Part 1: getting started with a good idea:
In our world many ideas are floated. We gravitate towards the novel idea because as a general rule, we are infatuated with anything and everything that is New and Improved!! For proof of this, just look around at the world. It’s emblazoned on every box in the grocery store and it’s at the core of every political cycle. It simply is everywhere in our culture.
To sound a bit academic, these claims originate from ideas for improvement in a process, an organization or in our own person. That description sounds a little dry for cool new concepts that hopefully will make our world better, but I wanted to define it more broadly than how marketers do. Savvy organizations understand that new and improved is a way to get people engaged and motivated. It’s why every soap company on the face of the earth makes enough of a change in the product to have ‘new and improved’ on the box almost annually. But it’s not just products you find at the local big box dry goods retailer. The new and improved idea could be for supporting a local charity or potentially some new organizational initiative like lowering carbon emissions. My own personal favorite from my professional career is apprenticeships, or more specifically growing them beyond their traditional american strongholds within the construction market. Growing apprenticeships can be a great new idea, depending on your perspective and the market you are considering them for.
As I stated earlier, what makes these good ideas feel great is that people genuinely get fired up and they decide they want to move in the direction of getting started on this great new thing! Admittedly getting started on some big new idea or initiative is tough. Fortunately the professional class has figured out how to do it pretty well. The process starts with research, meetings and then the individual or group concentrates on the one thing that is identified as the thing needed to commit to getting started. If you have ever been involved in the beginning stages of one of these self improvement or growth projects then you’ve heard it before. You have been told that the most important thing you need to do is take the first step, i.e. do one thing beyond research. It’s the one thing that will get you started to achieving your goal of some sort of big impactful change. I’ve even touched on the subject in my writings on focusing. As I discuss in that first article, where focusing sets the goal, the real key is continued focus. It’s that continued focus over time where the real power is in fundamental change. Part of that continued focus is the second thing you do. I’m not talking about the next step in the first thing you have done, I’m really discussing the addition of a separate vector beyond the first. It’s the second thing you do to achieve the goal that is really the part which is critical in making the change a permanent reality versus a placebo goal.
What is a Placebo Goal?
A placebo goal feels good but doesn’t really have much traction. They are kind of hard to spot at first, but over time it’s easier because great things and major change doesn’t happen to the extent that we think it would have. Sometimes you can tell when a goal is a placebo goal because it’s attainment effort is through attempting one thing with consistency. This seduction of doing one thing is that it’s easy to understand and comprehend. If we just cut smoking then we’ll be able to save an extra $100,000 over the course of our lifetime. If we just start having a date night once a month then we’ll be able to talk more and rekindle the relationship that lost passion after the kids arrived. If I just go to school and get that next credential then I’ll be able to get that promotion. Those are individual examples but it’s not just limited to individuals. Companies and organizations fall into the same trap of a single item to achieve the goal. We’re going to increase customer service knowledge so we’ll have a survey that prints out on our receipts and every manager will review these survey’s daily with their staff! We are going to increase apprenticeships across our service area by applying for a grant that allows us to have a bunch of apprenticeship symposiums with employers.
The Second Vector:
The challenge with real problems is that they are more complex. For these bigger problems that we encounter in our professional and personal lives, an easy fix doesn’t exist. To understand the importance of the second thing you do, you have to accept that the first thing you do isn’t enough to fix the situation by itself. That’s where the power of the second vector comes in. Using apprenticeship as the example, when I say second thing you do, I don’t mean the second apprenticeship summit. Once that series starts, then what is the second completely different thing you are doing that is a different track to the same goal? With apprenticeship, who’s pushing for the non-traditional employer commitment pilot program. The first thing, the symposium, gets the conversation moving. A different vector such as a local hospital consortium that incorporates an earn-while you learn apprenticeship nursing program (this used to be how nurses were trained a long long time ago) would be the second big step. If you don’t have the second step you get stuck with never ending talk amongst employers and educators that really goes nowhere. If everyone who was engaged in the symposiums is also engaged in the non-traditional pilot program at the hospital, then the mindset really starts to change. The question isn’t what should we do about it, the question becomes, what is the next new thing we can do on this process.. And it’s that process, that continued focus that really creates change. Almost all major goals and chang can happen more permanently through incrementalism vs. a broad stroke.
