALLY WANTED to, you could use email, Twitter, Facebook, and direct mail to launch a product or promote an idea. But will you? Even a lot of people who really aggressively put these ideas to work fail. But what if you found out your child or other loved one was going to die within 30 days, and the only way they could be saved is if you raised enough money for a special procedure. I bet you’d take all this knowledge and MAKE IT WORK. Or figure out an even more clever way to achieve your goal. Illumination without fire? IMPOSSIBLE! Human flight? IMPOSSIBLE! Cure Polio? IMPOSSIBLE! The list of things that were achieved exactly because they were impossible is quite lengthy. What’s the challenge in your dream? Is there one? If there isn’t, what will drive you to realize such a dream?
Planning, Passion, Purpose & Persistence
Planning things can be critical to making things happen, but plans are useless without the other three “P” words above. The “purpose” of going to the moon was probably not just to study the place, grab a few rocks and come back with them. Arguably the greater “purpose” was a massive proof of concept of two globally competing ideologies, i.e., capitalism and communism. The fact that human values seemed to be at stake imbued the venture with a sense of purpose, and gave participants the passion and persistence necessary to achieve the goal. Do you know the root of the word “passion”? It’s from the Late Latin word “passio”, which means “suffering” and “submission”. If you’ve ever passionately pursued something, you know that being passionate doesn’t mean you’re just intensely drawn to something, it means you’re willing to suffer for it. There are reasons that people have an almost religious relationship with the products of companies like Apple. Sure, the company is fundamentally driven by the same motives as other tech companies, but the reason the iPad is the iPad and other tablets are still just tablets is largely because of the passion and sense of purpose the creators embodied. Aside from the intense commitment to excellence that Steve Jobs imbued in his underlings, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad weren’t just refined versions of existing devices or concepts, they had visions of a greater purpose that drove them far beyond the hardware. They were all tools for massively distributing content and applications that people were hungry for, something other tablet makers still don’t seem to have grasped, except perhaps in the case of the Kindle.
So as I said above, feel free to chime in. Unless I can actually apply all these ideas to my OWN ventures and not scrub them the same day, I’m going to have a lot of leisure time soon.