What would it take to…?
Whenever I started a sentence like that, my business partner at our small marketing firm would just roll his eyes and laugh. He knew that I was nurturing the seed of some new idea – something probably odd and impractical that could easily make money or flame out in spectacular glory. It was a regular enough occurrence that it ceased to be a surprise. We would just move to the conference room where he would graciously hear me out. We would walk through the pros and cons of the idea and then map out what it would take to become a reality. It was a simple but effective exercise and it started with a simple question – “What would it take to…?”
The world is full of good ideas, but I learned a long time ago that ideas are worthless without the planning and ability to make them a reality. (Remind me to tell you the story of how I pitched an idea for motion capture technology to Jim Henson’s Creature Studio way back in 1996. Needless to say, it went nowhere.) It’s not enough to be the “idea person.” You have to be willing to get your hands dirty to make your dreams a reality.
Too often, when someone announces that we should do this or that, they really mean that they would really like it if someone else would make that happen. They want to be responsible for ideas and decisions without any of the work necessary to see it through. This is natural. It’s a part of the creative process. Most people are not being lazy or manipulative. It’s just fun and easy to generate ideas, but that’s all they are – ideas. Turning good ideas into a reality requires discipline and commitment. We have to train ourselves to take ownership of our ideas as well as their outcomes. In places where I lead, if someone enthusiastically suggests that “we should…,” I try to get them to complete that thought with “and I will…”
I’m currently leading our small church / non-profit charity through some “what would it take to…” discussions. We need to decide what sort of organization we want to be, cast a vision for the future, and make specific plans for moving towards that vision. Asking those kinds of questions means starting with what we are willing to put forth. In essence, what are we willing to risk?
Everything has a cost. It may be a financial expense or the use of some other kind of resource. It is important to understand your “budget” before you even begin to move forward. Your situation may be different, but these are the kinds of things you need to assess:
How much are you willing to spend, literally? Are you totally strapped for cash and unwilling / unable to put more cash on the table? If you can’t afford it, are you willing to borrow money from other people and take responsibility for returning the money? Most changes involve some kind of expense. If the money is not there, you’re done before you get started.
If you don’t have the cash, do you have the extra time to spend on a new project? Sometimes, time can be an adequate substitute for cash. Other people might be able to put cash into an idea if you take on more of the actual work. Additionally, do you have enough time to survive? If your change is dependent on some kind of growth in order to succeed, what happens if the growth doesn’t occur, or happens too slowly?
People / Relationships
Are you willing to sacrifice someone for your dreams? This is not as brutal as it sounds. Imagine that your new project will require moving to a new location which will make it impossible for some people to participate. Or, imagine that you will be making some policy changes which some people will absolutely oppose. Are you prepared to lose those individuals in order to make the necessary changes?
Identity / Reputation
If your new plan will move you in a direction which will change how others see you, are you prepared for the consequences? If you decide to take a stand on a certain controversial or unpopular issue, are you prepared for changes in the ways people will perceive you?
This is all about your tolerance for risk. What are you willing to give or sacrifice in order to turn your ideas into a reality? It’s fun to generate ideas and dream big, but it’s equally important to create a concrete plan for getting from here to there. Do you really have what it takes?
What will it take to…?
If you look through all of the costs and are unable (or unwilling) to make the necessary sacrifices, then all you have is an idea, and that’s not enough.