The job isn't to catch up to the status quo;
The job is to invent the status quo.

The initiator

"I've got an idea, and I'm going to start working on it tomorrow. It won't take a lot of time and it won't cost a lot of money, and I think it's going to work."
With those two sentences, Annie changed her life.

The change was in her posture. For the first time, Annie wasn't waiting for instructions, working through a to-do list, or reacting to incoming tasks. She wasn't handed initiative, she took it.
She became someone who stats something, someone who initiates, someone who is prepared to fail along the way if it helps her make a difference.

Your turn

Imagine that the world had no middlemen, no publishers, no bosses, no one teling you what you couldn't do.
If you lived in that world, what would you do?
Go. Do that.

Magazine publishers gave up all their growth to bloggers.
Britannica sat and watched Wikipedia.
If money and organizational might aren't the foundation of the connected economy, what is?

This is a manifesto about starting

Not just "I'm starting to think about it", or "We're going to meet on this".
No, starting. Going to the point of non return.
Leaping, committing, making something happen.

The seventh imperative

The 7 imperative.

Without the spark of initiative you have no choice but to simply react to the world.

The seventh imperative is frightening and thus easy to overlook or ignore.
The seventh imperative is to have the guts and the heart and the passion to ship.

The difference of go

The simple thing that separates successful individuals from those who languish is the very thing that separates exciting and growing organizations from those that stagnate and die.
The winners have turned initiative into a passion and practice.

The challenge is getting into the habit of starting.

Craig Ventner and Dr Frankenstein

As a masse of dead genes miss the sparkle of life,
The opportunity is to see that all around you are platforms, opportunities and entire organizations that will come to life once you are driven enough and brave enough to contribute the initiative they are missing.

The buzzer box

Flip one switch ad a light goes on
Flip both switches and a buzzer sounds.
A kid sees the buzzer box and starts poking it. If I do this, that happens!
Mathematicians cal this a function. Put in one variable, get a result.
Life is a buzzer box. Poke it.

The elements of production

Here's what needed to make something happen:
An idea, people to work on it, a place to build or organize it, raw materials, distribution, money, marketing.

All of this work is wasted if the least understood input is missing.
If no one says "go", the project languishes.
If no one insists, pushes, creates, cajoles, and launches, then there's nothing.

All of the other elements are cheaper and easier to find than ever before. Which makes the motive force so critical.
All the tools are here, the market is waiting, the capital is waiting, the factories are waiting, the stores are waiting.
They're waiting for someone to say "Go".

Walking in circles

Jan Souman studied what happens to us when we have no map, no compass (lost in woods or Sahara).
It turns out we walk in circles.
Try as we might to walk in a straight line, to get out of the forest or the desert, we end up back were we started.

[quote, Dr Souman]
"Don't trust your senses because even though you might think you are walking in a straight line when you're not."

Human nature is to need a map. If you're brave enough to draw one, people will follow.

Who says yes?

What do you do here?
It's interesting to hear people describe their roles, their jobs, their sets of tasks.
Some are self-limiting, other are grandiose.
Almost no one says "I start stuff".
If there's no one starting stuff, then where does innovation comes from?
Not the ideas, there are plenty of those, but starting.
If all that we're missing is the spark of life, the motive force, why is this overlooked?

Poke the box

All great programmers learn the same way. They poke the box.
They code something and see what the computer does. They change it and see.
The box might be a computer, a market, a customer, your boss. It's a puzzle to be solved by poking.
When you do this, the box reveals itself through your poking.
Ownership comes from understanding and from having the power to make things happen.

To surrender control to the objects and organizations in our life.
As soon as we willingly and blindly accept what's given, we lose all power.
Only by poking, testing, modifying and understanding can we truly own anything, truly exert our influence.
No one has influence, control, or confidence in his work until he understands how to initiate change and predict how the box will respond.

What can you start?

People have come to the erroneous conclusion that if they are not willing to start something separate, world-changing, and risky, they have no business.

When can you start?

Soon is not as good as now.

Kinds of capital

Financial capital - money in the bank that can be put to work on a project or investment.
Network capital - People you know, connections you can make, retailers and systems you can plug into.
Intellectual capital - Smarts. Software systems. Access to people with insight.
Physical capital - Plant and machinery and tools and trucks.
Prestige capital - Your reputation.
Investigation capital - The desire to move forward. The ability and the guts to say yes.

Dooble dooble

The only defensible way to thrive is to double and then double again.

Faster in shorter cycles, more attention on change, an obsession with changing the status quo merely to see what happens.

