When Knowing How Doesn’t Matter

In 2001, I had no idea how to put out a book.
But I published HELLO, my name is Scott anyway.

And by some miracle, it found its way to CNN and USA TODAY.

In 2003, I had no idea how to set up (or sustain) a blog.
But I started HELLO, my name is Blog anyway.

And by some miracle, it won a Top 100 Business Blog Award.

In 2006, I had no idea how to write, shoot, edit and publish video modules.
But I built NametagTV anyway.

And by some miracle, it earned customers, sponsorships and heavy traffic.

LESSON LEARNED: Know-how doesn’t (always) matter.

“Don’t be stopped by not knowing how,” as my personal philosophy states.

How is overrated.
How is a dream destroyer.
How is the enemy of progress.
How is the hallmark of hopelessness.

Not that it hurts to know what you’re doing.

For example:

If you’re a surgeon, you better know how to close sutures.
If you’re an architect, you better know how to build a foundation.
If you’re an accountant, you better know how to read a balance sheet.

OTHERWISE: When the cost of incompetence isn’t health, safety, respect, reputation – or, millions of dollars – knowing how isn’t (necessarily) a prerequisite of success.

Instead, here’s what matters:

1. Override how with what and why. First, inquire within. Instead of walking a hole in the carpet about how to do something – go plop onto the couch and reflect on why you want to do it. You’ll find that “Why?” trumps “How?” every time. Don’t worry: Confusion is healthy. And “How?” comes eventually.

For now, put boot to ass and touch the center of your true intention. Because if you’re not fueled by an honest why – and you’re not willing to work like hell to keep your why alive – all the how in the world won’t camouflage the gaping void of purpose and meaning in your endeavors. How much execution have you squandered because you’re at war with how when you should be in love with why?

2. Occupy your imperfection. Not only do you (not) have to do everything perfectly, you also don’t have to do everything right. Perfectionism is just a lie your ego tells you to mitigate risk. The reality is, flawless execution doesn’t exist. Don’t allow the misguided desire for perfection to prevent you from doing, having and becoming what you need.

As Bikram Choudhury explained in a recent interview with Yoga Monthly: “Few of us ever do the poses perfectly. Instead, it’s about how well you understood what you’re trying to accomplish in each pose, and how you tried to accomplish your goal. And you don’t just learn the ideal pose – you learn what challenges you will face during the process, in addition to what clues will help you make rapid progress.”

Lesson learned: When know-how is lacking, decide what amount of progress is acceptable. Then, create of a way to quantify that amount so you can constantly measure it. That will help you focus on moving forward without moving flawlessly. Are you trying to keep from losing ground, or trying to make progress?

3. Exhibit confident uncertainty. Learn to thrive in shades of gray. Believe that your endeavors will be executed, even if you’re not sure which course of action needs to be taken. This activates your self-starting mechanism. Which gives you more room to be wrong. Which makes risk-taking a little less risky.

The only rub is, you have to trust your resources. You must have confidence in your abilities. And you need to celebrate past instances of those abilities bearing fruit. Just be patient. Before you know it, requisite competence will arrive. And if it doesn’t, there’s always slave labor. What do you have to do today to be ready for an uncertain tomorrow?

4. Ignorance is fuel. In 1946, inventor and businessman Edwin Land took his five year-old daughter to see the Grand Canyon. After snapping the photo, she innocently asked, “Daddy, why can’t we see the pictures NOW?” A year later, Polaroid introduced the world’s first instant camera.

Fifty years later, here’s the punch line: Ignorance isn’t an excuse – it’s a turbo booster. That’s the best part. Instead of being paralyzed by not knowing how, you’re energized by wondering what if. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to break the limit if you don’t know the limited exists.

The secret is to combine stupidity with coachability. Because while being ignorant is acceptable – staying ignorant isn’t. Are you smart enough to be dumb?

5. Learn the minimum amount you need to know for now. If you waited until you (fully) knew what you were doing – and, therefore, felt (fully) ready to do it – you’d never make it out of your garage and into the world. That’s when overlearning becomes a trap. An infinite regression.

Like the cartoon character that keeps taking cookies off the pile – but the pile never gets any smaller. Ever notice that? It’s like the cookies (appear) to magically refill themselves. Well, when you’re a kid, you think it really is magic. When, in reality, it’s just laziness on the part of the illustrator.

So, as an entrepreneur, here’s why that example is relevant: Your to-do list has no intention of getting any smaller either. Parkinson’s Law proves that, like the cookies, your pile of stuff to do and things learn will always refill itself.

My suggestion is: Don’t kill yourself learning how to do all fifty steps right away. It’s a terrible investment of time and energy. What’s more, by the time you realize that you only (actually) needed to know the first three steps to get it done – your stamina will be fully depleted. Like a newlywed on day six of the honeymoon.

Just do the minimum and move on. How many of your competitors are zooming past your vehicle of puttering perfectionism?

Okay. One final caveat:

Although (initial) success doesn’t always require know-how, long-term sustainability is unreachable without it.

Eventually, you’re going to have to figure out the how.

Because while faking it till you make it is helpful for a while, if you never (actually) get around to making it, you’re nothing but a bullshit artist. An entrepreneurial mannequin. Someone who’s very successful at looking like she’s very successful.

THE BOTTOM LINE: People, who are stopped by not knowing how, rarely execute the what.

They’re too scared.
They’re too invested in their egos.
They’re too susceptible to executional inertia.

Take it from a guy who just finished his twelfth book at the age of thirty:

Just for now, forget about how.

You have more important things to do.

Will you be stopped by not knowing how?

