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!


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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