First Days

The walk to school this crisp morning involved little girls dressed in some very stylish ballerina-style sequined skirts, incredibly crisp white shirts with clean new shoes, and a palpable exuberance. Kids who were grunting at each other at the end of last year were hugging with joy at their reunion.

But besides those few moments, the kids and teachers got down to business. There was no celebration, or pomp and circumstance. There was work to be done, ground rules were established, and a routine set.

My son was a bit excited; yet, at the same time, he was anxious. He knows that he’s going to be asked to do more then he knows to do today. He will be challenged. He will learn a new pecking order with his new classmates. He will have discomfort. He will not know. And he’ll fail on the path to success. He knows it means the leisurely pace of summer ends, and a schedule starts. Yet, none of that slowed him down today. I wonder if there’s a lesson in the first days of school, for all of us.

I’m about to start on a new book. While I’ve had some new exciting commitments recently, which could be the named source of my distraction, the biggest thing slowing me down is that I want it to be done-already. The book I imagine today needs editorial guidance to make sure it meets a real market need. I’ll be asked to pitch it, and then refine it … multiple times. Of course, there’s a ton of work involved in gathering ideas, and doing research, and of course, actually writing (and writing, and rewriting and editing, etc). It’s going to require me to get to work, and to establish a routine and schedule to focus efforts.

We celebrate graduations, but not the start of school. We hail company exits but anguish when friends decide to be entrepreneurs. We base valuations of public companies based on the operational performance of today’s business, but we rarely have visibility (or question) whether the company is investing enough for the future.

The start of something new is just that: a start. The future is unclear because it is a work in progress. The book I’m talking about today may never make it off the ground, or it may turn out to be a less-than-successful-endeavor. I might need to put down this idea, and move onto another, stronger one. What your start looks like for you is going to look different, of course. The business you’re raising money for will have its idea change 10 times before it finally gets a check (if you’re lucky to get a check). The growth ideas you’re incubating to grow into an adjacent market will not be deployed easily because it’ll require changes in how things work today. That’s no excuse.

We know what happens if we don’t start. We won’t make progress. We don’t know what’ll happen if we do start…not really.  But our job is to disrupt ourselves as my friend Whitney Johnson writes about so well today on the Harvard Biz Review blog. All we know, really, is that it is each of our jobs to do: to have a vision for where are going, and then to actually do the work in the small micro-action ways every innovator does their work.  The graduations, or company exits, and stock performance uplifts happen long after we’ve establish that routine and rules, and gotten to work.  I may not have a fancy shmancy ballerina-style sequined skirt as part of my arsenal, but I’ve got my routines now sketched out. How about you?

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