“I didn’t see him sitting and writing to do lists… Once he had any idea of a song, it didn’t stop until it was done” – Susannah Melvoin
The opportunities to learn from the example of others, have never been so limitless. With the internet completely radicalising information access, we know more about the routines of Sun-Tzu, Epictetus, Walt Disney and Pablo Picasso, than their contemporaries did.
Similarly we can investigate successful businesses; analysing when they invested in what, who, and where. What their founders believe in and what their marketing approach has been.
Researching, planning and strategising our way to success is generally well advised. We don’t want to bulldoze head-first into a wall, we want to make sure we’re maximising our time. Putting our energy and resources into the pursuit with the greatest chance of success.
The slight issue though, and this is particularly aggressive when you’re starting at something, is that with most endeavours you don’t see results very quickly.
There is a heck of a lot of confusing information out there when it comes to rates of success. There are digital posters around London selling you “6 week body transformation”, with remarkable results. Meanwhile you’ve been focused on your diet and exercise for 6months now and have only seen slight changes. We see the same thing with careers and businesses. You’ll hear the story of someone who’s life changed within a year of discovering a hobby or starting a business. This then feeds into a common consciousness that success tends to happen quickly but only to a few “exceptional” individuals OR ideas.
So if you have’t been one of those… what then?
And where does Prince fit in?
Well, Prince as an artist knew what he wanted to be. He wanted to be famous, a mega star. The biggest icon of his generation. But he wasn’t an analyser exactly.
As far as we know, he didn’t sit down and map out every step that would get him to the dizzy heights of super-stardom. What he did was intensely pursue every idea that he had, and not let them rest until they had got to the place he’d envisioned them.
He was connected to his inner creativity and believed in the value of that voice.
“This seems to be part of his success that he’s just this open vessel and just whatever comes in, we work on it and we get it out and we go onto the next thing and we don’t stop to think, we don’t stop to, you know, analyse we just create create create and go go go…” – Touré Neblett, speaking about Prince
Note. He wasn’t that guy who “always has another idea”. He wasn’t talking, he was creating.
Prince had ideas and he made them exist. P. Diddy works in a similar way. He has ideas and he just puts a big motor behind them. Some of them are a big success, some of them aren’t, but he pursues them all relentlessly, bringing them into existence.
The problem about analysing too much, is that the initial conclusions you reach might not be right. You can wind up quitting on something, before you’ve taken it to the place where it would be beat the competition.
Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook) got very wealthy, very quickly. But Phil Knight (the founder of Nike) didn’t. In fact, Nike was almost a complete failure many times before it was a success.
Luckily, Phil Knight didn’t have the mindset of “I’ll try it and if it’s not working I’ll retrain in consultancy”. In Shoe Dog, he explains his mindset was instead:
“I told myself: Let everyone else call your idea crazy…just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where “there” is… just don’t stop…Half a century later, I believe it’s the best advice-maybe the only advice-any of us should ever give.”
I think the “don’t give much thought to where “there” is…” part of this quote is particularly relevant. We do not know what plans the Universe has in store for us. We cannot control the exact destination of our endeavours, but we can strap an engine onto our ideas and vow not to take our foot off the pedal.
For a long time I worked as a Client Manager in Advertising Agencies. I noticed how the weaker businesses were obsessed with small details, lengthy testing and workshops whereas the stronger, more successful ones didn’t bother. They trusted the instincts of their team and spent their marketing budgets getting sh*t done, rather than talking about it.
Barack Obama was not born a President, or a wise man. He studied, he worked in Law, he wrote. He pursued many things he was interested in, before starting to direct his attention to Politics in his mid-30s.
Both corporations and us as individuals get slowed down massively by our obsession with assessing failings. A tendency to look backwards or hold off on moving forwards until we have considered every possible outcome of a move. But, success can be quite random. Particularly on the internet. You cannot plan “viral” content. Something can just get seen by the right person at the right time and blow up. The only thing you can plan for is what foundations you have in place to capitalise on the audience increase, if that did ever happen.
The critical thing about attention and time is that they are limited resources and all the attention and time spent thinking and tracking, is removed from time spent doing Yes, take time to think, but don’t waste time dwelling.
“Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” – Steve Jobs
So yes, research and reflection have a role to play but there’s a tendency to overstate that role when it comes to creativity and exploration. The Universe can be random.
Some people’s success is instant and quick, but most people’s is delayed. If you stop moving then you drastically reduce your chance of finding out when yours is going to come. Move swiftly and don’t waste time trying to pick up everything you dropped on your way.