How Starting Without All of the Answers is a Smart Move

Forget detailed planning. Moving quickly is essential if you’ve got an idea, says author Patti Johnson.

Patti Johnson By Patti Johnson

The following is the second in a 2-part series of how to start your change based on the new book, “Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life.” Read part one

“Wave makers” are those who start changes – they launch new businesses, meet a community need or see an opportunity that others don’t see. I’ve spent the last two years studying what people think, know and do before they take that first step.

Patti Johnson

Patti Johnson

I learned that wave makers are predisposed to action, even when they don’t have all the answers.

If you want to start a change at work or in life, think about beginning before you know exactly how to reach your destination. That can run counter to conventional wisdom about the habits of effective leaders. But it’s essential for giving your idea momentum.

Wave makers know where they’re going, but they’re agile and adaptable on how to get there. And, many of those I interviewed ended up accomplishing much more than they first envisioned by involving others and staying flexible along the way. (Read more on involving others in my article, “Skip the Selfie: Find Your Idea Partners.”)

It’s counterintuitive for those of us who love to have the answer or are most comfortable with detailed planning. And, it can be hard for women who have the perfectionism gene. Yet, moving quickly is critical for wave makers.

There are two important reasons that early action will help you:

  1. You’ll be much smarter down the road, because you’ll learn along the way. Your plan will evolve and grow.
  2. You’ll get the idea out of your head. You’ll involve others. Your change will happen.

Many of us earned our reputations and progressed in business because we are problem solvers and love having all of the answers. If you were the one at age 10 always waving your hand wildly from the back of the classroom because you have the answer, this is for you. Yes, I know it’s painful.

Starting a wave isn’t the same as earning an A or tackling your to-do list. It’s not a command-and-control effort. It’s starting momentum toward your goal and engaging others to be part of it.

Lois Melbourne, co-creator and former CEO of Aquire, a software company, shared the tension that can exist between gathering the facts and taking action. She said, “I want to learn and feel like I can make a very educated decision. I read everything. Ask tons of questions. Do the research. When people think, ‘I just need a little more information,’ that drives me nuts. But at the same time, I don’t make uneducated decisions. I feel like gut instincts come from assimilating a lot of information and then making the decision that you need to—even if at that specific moment you don’t have all of the data. You know enough to make a strong educated guess. That is enough.”

Brett Hurt, an investor and co‑creator of Bazaarvoice, a maker of online product-review software, shared the importance of movement. He said, “You’ve got to get going. Surround yourself with other people who are incredibly passionate about your cause, and move. Now, if I’m looking to invest in an entrepreneur, for example, I’m looking for motion—someone who is really going after their dream. They can approach it differently than me or have a different personality than me, but they have to be going after it.”

Almost all the wave makers I interviewed began sharing their ideas before they had all the answers. It was how they built a core team of “idea partners” and eventually a community that cared.

Bob Wright, founder of Dallas Social Venture Partners, a fund that helps nonprofits, came up with the idea for a one-of-a-kind event for social innovators called “The bigBANG!” but quickly let others be part of developing it. Bob and a few partners determined that they wanted the event to be like no other—no conference with static agenda, no talking heads and no formalities. It had to be something that new generations in the community would want to be a part of, now and in the future.

Bob described how they started: “We lived by the belief that we can’t own and control this. We have to turn loose the steering wheel. We crowdsourced the creation of this experience because we wanted a broader circle to feel responsibility for it.”

Bob created a few informal events to start the discussion. He and his partners invited about 25 select social innovators to a discussion and asked for their participation. The invitation told them to include anyone else that they felt should be included. Seventy-five people showed up for their first get-together. That meeting resulted in four Spark Clubs, idea-generating groups that all contributed and helped develop the bigBANG!, first held in June 2010.

They realized that it wasn’t just about the event; it was about building commitment to the cause. They let others help create and run it, and achieved more than even they had imagined in the beginning.

What’s your wave? How can you get started today?

Posted: May 6, 2014

Patti JohnsonHow Starting Without All of the Answers is a Smart Move