Aimless is where we end up when we don't care so much about where we're going, or we try to hide and limit our contributions.

Is flux the same as risk?

Flux is flow. We can measure the flux of heat. Things are moving.
Risk involves winning and losing.
There is no risk when you put an ice cube in a hot cup of tea.
The heat moves from the water to the ice.

Risk, to some, is a bad thing, because risk brings with it the possibility of failure.
the thought of failure shuts you down.
We've been trained to avoid failure.
I define anxiety as experiencing failure in advance.

Over the time people have begun to confuse flux with risk as well.
We have concluded that if things are flowing, if there is movement, then of course there is risk.
Those who fear risk also begin to fear movement of any kind.
People act as flux, the movement of people or ideas, or anything else that's unpredictable, expose us to risk, and risk expose us to failure.
The fearful try to avoid collision, so they avoid movement.

Two mistakes: First, they assumed that risk is a bad thing, second, they confused risk and flux, and come to the conclusion that movement is a bad thing as well.

I'm not surprised to discover that many of these people are stuck. Stuck with the status quo, stuck defending their position in the market, stuck with the education they have, unwilling to get more.
Now the whole world is in flux.

If your project doesn't have movement, compared to the rest of the world, you're actually moving backward.
Like a rock in a flowing river, you might be standing still, but given the movement around you, collisions are inevitable.

The irony for the person who prefers no movement is that there's far less turbulence around the log.

The trail of failure

"This will end up in crying" was the warning my mom would announce.

Most things break. Most ideas fail. Most initiative don't succeed.

Why avoiding failure is counterproductive:
Countless self-made people.
Oprah has had failed shows, failed projects, failed predictions.
She starts something new everyday, sometimes a few times a day.
No one keep track of that list that didn't work out.

Mehmet Oz has lost patients. Mark Cuban has backed failed businesses. The more you do, the more you fail.

We're talking about the failure of people with good intent, people seeking connection and joy and the ability to make a difference.
Hard work is going to be here no matter what.
The kind of initiative I'm talking about is difficult because it's important and frightening and new.

If you sign up for the initiative path an continue on it when others fret about "quality" and "predictability", you will ultimately succeed.
The crowd won't stop worrying because worrying is what they enjoy doing.

The epidemic

Steven Pressfield gives the voice of the lizard brain a name: the resistance.
Urging you to compromise, not to be a troublemaker, to avoid rash moves.
The resistance is always chattering away, sabotaging our best opportunities and ruining our best chance to do great work.
Naming it helps you befriend it, and befriending it helps you ignore it.

The first rule on doing what matters

Go to work on a regular basis.

Zig Ziglar taught me: Make your schedule before you start.

Show up, don't sleep.

Your ego and your project

Ego drives us to make a difference. Or creative work would all be anonymous.
It's okay. Let your ego push you to be the initiator.
But tell your ego that the best way to get something shipped is to let other people take the credit.
The real win for you (and your ego) is seing something get shipped, not in getting the credit when it does.

Redefining quality

"Good enough" used to be the definition of quality.
"Without defects" followed, from cars to ipad.
Most competition is now without defects as well, which means that quality is not so interesting anymore.
We need to move beyond and seek remarkable, connected and new.

Why is this mediocre?

We almost never look at merely mediocre products and wonder why they aren't great.
They do what they're supposed to, but they have set the bar so low that it's hardly worth the energy to cross the street to buy them.
Why isn't every restaurant meal a fabulous buy for the money?

The upside for you is to find the energy and the will to challenge the mediocre.

When in doubt…

Look for the fear. That's almost always the source of your doubts.

Where did curious go?

Street performing magicians lead to a lot of screaming: How did you do that?
People have been indoctrined so completely by their jobs that they don't want to know how something works.
They're willing to accept that perhaps the laws of nature don't work as they expect.

Initiative is a little like creativity in that both require curiosity.
To understand how something works and how it might work better.
The difference is that the creative person is satisfied once he sees how it's done. The initiator won't rest until he does it.

Pick me!

Creative people or those with something to say believe that they have to wait to be chosen.
Authors, for example, wait to be chosen by an agent, and then by a publisher.

Entrepreneurs wait to be chosen by a venture capitalist or investor. They need that selection in order to validate their work and to get started on actually building a business.

Employees wait to be picked for promotion, or to lead a meeting.

"Pick me" acknowledge the power of the system and passes responsibility to someone else to initiate.
Even better, it moves the blame from you to them.

Reject the tyranny of picked. Pick yourself.

The promoter and the organizer

If she gets picked often, it’s a fine living. If she can negotiate a fair payday, it’s a fine living. But Jessica must pitch the promoter, hat in hand.

