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Weekly 3: Take the initiative


Idea Journal Weekly 3

August 8 · Issue #203 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: There’s an art to taking initiative, and in many cases it’s better than being passive and waiting. This issue explores three ideas about the value of going first.
(~3 min read)

#1. Practice going first
In an interview with author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, athlete Gabrielle Reece says that one of her life principles is to always go first: “That means if I’m checking out at the store, I’ll say hello first. If I’m coming across somebody and make eye contact, I’ll smile first.”
Reece wishes more people would experiment with going first: “Be first, because – not all times, but most times – it comes in your favor.”
She tells the story of being at a busy water park with her kids, and encountering two women who were older than her: “… And I walked by them, and I just looked at them and smiled. The smile came to their face[s] so instantly. They’re ready, but you have to go first, because now we’re being trained in this world [to opt out] – nobody’s going first.”
Most people are nicer than they look, but you have to go first.
Reflecting on the interview, Ferriss writes that Reece’s principle of going first reminds him of a line from a television show: “If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.”
#2. It is easier to react than it is to act
Author and marketing guru Seth Godin writes on his blog that not enough people believe they are capable of “productive initiative.”
Initiating a project, a family journey, or a Wikipedia article are not things that come naturally to most people. As Godin puts it, the challenge is taking initiative even when you’re not assumed to be in charge.
Yet almost everyone believes that they are capable of editing, giving feedback, or merely criticizing: “finding people to fix your typos is easy.”
For Godin, this explains, in part, why there aren’t more artists and creators in the world: “most people have been brainwashed into believing that their job is to copyedit the world, not to design it.”
In an earlier economic and technological context, that was your job. But not anymore.
Now, you go first.
#3. Launch and iterate > wait and imagine
In their book Rework, entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson ask: When should you put your product or service on the market? When is it safe to let people have it?
For Fried and Heinemeier Hansson, the answer is probably a lot sooner than you’re comfortable with: “Once your product does what it needs to do, get it out there.”
Imposing a deadline can clarify what’s a necessity, and what’s a luxury. Ask yourself: If you had to launch in two weeks, what would you cut out?
Fried and Heinemeier Hansson suggest that if you think about it, there’s a lot you don’t need on day one. 
When they launched their company Basecamp, they didn’t even have the ability to bill customers. Because the product billed in monthly cycles, they knew they had a thirty-day gap to figure it out: “So we used the time before launch to solve more urgent problems that actually mattered on day one. Day 30 could wait.”
They also cite the example of the shoe company Camper, which launched its store in San Francisco before construction was finished, and called it a “Walk in Progress.”
The company displayed shoes on plywood laid over dozens of shoe boxes. Customers could draw on the walls of the otherwise empty store. The most popular message written on the walls was: “Keep the store just the way it is.”
Fried and Heinemeier Hansson acknowledge that this approach of launching before you’re comfortable doesn’t mean sacrificing quality. You still want to make something great.
The point is to help you recognize that the best way to get there is through iterations: “Stop imagining what’s going to work. Find out for real.”
Quote of the Week
“Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.’”
- Mountaineer and writer W.H. Murray in his book The Scottish Himalayan Expedition
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