What We Learn To Do We Learn By Doing

The title of my column this week is a quote by Aristotle. It’s a powerful reminder that unless we are in the sandbox, getting our hands dirty, our learning process is incomplete.

“There’s an awful temptation to just keep on researching,” says David McCullough, author, historian and two time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. “There comes a point where you just have to stop, and start writing. When I began, I thought that the way one should work was to do all the research and then write the book. In time I began to understand that it’s when you start writing that you really find out what you don’t know and need to know.”

I think this is true for anything not just writing.

show-your-work-list-poster austin kleonMy GM back in my Scrip-J days, who has since passed on, would say “the squeaking wheel gets the grease kid…” J. Roderick Ferreira passed on a gem I will never forget. If I am not sharing, promoting, teaching, learning…how will anyone know what I’m doing. I have to make some noise. I have to squeak!

Until we stop talking and start doing, there is no real learning taking place. This is why we should jump right in after a bit of planning and deciding, and start executing; especially when it comes to business plans.

Some startups spend an inordinate amount of time on business plans that never match the reality of their experience. Spending more time on a plan and perfecting it does not guarantee success.

Sir Richard Branson admits “I didn’t really think too much about my first business plan – I just went ahead and did it. It turns out that this was the best thing I could have done, and it’s a tactic that has gone on to define my approach to business plans.

To this day I don’t make formal business plans, but am always crystal clear on the concept of the business. We have a saying at Virgin, if your pitch can’t fit on the back of an envelope, then it’s too complicated. In fact, we have written many business plans on the back of beer mats and envelopes – they have gone on to become successful companies like Virgin Australia.”

Freelance writer and blogger Emma Gannon recently shared a party experience where she was chatting with a friend of a friend.

“We politely updated each other on the mundane and boring stuff — what we are doing now-a-days, whereabouts we are living, how we are, if our partners are well etc. We then started talking about writing and art as we had a lot in common and soon we got onto the topic that a wine-fueled bar often lands you on: our hopes and dreams. Then, it quickly turned sour.

“Well, it’s been easy for you. No one reads my writing.”

“Where is your writing? Where can I read it? ” I asked.

“Oh, it’s all sitting in my drawer at home.”

I thought it was a trick answer. Surely, surely this person is not complaining that his work hadn’t “succeeded” when it’s sat gathering dust in his bedside drawer?

“Who have you showed it to?” I asked.

“Oh — a few people.” He nervously sipped his drink.

My reaction was this: dude, no one knows you exist. You’re not getting out there.”

This is funny, but then it’s not funny.

We spend time on Facebook, and other social media sites, looking at the success of those we are in the same line of business with or those we aspire to be one day. Whatever the reason, while we are sitting on the sidelines, they are in the game.

Always remember, you never see folks in television shows WATCHING TV!

The truth is that what you think is EASY for someone may not come as easily as you think. They may be struggling but they are “doing” alongside the struggle.

Emma paints the reality of her situation: “First of all — it’s not easy for me. I always get people making the assumption that I flew in on a golden unicorn and landed myself with a blog, a book deal and unwavering confidence. Not true. It’s taken a LOT of writing and a LOT of time and I have lots to still work out.”

When you think you’ve finally figured things out, there’s always more to figure out so instead of thinking that activities happen in sequence e.g. I research first, then I write, then I start sharing my work, approach it this way:

  1. Be clear about what you’re setting out to do, what problem are you solving, what do you hope to achieve?
  2. Outline a couple routes to get there.
  3. Start taking action on your ideas paying VERY close attention to what’s happening in real time.
  4. Make adjustments as you learn and continue moving forward.

It’s the only way!


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