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10 ideas on making something happen

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Jul 6, 2012

You have to go wholeheartedly into anything in order to achieve anything worth having- Frank Loyd Wright

We often wonder how some people are capable of extraordinary feat, what draws the segregation line between people who make things happen and who can’t and how can we, average people, accomplish more? the answers to these questions are not simple. However, we have people and examples to understand the underlying magic of what it takes to make things happen. Entrepreneurs like Dr. Muhammad Yunus, Jack Dorsey, Ben Kaufman, Joe Kraus, Max Levchin, Sabeer Bhatia and organizations like Pixar, Studio 7.5, Google, tell us how to make ideas happen. By decoding their approaches to work and initiative we can get comprehensive clues about what it takes to create momentum, how to build successful businesses, and how to chase dreams and catch them.

In last few months I have tried to rediscover the answer to this very ancient question of human history. After digging out several best cited researches and publications, I have found following simple ideas.

1. Decide: In 1993 a Stanford graduate decided to be an entrepreneur instead of doing job and office things. The guy, named Joe Kraus, was a political science major but his passion was to start a tech company. He has two things as capital-one a wholehearted decision and another is passion. Bagging these as magic box he started to seek people with whom he can launch his business. He first approached his friend Graham Spencer, who was also a Stanford grad. Kraus convinced Graham and other five of his friends to join. But they had no idea to start a business. To find idea, tater they met together and worked out on generating ideas. After considering several start-up ideas, they settled to start a Search engine and what they built was “Excite” and later is history.

In a conversation with Jessica Livingston in her book Founders at Work, Kraus said how they started the company:

We decided to start a company together before we had any idea what we were going to work on. But we were so committed to the idea of starting something together that we knew we were going to figure it out.

The very first step of making something happen is to decide whether you are going to do it or not. And when you decide to do anything you must go wholeheartedly for it. As Frank LIoyd Wright said, you have to go wholeheartedly into anything in order to achieve anything worth having.

2. Ideas matter: In Pixar every day begins in same way. They start everyday office by having a Crit session where all employees give and judge ideas. It happens that in every working day people spend half of their office hours talking in crit session (critic session). But these sessions really worth that amount of time. According to Pixar, these sessions overflow ideas that later on become great ideas after rigorous evaluation. In Google they give employees free time to generate ideas, any type of ideas, that later on gives the company breakthroughs.

Having tones of ideas without judging them is the first step of making anything happen. First of all you have to have ideas, then comes the question of execution. So, generate as many ideas as possible.

3. Sort out: The interesting part of Pixar’s morning crit sessions is not that it gives the company the creative impetus to make the films like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, or Wall E rather the beauty lies in its way of judging ideas. In everyday crit session all employees of Pixar give their opinion on a particular idea. They come up with imperfections and mistakes of an idea. Along the way they also give feedback on how to make a certain idea best. This what makes Pixar, really Pixar.

Having great ideas is not enough, alongside you have to successfully cut off ideas that are cliché, ineffective and just good.

4. Make mistakes but learn from them: Making mistakes is inseparably intertwined with learning. On the way to making ideas happen making mistakes is common. Not making mistakes does not depict anything positive rather it tells that you are not trying enough. Making mistakes is associated with trying out but what is most important is: whether you are learning from your mistakes or not. The best part of doing things wrong is that our brain copy the scene and let us do the same thing better next time. Expertise is the result of making mistakes and learning from them.

The Noble Prize winner Danish physicist Niels Bohr once defined an expert as “a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”

5. Thirty minutes every day: If you are working in a large project, break it down. Never try to write the whole book at once (literally). Rather do it every day a little. Entrepreneur and writer Jack Cheng said the stuff better in a great blog post 30 minutes a day. When we do same thing for a long time we get bored and give up later. Cheng said, if one take a little step every day it becomes easy to keep pace and release the boredom and tension. Starting small and making small progress everyday make things easy when they look grueling.

7. Thinking is no better idea: Only taking action can lead us to any tangible or intangible result. Gruesome planning and tiresome thinking are some form of procrastination and time waste. Until and unless you start acting no progress will happen.

8. Interact and diversify: In his bestseller book Imagine: How Creativity works, Jonah Lehrer describes the process of creativity and invention as a collaborative process.

He wrote: Because the act of invention is often a collaborative process- we are inspired by other people- it’s essential that we learn to collaborate in the right way.

Injecting new people into the team and mixing old one and new one ignite complete different kinds of ideas. That’s why creativity experts often emphasize on having a certain level of diversity in a team. Often add some new voices to your team who can act beyond your familiar box.

9. Community matter: Why some places provide best kind of skilled people than others, why certain time of history, times of Rabindronath Tagore and Nazrul Islam, produces more talented people, why in certain part of city or country there are more creative people? On the other hand, what makes Silicon Valley most creative place in USA, why Israel has more scientific advancement in last few decades than any other country? There could be many more answers, but after long research and analysis what pundits have found is that: it is community.

In his groundbreaking book Outliers: The Story of Success Malcolm Gladwell shows that, community has a great impact on our life. By describing the story of an American village named Roseto where heart attack rate was astonishingly low the author conclude that the way we see things like health and success is fundamentally flawed.

By putting a research findings of two Doctors, Wolf and Bruhn, Malcolm wrote:

What Wolf began to realize was that the secret of Roseto wasn’t diet or exercise or genes or location. It had to be Roseto itself. As Bruhn and Wolf walked around the town they figured out why. They looked at how the Rosetans visited one another, stopping to chat in Italian on the street, say, or cooking for one another in their backyards. They learned about the extended family clans that underlay the town’s social structure. They saw how many homes had three generations living under one roof and how much respect grandparents commanded. [....]

The Rosetans were healthy because of where they were from, because of the world they had created from themselves in their tiny little town in the hills. [....]

Wolf and Bruhn had to convince the medical establishment to think about the health and heart attacks in an entirely new way: they had to get them to realize that they would not be able to understand why someone is healthy if all they did was think about an individual. They had to look beyond the individual. [.....] They had to appreciate the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are. [...]

10. Persistence: As kraus, co-founder of Excite, cited that one of the big reason for the success of Excite was getting the Netscape search button deal. However, at first Excite did not get the deal in bidding rather they lost the bid. But Kraus did not give up. He regularly poked Netscape guys for the deal and fortunately the company that won the deal could not deliver the money on time that gave Excite a second chance. If Kraus was not in constant contact with Netscape then they would never get the deal and Excite could even die. As Kraus said: I don’t think we would have gotten where we got without the Netscape deal and we certainly wouldn’t have gotten the Netscape deal without a really valuable lesson in persistence.

You must stick to your goal if you want to achieve something worth achieving.

References:
• Founders at Work: Stories of startups’ early days by Jessical Livingston
Imagine: How creativity works by Jonah Lehrer
• Startup of you by Reid Hoffman and Casnosh
Outliers: Stories of Success by Malcolm Gladwell


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Ruhul Kader is a technology and business analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, technology policy, and society. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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One comment on “10 ideas on making something happen”

  1. Liked it a lot!
    All the points being almost equally important, my take away from this write-up is "Community matter"! Usually we don't think about the 'community-aspect' in the right way as was found by Wolf and Bruhn. Kudos to their findings!

    BTW, though I don't write that much (not at all to be honest!) I felt the title of this essay should be '10 points/tips on making something happen'.

    Later...

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