The Art of Doing

Starbucks & The Economist

Let’s make a bet.

You and me.

I wager you a free drink at Starbucks that at some point in your career you’ve heard this line (or something like it) from someone at your company:

“I have this great idea to boost revenue.” [Emphasis on “great idea.”]

Two weeks later you get the plan on your desk.

Three months later… nothing happens. They didn’t follow-through. And you think, “what happened?”

I’ve noticed there’s an art to getting things done.

And just like any other art — be it on canvas or in melodies and harmonies — in order to become an expert at it, you have to practice (some say it takes 10,000 hours of practice).

Now, there is a slight exception. You Type A, doer, focus-oriented, choleric, over-achievers out there don’t have this problem. You see a goal, and you achieve it — for better or worse.

For the rest of the world, getting things done takes practice. It’s something you have to work on. You’re not going to become Michelangelo over-night. But if you’re ever going to sculpt your David, you’re going to have to move forward.

One step at a time.

Getting. Things. Done.

What does that look like?

1. Spending less time planning and more time taking action.

Many times, those that don’t “do” are afraid of taking chances, so they hide behind excessive planning, researching and contingency-ing (my failed attempt at turning “contingency” into a transitive verb).

Fear — one word that dominates the motivation of individuals and societies around the world. Ignore its powers of paralysis for now. We’ll get to that in a minute.

The important thing is that action begets action. Turn down the planning knob. Turn up the doing knob.

…leading us right into the second point, which is…

2. Adopting the model of bounded rationality throughout your entire life.

The world we live in runs on limited resources. Time. Money. Energy. And don’t get me started on fossil fuels.

Every decision we make has opportunity costs. To use Herbert A. Simon’s language, our decision-making processes are “bound” by finite time, resources and rationality in the face of infinite information and possibilities.

The Internet only intensifies this effect. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been guilty of spending countless hours online “researching” a topic only to end up a ton of “research” and no time to actually do anything with it?

I’ll raise my hand to that one. Guilty.

So, what do we do with that?

We maximize our efforts by putting our resources where we yield the highest return. We make decisions and take action knowing full well that we don’t have all the available information in our grasp because we are limited by the world around us — we are limited by our own selves.

3. Ignoring your fear of failure, because if you’re ever going to succeed at anything…

You’re going to fail. And you’re going to fail big.

Every great leader has hit rock bottom a time or two in his day. I could go through a barrage of examples, metaphors, or soliloquies about the necessity of failure, but I won’t be nearly as eloquent or motivational as The Greats themselves. Here’s what they have to say about fear:

If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.

– Dale Carnegie 

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

– Nelson Mandela 

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

– Steve Jobs

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.

– Mark Twain 

So the real trick is choosing to take action knowing that you won’t be able to complete every task, project or objective with perfection. In this case, completing the task is more important than failing to do it.

I’m going to ask you a favor:

Leave a comment below telling me a time when you or someone you know failed to take action on a project and the consequences. (Be kind and don’t you names.)

Also, I’m a man of my word. I will happily buy you a cup of coffee if I lost the bet. Email me here, and we’ll call it a date. Or a shindig. Whichever makes you more comfortable.

Related: The Secret Ingredient To Success

Related: The Things That Hold Us Back From Greatness