The promoter, on the other hand, has all the power. The promoter initiates the conference. The promoter, who has skills very similar to the organizer’s, actually gets to hire the organizer. The promoter is the picker, not the one waiting to get picked.

Over the years, Jerry Weintraub earned more than a hundred million dollars as a promoter, resisting the temptation to sit back and merely react to offers instead. He initiated projects; he didn’t sell to them.

Entrepreneurship is merely a special case

It’s easy to come to the conclusion that someone who initiates and is willing to challenge the status quo is automatically an entrepreneur, that this is a practice reserved for the boss. We reassure ourselves that since we’ve given up the reins to the boss or the founder, it’s her job to poke, not ours.

The goal of the entrepreneur is to build an entity, something that can grow and thrive once it’s moving.

Entrepreneurship is a special case not because it requires initiative (all of us are required to bring that to the table now) but because it involves using money, people, and assets to create a new, bigger, entity.

Nonprofits and even government agencies have discovered that the best way to thrive in a world that’s changing is to change, and that happens only when someone is willing to poke the box and see what works.

The season’s pass

Ski resorts are happy to sell you a ticket to ski all year, for about the cost of seven days’ worth of lift tickets. The people who take the leap and buy the ticket have realized that it’s easier (and cheaper) to decide once than it is to make a choice again and again all season.

Initiation is like that. Instead of initiating on an ad hoc basis, worrying each time, getting permission each time, selling each time, why not buy a season’s pass? Why not sell your boss or your colleagues on being the initiator? It’s your job. You start things. Ask once, do many.

No free lunch

Of course, the challenge of being the initiator is that you’ll be wrong. You’ll pick the wrong thing, you’ll waste time, you’ll be blamed.

This is why being an initiator is valuable.

Most people shy away from the challenge. They’ve been too abused, they’re too fearful, they hold back, they’re happy to let someone else take the heat.

Initiative is scarce. Hence valuable.

Ditch digging is not scarce. It’s not hard at all to find manual labor at minimum wage, which is precisely why manual labor gets paid minimum wage.

It’s extremely difficult to find smart people willing to start useful projects. Because sometimes what you start doesn’t work. The fact that it doesn’t work every time should give you confidence, because it means you’re doing something that frightens others.

The lizard misunderstands the economics of poking

The connected economy of ideas demands that we contribute initiative. And yet we resist, because our lizard brain, the one that lives in fear, relentlessly exaggerates the cost of being wrong.

Polish this!

I wonder what would happen if instead of rushing to Twitter, my friend used that chime to do something original or provocative or important? What if the chime was his reminder not to polish, but to create?

Welcome to Project World

As organizations have begun to coalesce around projects, they’ve made a startling discovery: the starting part is harder than it looks.

How to invent and choose and stick with or abandon ideas, how to select and predict and forecast the future of a project—this is all difficult.

And it begins with the initiator, the one who begins things.

The Ford System is dead, long live the Ford System

The new system doesn’t consume oil or electricity on an assembly line; it thrives on innovation. Call it a project line.

The old system can’t work without the new. And the new system depends on unpredictable human beings adding unscheduled insights.

What happened to Excellence?

I can see the frustration in his eyes when he’s on stage. While millions of people have embraced the thinking behind his work, too many others are still waiting for him to tell them exactly what to do. They don’t understand that Excellence isn’t about working extra hard to do what you’re told. It’s about taking the initiative to do work you decide is worth doing.

Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them.

What next?

Avoiding risk worked then but doesn’t work now.
Now “what’s next?” is in fact the driving force for individuals and for organizations. Ever onward, ever faster.

Allowed (not allowed)

Most employees can give you a long list of all the things they’re not allowed to do. Not-allowed lists exist in schools, in relationships, and in jobs. The park near my house doesn’t allow dogs, non-residents, or birthday parties.

It’s interesting that the allowed list is harder to remember and to write down. I think we might be afraid of how much freedom we actually have, and how much we’re expected to do with that freedom.

It’s comforting to live with a list of what’s not allowed. We remember it, we push against it, but ultimately, we enjoy the confinement that the limits bring us. When revolutions appear, when the list gets much shorter, it’s surprising how long it takes for us to take action. Simple example: how long did it take after the birth of blogs or Twitter for you to begin speaking up? Before this, you had no cheap, easy, allowable way to speak your mind to the world. You weren’t allowed.
Then you were.
And yet most people who use these tools took years (!) to take action and start.

