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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Finding your aim – the shotgun method!


My ideal version of meeting my aim is this: I wake up early every day and write for a few hours. My writing would be focused on things that help people and make life easier somehow. I would spend a little bit of time on my investments, making sure things were going well and searching for new ideas. Then I would hit the gym or the trail or, even better, the ocean for a quick workout. By 9:30am, I would go to an office to manage a business. Possibly it’s my current one, my physical therapy business. Maybe it's something else with a few more employees and a lot less time requirements. During the course of the day, I would divide my time between managing clients and employees. Perhaps I would be running 2 or 3 small businesses.  Who knows?  By 3:00pm, I would be back at my writing desk until dinner. After dinner and time with my wife, I would work on art, maybe making jewelry.  In my ideal life, I would be in bed by 8:00 every night, exhausted and satisfied. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?  

I want to look this content!


Well, maybe not for everyone. I actually have an 86 year old client named Mr. B that has this exact life. He is not a physical therapist. He owns 3 businesses. He writes art books. He runs a retail business, a jewelry business, and a real estate business. After dinner, he designs watches for a major name in the wrist watch industry. He calls that his fun time. Every day, he tells me he creates at least one thing out of thin air. He smiles when he tells me that. I have to say, Mr. B is on to something. He is 86 and more alive and engaged in the people around him than most people my own age. He recently survived myeloma cancer in the hip and back. He told me his businesses and watch design kept his mind off the pain. There is a lot to learn from Mr. B; I will have to revisit that later.

The problem is, I don’t know how to write for a living. I can’t even figure out what this blog is supposed to be like. Deep down, I don’t think my PT practice is what I was meant to do. The home care business was a step in the right direction, but still not right. I can’t tell you how you can find your aim. I can barely determine what my own should be. I think there are precise people who have laser-like focus and know just what they need to do. I am not ever going to be that kind of person. I wonder if they really exist?  Instead, I use the shotgun approach to ideas.  What does that mean? I am willing to try a lot of ideas. I learned long ago, I can’t predict what will work or what will be successful. So, for the past few years and probably the next few, I am allowing myself the time to try new ideas. I am open to anything. Here are some guidelines I have set for any new ideas:

Don’t ask permission:  I would like to publish a book. I have learned that it is fairly easy to self publish through Kindle. I have no intention of finding a real publisher because I don’t want to ask anyone’s permission to try something. I used to ask people to do things all the time. I asked for jobs, vacations, investments, retirement. Then one day I realized that wasn’t working for me. My ideas for what I wanted were much bigger than those I was asking permission from. So I went into business for myself. I created my own retirement plan, my own schedule and my own time off. I give myself raises all the time. Every aspect of my life is as self governed as possible. Yes, there is a price to pay for that and huge amounts of risk and responsibility, but it's worth it. I feel in charge. So if I wanted to be a writer, why would I ask a publisher for permission? All I have to do is write something, edit it, and self-publish on Kindle. In fact, it's so easy to do, I plan to try it in the next few weeks right in front of you. I will publish a short self-help novel using what I have written here. I won’t charge much for it, but it will be a test. If I sell a hundred copies, I will try it again. You have to start somewhere! But I won’t ask anyone for permission to try my dreams.

Start small: Whatever I do try, I start out as small as possible. I have made the mistake of super-sizing my ideas once too often. It led to frustration, fears of loss, and almost my own death.  Now, anything I dream of, I think about a way to try it that’s so small it doesn’t cost me any real investment or huge time commitment. All my ideas can be done at first with just one employee, me! Not having a large investment in my ideas gives me the freedom to fail. If I start with three employees and a rented commercial space, failure means a lot. I hate firing people! I especially hate being locked into a 5 year lease. I've made this mistake enough!  If I was interested in starting a food business, I would first give the food away to anyone; restaurant owners, coffee shops, grocery stores. I would even pay them to try it. Why? Because going the route of a finished commercial food product is an incredible investment. First you need to know if people will really like it. You must know you have customers, then you build the product. Start small. If your idea is good, then grow it!

Famous Amos - I know him! He lives in Kailua
 and created the cookies that bare his name


Don’t look for perfection:  This is a hard one for a lot of people. Obviously, if you read this blog, you see all the spelling and grammar mistakes. I am not much of a perfectionist. The lack of it both helps and hurt me. It helps, because I don’t feel the need to have something perfect before I release it to the world. This lets me start things very easily. I am not burdened by the need for something to be absolutely perfect before I show it to the public.  But it hurts me too! People see my imperfections and say, “This guy is half-assed.”  They ignore me. I become just a hack. But the great thing is, you can always hire detail people. I just hired someone to edit my blog. She was nice enough to agree to a very reasonable fee to edit each post. If things really work out, I will pay her more. But, if I tried to be perfect in each post, I would never churn out a post a day (like I strive to). I would be stuck in editing each post for days. That won’t work! I think it's better to allow for a few imperfections to produce something that is a good idea. It is too easy for perfectionism to destroy a good idea in the details.

The shotgun approach: If I keep my ideas small and my investment low, I can try many things at once. This is a crazy world. Things I would never think would work have become hugely popular. I never believed people would like Facebook. I thought Twitter was a joke. Who would have guessed that tablet and phones would replace computers? The cloud will soon replace CD’s and hard drives. I do have ideas, but I have no clue which ones will stick. The more times I try, the greater my chance of success. By being willing to push my ideas out there in small, inexpensive, imperfect packages, I at least get to see how the public perceives them. I am looking at the stats of this blog very day. I see what kinds of things people are interested in. I originally called this blog “Ignoring the Noise.” I thought I would write a lot about investing and starting businesses. People were more interested in my life and failures. I know because I put it all out there and then watched the reaction. In a way, I am trying all my writing ideas on this blog and it costs me nothing! There is a lesson to be learned there. Putting your small,  imperfect ideas out there for the public to choose is much better than working for months on a perfected idea and then spending lots of time and money on its release. You don’t have to do that unless you won’t be satisfied any other way. It certainly depends on your idea. I would bet there is a way to make it small and cheap enough to allow you several attempts.

Plan for success: Each idea I have, I try and structure so growth is possible. I created this blog with the thought that I wanted to write, but I wasn’t sure what people wanted to read. Those are of course two different things. But, I could easily grow this into a lot of things: a self help website, a book, a social media website, maybe even a series of films. I am envisioning a series of short YouTube films about the steps to finding your aim. I would like to use a combination of animation, live action, and voice-over. Casey Neistat is my hero when it comes to film making. I would strive to create something as well crafted as his films. This blog could easily be a launching pad for those dreams. I planned it that way. I may never get to any of that stuff, but if I do, nothing here will stop me. I am trying to be careful not to write myself into a corner. The point is, I am setting myself up for those things to potentially happen. I am also prepared to invest money and time into these ideas. But no money yet! Right now, it's just my time, and I am willing to risk it!  If things work out, then I will be happy to invest in myself and my ideas. I am planning for success but first I want to know who my customer is and if he or she will be interested in my product.

I have no idea if anything I envision will be successful. I tell people my ideas all the time. Most just smile and shake their heads. Some even tell me how foolish I am. But just as I don’t ask anyone for permission, I can’t let someone talk me out of my idea. I can’t say I will ignore them, but I can say their negativity can’t stop me.

Doug

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