Often when I talk to people about engaging with customers or donors online, their reaction is that they aren’t ready. Not yet. Soon. Once this other thing happens. When we talk further, the root of their reluctance is a fear that things have to perfect.
You’re not perfect now and you won’t ever be perfect. Get over it.
Everything is an experiment and it’s your job to learn from mistakes and improve. At the 2009 NTC conference, Clay Shirky brought the idea of iterative learning and informed failure home. The theme carried through many other panels as speakers used the conversational hooks Shirky set up in his keynote to bring the idea to life with further examples. I came away from the conference with the imperative to fail harder and that advice is still relevant.
Recently I presented on a webinar to over 200 people. (Thanks to Janet Fouts for inviting me to join her). I was nervous, but afterwards I thought it went great. In some ways it had, but the feedback comments were a wake up and more than a little deflating. My nervousness had led me to ramble a bit and people thought I could use more practice and perhaps some public speaking lessons. My audio equipment was also on the fritz during the presentation and people had trouble hearing me. How embarrassing! Panic! I’m never presenting again and I never should have tried. Right?
The feedback taught me ways I can improve. What do you know, I’m not perfect. More preparation and practice? I can do that. Get better audio equipment? I can do that too. Speaking to 200 is different than what works one-on-one. The feedback also taught me what I was doing right that I can do more of next time. People liked my examples and the places where I got hands on and really descriptive about how specific strategies have worked for me and played out in the trenches.
A You-Shaped Hole in the Wall
The fear that you aren’t perfect usually brings a posse of friends home for dinner.What if we’re not compelling enough? What if someone says something nasty about us online? What if this takes all our time and we never get to the real work? What if no one cares? What if we’re not interesting enough? What if we make a mistake?
I love the West Wing TV show and can’t resist a good quote when it’s relevant, so I’ll share one now from Leo, the Chief-of-Staff on the show. In the episode “We Killed Yamamoto”, Leo admires the spirit of failing harder in one of the senior staff after a costly mistake.
“You know, it was a screw up, but I got to say I love the way he did it–full speed, bam. Like there’s a Sam Seaborn-shaped hole in the wall.”
Right on. The questions that accompany our need for perfection are important, but without a willingness to experiment you’re nowhere because until you start you don’t know what’s going to work best. By all means, be strategic and have a plan. But be prepared to change gears if its not working. Tweak, react, learn, rinse, repeat. It helps me to think out the worst case scenario (in detail) and remember that there are no bombs going off.
That’s what’s on my mind today. Fail harder, fail informedly. What about you? How do you get past the need for perfection? What shape hole in the wall are you busting today?