Don’t take a leap of faith: Prototype
Popular wisdom is that you will never reach your potential unless you close your eyes and leap into the dark unknown. But is this always the best advice? When should you take a leap of faith and when is it smarter to prototype – take a tiny baby step, while clinging to the furniture?
There are many people who think that what is stopping them from taking wing is their lack of courage to take a leap into the abyss of the unknown. But this is a dangerous story (told by THE BIG CON). It paralyses most people into inaction.
I recently asked readers what questions they would like me to answer.
Janelle wrote, ‘How do I convince myself that my ideas are good enough and that I should take a leap of faith and just start something without the fear that it won’t be perfect or that I will fail.’
To paraphrase Janelle, in the first part of her question she is asking: ‘How do I test my ideas so I have some degree of confidence that they might work in the real world?’ The answer is prototyping.
At the time of the Industrial Revolution, how we design things changed radically. Prior to this time, everything was a prototype. Craftspeople would make an object and learn from their mistakes and successes. This object became the forerunner of the next object, which benefited from the lessons learned in making the first. Over time the craftsperson became a master maker – baby step after baby step. But even then, everything they made was a prototype for the next thing they made.
With the Industrial Revolution, objects that were to be mass-produced had to be designed, in their entirety, in advance – that is, master planned. Designers had to second-guess how these objects would work in the real world, and take a leap of faith. This master-planning approach became the norm for how we designed everything – products, software, businesses, cities, public places and even our lives. Personal growth gurus encouraged us to decide where we wanted to be in ten or twenty years’ time and to plan every step of our journey there.
There has been a major backlash against this approach and a move away from master-planning back to prototyping.
For example, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans explain how this practice can be applied to creating a meaningful life in their excellent book: Designing Your Life, Build a life that works for you.
The key to this approach is, ‘Test early. Fail fast. Fail forward.’
For example, let’s imagine you are thinking you might like to become a fire fighter. The master-planning approach asks you to make a big bold commitment: enrol in fire-fighting school. The danger is that four years after graduating you decide you hate the job, but can’t leave because you don’t want to waste the investment. Prototyping asks, ‘How can I take a baby-step and test this idea without making too big an investment?’ That first baby step might be to hold a number of conversations with real fire fighters and ask them what they love about their job, and what drives them crazy. If it still seems like a good idea, take the next baby step and become a volunteer fire fighter.
FEAR OF FAILURE
Let’s look at the last part of Janelle’s question where she thinks it is ‘the fear that it won’t be perfect or that I will fail’ that is stopping her from moving forward.
Prototyping removes the fear of failure and gets us taking baby steps, even if we are still clinging to the furniture. If our first baby-step is talking to a group of fire fighters we are not risking as much as if we enrolled in a four-year course. If we discover that there are parts of the job we would hate, then we have ‘failed fast and failed forward’. Or we could rephrase this and say that for a very small investment of time, we have saved ourselves from wasting years doing something we don’t love.
The bigger the leap of faith you are considering, the greater the fear of failure, and the greater the likelihood that this fear will paralyse you into inaction. Break the leap down to one baby-step.
The great thing about prototypes is that they don’t have to be perfect. They are just a test. A trial. A cheap and easy learning experience. They get us off our rear end and moving forward.
DOORS WE DIDN’T KNOW EXISTED
One of the surprising things about prototypes is that they often reveal doors we didn’t know existed.
Up until my late thirties I was your classic dreamer, spending my life inventing schemes that would finally give me wings. One long-held dream was to build a creativity factory in an old warehouse where I could produce fantastic works of art with other artists. One day I had a revelation. Under my house was a small space I wasn’t using. ‘David,’ I asked myself. ‘Why do you think you deserve a creativity factory when you’re not using the space you already have?’
I had to find a way to manifest my dream in the present moment – to test it out – or it would forever remain a dream. I set up a couple of workbenches in the less-than-ideal space under my house, and employed a sculptor to teach me how to sculpt. My front yard began to fill with sculptures, which spilled out into the public domain.
This eventually led to my working with communities all over the world transforming public spaces. We now transform whole town centres in just seven days. (Visit the website – see a video of a makeover.) The whole world has become my creativity factory. My company, Creative Communities, steers away from projects that are purely a means to an end (such as making town plans), and focuses instead on ‘prototyping the future’ – projects that are rich in the DNA of the future. Some of these are stillborn. But many of them grow up to become productive, self-sustaining adults with a life of their own.
Do you ever need to take that leap of faith? Probably. But before every leap of faith there should be a thousand baby-steps.
Let me paraphrase an old Jewish proverb: ‘There is a time to be born and a time to die; a time to sow and a time to reap; and a time to take a leap of faith and a time to take tiny baby steps…’ Wisdom is discerning the ‘times’.
And mostly it’s a time to take baby steps.
See my follow up blog: What if I am too afraid to take a baby step?
I have created a Creative Solutions Generator – a one page canvass that helps you think outside the box. I am offering a free 5X5 minute mini-course on how to use this simple tool. Get more info here.