Let’s downshift this back to the individual. What about the person who wants to be healthier by starting to work out? Going to the gym to be on the treadmill every day is great. Unfortunately, you can do it for years and never get past a plateau you hit within the first few months. If someone wants to be healthier by going to the gym and they only stick with the that first idea, the next step to them would look like adding a few reps on the new resistance machine to their routine. The point I’m trying to make is that a proper step two, via a different vector, would look like regular meetings with a nutritionist. If the second thing is adding a nutritionist, then another step of moving to a job that is healthier isn’t that far of a leap. Engaging a second path to the same goal means different steps beyond the first are much easier to consider and implement. From a purely practical standpoint, the combination of regular workouts, a nutritionist, and a job that includes a healthier level of activity and work experiences all add up to a change agent much more powerful than added additional exercises to the daily gym routine.
It’s more mental and emotional.
I’m sure if I spent a good deal of time researching psychology there is some formal term for this idea that the second step crosses you over into a different type of mindset. Simply stated: Steps one and two are much harder than steps two and three and every step after that. It’s because you cross over the point where the thing you want to accomplish is just a good idea and an activity that feels good. You’re beyond the moment when the checkbox is checked and you can say to yourself yeah we’re doing this thing. Your now at the point where your saying “This thing is really what we are all about and we try to achieve it any which way we can”. That, in a nutshell, is the secret power to step two: You are really engaged in the effort! Because you have already attempted a different vector at least once, you have shifted the inertia from the one process to ‘adding processes’. With this inertia comes real progress as some things will work better than others, but it’s the sum of all the efforts that will make change happen.
Another aspect of the mentality of this is the idea of mental displacement, but in a good way. If an individual or an organization is so busy focusing on the first step and then the second step those other distractions are easier to ignore. The next great idea becomes secondary to all the vectors to getting the first great idea moving along. Yes, you may not address the second need, but if it’s a real need it’ll find another champion. You and your organization have become the champion of the first thing. Your mindset for the first thing will be what’s next? What else can I/we do?
But what about us?
If you want a promotion or a job in a new career field, The question immediately will be asked: “what is the first step you can take?” Maybe it’s going to take a course, or maybe it’s doing some research into it. While your considering that, have you put any consideration to the second step? What do you do while you are doing the research or taking the course? To use myself as an example, my goal was building an audience. First I starting writing a blog, then I created a podcast to highlight my posts, now i’m considering animations for youtube about the posts. In all instances the goal is the same, build the audience. I’m nowhere near where I need to be but I do have some traction towards my goal. I am thankful that I’m not stuck in a single activity and just trying to work harder and harder at the same thing with the same results.
I understand that the great things in life are never achieved by a single decision and implementing that decision via a single path. The first decision to engage your goal and it’s related activities is always the first step. It’s the second step, the second vector thats get you moving, that get you accelerated. The second approach may not work, but by the time you realize that you’ll have been along to approach three, four, and five and you may have others your thinking about. Eventually, with that focus, and time, the goal will be met in some measure if it’s possible to meet it.
The idea of promoting the importance of a second vector to the goal you want to achieve is abstract to say the least. That being said, this could be an interesting thought exercise. What are the areas that you intended to focus on? What are you doing there? Have you picked one thing and are assiduous about following on that path? When was the last time you thought about a different approach to work in conjunction with your first?
What is the second way to generate ideas for blog posts? For promoting your business? For a healthier lifestyle? For a better work life balance? The goals are as endless as the different ways we can approach them. Pick that goal that excites you, get started, but don’t forget to implement that second way to achieve the goal in addition to the first. Once you have achieved the first and second, the third, fourth and fifth will all be much easier to implement. As a bonus they will most likely have greater impact from the lessons you have learned from the earlier implementations. Whatever you do, don’t stop at just tweaking your first approach. Making minor changes to a single effort may feel like your doing something different to achieve your ends, but it’s going to be about as new and improved as that box of soap at the walmart. It doesn’t matter how many stickers you put on the outside of the box and how many new scents it comes in, it’s still just more soap. The question here is: have you thought about how to have less dirt in your life in addition to more soap?