What are you doing today that could sabotage some important project? What brilliant thing are you doing to move it forward? Are you aware of the difference? Of the risk? Who is watching your back?
My first professional business was a design consulting business I launched with Barry Wylant while we were still in design school. I had been working as co-op student half-way through my design degree when the design firm I was working for folded. My venture began, innocently enough, when one of the clients, who had been left in the lurch, called me up and asked me to finish the contract.
Van gave me a check for $4500 to finish the unfinished work. That was more than I’d ever seen as an impoverished student. I took his check to the bank and asked for all the cash in twenty dollar bills. I carefully carried the bulky roll of twenties home and my then-wife and I separated it into different piles: so much for Barry’s cut, so much for rent, so much for food and so on.
When we finished separating the cash into piles, something profound happened. It occurred to me that I was sorting cash that didn’t actually belong to us – yet. We hadn’t delivered. This was the first time I experienced the deep moral emotion of fiduciary duty. After a few twists and turns (mistakes), we finished the job. The product functioned as required and Van was happy.
Over the next few years, Barry and I did dozens of projects together. In each engagement we did at least one or two less-bright moves, but eventually we figured out how to run smooth projects from start to finish, doing what Barry called: “have fun, make money, do cool things.” This phase of my life culminated with high margin work that made a difference and earned a few international design awards.
What we learned about business turned out to be pretty simple: success is the somewhat inevitable result of not doing things that don’t work – all the ways that we eventually, and sometimes painfully learned, could be off-spec, off-budget and off-schedule. We had failed in enough nonfatal ways that a successful project was all that was left. We chipped away the questionable shit we were doing to reveal our genius and talent, much in the way that Michelangelo described chipping away the superfluous rock to reveal the David.
My coach Phil Holcomb has been with me watching my back since I left the design business years ago. He has chipped away a lot of my rough edges and is often the difference between me doing something brilliant and something really dumb.
This month I am happy to announce the release of book 5 with Rachel Mielke and Shane Evans. These amazing women have something to say worth hearing. Books and videos available soon.