For the ebook called, “99 Questions Every Entrepreneur Needs to Ask,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

Don’t be stopped by not knowing HOW

An entrepreneur (by definition) is someone who takes risks.

So, she can’t let a little thing like “knowing how” stand in her way.

“How” is dangerous.
“How” is a dream destroyer.
“How” is the difference between talkers and doers.

And too many ideas, projects and movements have fallen off the face of the Earth because somebody was stopped by not knowing how.

LESSON LEARNED: Focus (first) on the WHAT, and the HOW will eventually appear.

Be clear about the results and flexible about the process. Here’s why:

The “WHAT” can be defined right away.
But the “HOW” takes time, patience and persistence.

The “WHAT” can lead to immediate action.
But the “HOW” may take weeks, even months to get started.

The “WHAT” can lay groundwork for the “HOW” to materialize.
But the “HOW” won’t come to fruition without first identifying the “WHAT.”

So, if you have a great new idea and (still) aren’t sure how to execute it, relax.

Because all that matters (at least, right now) is that you just get started.

That you take the first step. That you do something. ANYTHING!

After all, ideas are free; only execution is priceless.

So, consider these practices to help you focus on the “WHAT.” That way the “HOW” will eventually come to fruition.

1. START with lists. The moment you get a new idea, the first thing you need to do is make it into a list. Listing is the simplest, quickest and most efficient way to capture your idea before it flies away to “But You Never Wrote Me Down Land.”

And, the human brain is a self-organizing machine. So, listing subconsciously creates patterns, groups and “piles” of material that seem to come together on their own. This will help you explore the “WHAT” to its fullest extent. I suggest spending a few hours taking a mental dump, creating lists like:

o What My Idea Is
o What My Idea Isn’t
o Where This Idea Came From
o Why I Want to Do This Project
o Who the Customer Is
o What the Value Proposition Is
o How My Idea Is Unique
o Who I Need to Talk To about This Idea
o Goals of This Idea
o Potential Benefits of This Idea
o Resources/Items I Need to Obtain to Move Forward
o Barriers or Challenges
o What This Idea (Could) Become
o What I Want This Idea to Become
o Strengths of This Idea
o Weaknesses of This Idea
o Dangers of This Idea

List until you’ve got nothing left to list. Empty your mind! Update, edit and revisit your lists regularly. Ultimately, this practice will objectify AND clarify your thoughts, thus bringing you closer to discovering the “HOW.”

2. CONTINUE with resources. Odds are, there’s somebody out there who’s done something similar to your idea. Your goal is to connect WITH, and glean lessons FROM that person.

So, here’s your approach:

o FIRST, spend some time googling around. See what else and who else is out there. Keep a record of your findings.

o SECOND, create (yet another) list. Find 5-7 other entrepreneurs whose ideas mirror your own. Think of them as potential resources.

o THIRD, send each of them a short email. Introduce yourself and congratulate them on their success. Then, briefly explain why you’ve reached out. Summarize your new idea in one or two sentences. Ask if they’d be willing to have coffee or chat on the phone for 15 minutes. Respect their boundaries by working with their schedule and/or offering to compensate them for their time.

o FOURTH, shut up and listen. During your conversation, ask penetrating questions like:

o What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
o What’s the stupidest thing I could do with this idea?
o What three things have most contributed to your success?
o What was the turning point in your execution of this idea?
o What mistakes do people in situations like this usually make?

o FIFTH, take copious notes. Find out what they’ve learned and where they’ve screwed up. Keep all of your research, resources and notes together in an easily accessible folder, along with your lists from the first exercise.

o SIXTH, follow up. Send your new friend(s) a follow up email to thank them for their time. Make it your goal to meet with one of these resources once a month. Without being too annoying, occasionally keep them updated on your progress. And continue to run your “WHAT” ideas by them as you discover more of your “HOW.”

3. PERSIST with education. OK! You’ve made some lists and picked some brains. Great progress on the “WHAT.” By now, the “HOW” should be starting to show its ugly little mug.

Which means it’s time to get shanks out.

A.K.A., you need to be willing to suck in the beginning.

Please take a moment and re-read that last sentence.

Yes, It comes with the territory. Whether you’re a storeowner, children’s author or a professional service provider, you’ve got to get the shanks out.

And you do so through education.

Several examples:

That means … daring to do it badly.
Which might mean making an idiot of yourself.

FOR EXAMPLE: Even Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock bombed in front of audiences in the beginning.

That means … spending time paying your dues.
Which might mean fighting your attitude of instant gratification.

FOR EXAMPLE: Accept the fact that you might not get any web traffic for six months.

That means … seeking progress, not perfection.
Which might mean asking for feedback to find out where you suck.

FOR EXAMPLE: Ask customers to offer honest feedback, even if it hurts.

That means … creating work that isn’t very good.
Which might mean throwing a lot of stuff away.

FOR EXAMPLE: Wouldn’t you want to go to the driving range to hit a bucket of balls before playing your first round of the season?

As you can see, persisting with education is the hardest, longest and most enduring part of discovering your “HOW.”

It takes the most patience.
It takes hard AND smart AND long work.
It takes stepping out of your comfort zone.

But that’s exactly why it works.

In fact, that’s why ALL of these practices work.

And I only know this because I’ve done them (and continue to do them) as I trudge forward through my own entrepreneurial hurdles.

Just like you.

So, if you’re an entrepreneur who’s become stuck by not knowing how, remember these three practices:

START with lists.
CONTINUE with resources.
PERSIST with education.

And just concentrate on the WHAT.

No-how will eventually lead to know-how 😉

When you aren’t sure about the “HOW,” what’s your first move?

Share your first move here!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag

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