The death of idealism

As disillusionment sets in, people stop poking. They find themselves slowing down, dissuaded or disheartened, so they start to accept the status quo. The irony is that the act of creating and shipping remarkable ideas is the very thing that can change the status quo.

The alternative is to relentlessly and consistently be starting something (and finishing it). Julie Taymor, Alice Waters, and Sarah Jones could all sit back and become one of those disillusioned realists. Instead, like everyone who is making a difference, they continue to poke. It’s a choice.

Don’t tell Woodie

My dog wears one of those Invisible Fence collars. There’s a wire around our small yard, and if she gets near it, her collar buzzes. If she goes a bit farther, she gets a small shock. (I think she’s been shocked exactly once.) The dog associates the buzz with the shock and never goes near the edge.

The thing is, the wire broke a year ago, so the system doesn’t work. But Woodie now associates the collar with the behavior, and leaves the yard only if we take the collar off.

The boundary is in her head, not in the system.

I wonder what would happen…

None of this works without curiosity.
Success-minded people have no trouble at all following proven instructions. We all would be happy to follow a map if the map came with a guarantee.

There is no guarantee, though. There are no maps. They’ve all been taken, and their value is not what it used to be, because your competitors have maps, too.

The opportunity lies in pursuing your curiosity instead. Curiosity is not allergic to failure. Curiosity drives us to the haunted house because the thrills lie in what we don’t expect, not in what’s safe.

Curiosity can start us down the path to shipping, to bringing things to the world, to examining them, refining them, and repeating the process again (and again).

Three thousand TED talks

Three thousand talks later, it’s pretty clear that big ideas and unsettling concepts are not just the work of people who get paid to think that way.

In fact, we’re all capable of poking the box. In every country and in most industries, there are passionate people who are making a difference. Because they can.

If you had a chance to do a TED talk, what would it be about? What have you discovered, what do you know, what can you teach? You should do one. Even if you don’t do one, you should be prepared to do one.

That’s your opportunity—to approach your work in a way that generates unique learning and interactions that are worth sharing.

The joy of wrong

But what if the “wrong” Starbucks had never been built? What if Jerry and his partners had said, “Well, we’re not sure if this bean thing is going to work, so let’s do nothing”? Without Jerry Baldwin and his flawed idea for a coffee bean store, there’d be no Frappuccino. One led to the other by the usual route, which is never a straight line.

Poking doesn’t mean right. It means action.

The world is a lot more complicated than it appears

Initiative and starting are about neither of these. They are about “let’s see” and “try.”

If there’s no clear right answer, perhaps the thing you ought to do is something new. Something new is often the right path when the world is complicated.


[quote, Richard Feynman]
I don’t know what’s the matter with people: they don’t learn by understanding, they learn by some other way—by rote or something. Their knowledge is so fragile!

“This might not work”

Is it okay to say these four words?
Is your work so serious and flawless and urgent that each thing you do, every day, must work?
Change is powerful, but change always comes with failure as its partner. “This might not work” isn’t merely something to be tolerated; it’s something you should seek out.

Take a lid off it

For the rest of us, the majority of us, there’s an engine running on “better.” We have a daemon in our head, a voice that often starts with “what about…” and then trails off, disgusted at our inability to actually try this stuff out, to poke.

The reasons for lying low are clear and obvious and stupid. The opportunity is to adopt a new practice, one where you find low-risk, low-cost ways to find out just how smart and intuitive and generous you actually are.

Starting implies (demands) finishing

To merely start without finishing is just boasting, or stalling, or a waste of time. I have no patience at all for people who believe they are doing their best work but are hiding it from the market. If you don’t ship, you actually haven’t started anything at all. At some point, your work has to intersect with the market. At some point, you need feedback as to whether or not it worked. Otherwise, it’s merely a hobby.

Notions belong in the sewing store, not in your work

If you keep the idea inside you, you are merely hypothetically shipping, conceptually testing the market, prototyping your concept.

If you don’t finish, it doesn’t really count as starting, and if you don’t start, you’re not poking.

Shipping and fear

Writing this manifesto might be overwhelming. I know it’s going to be read, at least by a few people. If I focus on that—focus on the fact that yes, it will be seen and criticized and worked with and misunderstood and embraced and spread—then I’m bound to hold back. The challenge is to focus on the work, not on the fear that comes from doing the work.

As you get better at shipping, you may notice that your ability to instigate starts to fade. The knowledge that your idea might turn into something is paralyzing. It means that your notions and hunches must face more self-scrutiny. So the new manager says to herself, “I better not tell my staff that pickles are the trendy new appetizer, or they’ll be on the menu within days—and if they flop, the buck will stop with me.”