This post was co-authored with Bob Moesta, Managing Partner of The Re-Wired Group in Detroit. While it’s written from my perspective, he was central to the development of the idea.“How’s your book launch coming?” Bob asked me.
“Ugh. I don’t want to talk about my book. Can’t we just dive into working on another post about progress?” I said, trying to avoid my towering pre-publication checklist.
“Sure, Whitney. But if you’re going to write about progress, you might want to make some.”
OK. Bob didn’t actually say that, but he could have. Six months before publication, I found myself skittering off to new ideas rather than attending to the task right in front of me. Why was I procrastinating?, I wondered. Writing a book has been on my bucket list for years. I knew how important it was to have a successful launch, yet here I was doing nothing.
So with Bob’s help, I started to analyse what was happening within the framework of our theoretical Equation of Progress. We would examine my stalled plans in order to better understand how people make progress, and more specifically, what leads us to innovate.
We had hypothesized that progress could only be made if the push of a situation (a frustration or problem to be solved) and the pull of an enticing new idea were greater than the forces holding us back — our allegiance to past behaviour (the status quo) and anxiety.
Certainly, I had experienced a “pull” to write the book. Dare, Dream, Do was inspired by my interactions with people who weren’t sure they had a dream, or worse, who didn’t believe it was their privilege to dream. And there was obviously a “push” because I finished writing the book. Deadlines are good that way.
But the prospect of now tackling a lengthy punch list — build a website, create a speaker’s sheet, film a speaker’s reel, record an audio Q&A, finalise/plead for blurbs, finalise copy edits, write an e-book to accompany the book — obscured my vision of a future where readers would hold the book in their hands and be inspired to dream. The eventual payoff of completing these tasks wasn’t immediately enticing enough to overcome my present inertia, i.e. allegiance to the status quo. No wonder I wasn’t making progress.
That all changed when anxiety kicked in about at four months to pub date. I had always thought of procrastination as a bad actor, anxiety even worse. But in analysing what I thought were merely stall tactics, I’ve come to realise that the anxiety caused by procrastination is actually a critical component to innovation. Research supports this. Anxiety, in the right quantities, can propel us forward.
According to the Journal of Management, NASA scientists and engineers found that performance increases as deadlines shorten, but when the deadlines became too short, performance declined. Dr. Ellen F. Weber, award-winning founder of Mita Brain centre, states: “while frustration or fear can flood the brain with cortisol, if anxiety is managed properly, anticipation can produce that feel-good dopamine that primes the pump of progress, or innovation.” In other words, as the deadline neared, my apprehension around the to-do list actually wasn’t just outweighed by the pull of the commitments I’d made to my editor, publicist, and to myself, the anxiety per se helped increase the pull.
The innovations, or newly introduced ideas and methods, that have emerged from my anxiety around the book launch include:
1) View the book as a product. I realised my anxiety was caused, in part, by the unfamiliar experience of launching a book. By reframing it as being analogous to launching a business, I talked myself down. I’ve never published a book before, but I have incubated businesses. When you’re overwhelmed by a new project, look to your past for similar problems you’ve already solved. Just as a business model is required to maximise the reach of a simplifying technology, so too is a business model required to maximise the reach of a book. Looking at the book as a product has helped me lock into great ideas and energized my efforts.
2) Write my way through the launch. Just as scientists meticulously record daily findings to ensure that each experiment is replicable and accurate conclusions are drawn, I realised I could write about my experience of publishing a book. Dissecting the process and hoping that my experience may be helpful to others has turned out to be powerful motivator (and a source of content for my blog). When you can zoom out and view your experience in the abstract, you create the necessary distance to be objective about your own performance. In essence, you give yourself a general’s panorama of the battlefield rather than the limited view of a foot solider. Vision is essential for innovation.
3) Collaborate — and accept the help of others. Though I’ve written about the importance of collaboration, I struggle to do it well, and even more so to receive help. The anxiety factor has pushed me to reach out, something I might not have been willing to do previously. I’ve found fantastic partners who have enriched my efforts with their resources and granted me access to specialised knowledge that will strengthen my “product.” Sometimes anxiety can be the tool that forces us past imagined boundaries into a brave new world of possibility.
As I have begun to innovate, to introduce new ideas and ways of doing things, frustration and anxiety have given way to the anticipation of my book selling. In hindsight, it’s easy to think that progress is a simple left to right beeline, rather than something approximating a Wild West duel between you, and you. It’s also tempting to glorify “push” (the problem to be solved) and “pull” (the exciting new idea) as the forces of progress we laud in entrepreneurs. But sometimes your weaknesses (procrastination and anxiety) may actually be the “red-hot coal stuck in the throat” that summons your superpowers. Or as Bob Moesta writes, “The moment of struggle is the defining act of innovation.” So, the next time you want to move your business or you forward, consider the role all four variables play, but then look to the bottom line: put your anxiety to work and innovate.
To think more about the four variables involved in progress, consider reading:
The Long of Coming Up Short
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