In last Friday's post I talked about the difference between getting things done and making things happen. In short, becoming productive is necessary, but not sufficient, to becoming a Big Swinging member of your field. Once you have capacity to put to good use it's time to make things happen, which you can do in 3 steps:
- Redefine success
- Look for opportunities
- Take the first step
These are listed not only chronologically, but in order from most difficult to least difficult.
Redefine Success: Never Confuse the Reward with the Goal
Most people that I know and work with have a goal of making more money. Don't worry, I'm not about to get all hippy dippy anti-money on you. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact, in that I want you to make more at what you do by being more valuable. The problem as I see it is that money is a reward, not a goal. If you have money as a goal, you'll pass up opportunity after opportunity simply because you can't see the money in it. If, instead, you take the approach of doing things and showing your value independently of money, you'll see tons of opportunity and by seizing these opportunities you'll have the chance to turn some of them into money. If you redefine success as bringing something into existence (rather than getting paid to work), you'll find lots of chances to try your hand at it. Making things happen is like any other skill in that you'll probably start out kind of bad at it, but as you practice you'll get better and better. Once you're really good at it and have a track record you'll be trusted with riskier and riskier opportunities. What's even better is that you'll get opportunities (high paying ones at that) that you would never have known about any other way. Which leads us to looking for opportunities.
Look For Opportunities: Stand In Luck's Way
Let's say that you've chosen to believe me and have decided to define success as making things happen for a bit. The next step is to take what you know and use it in ways and places that you typically wouldn't. As an example, I used to have warehouse space next to a forklift sales and service company. It was a small company and they didn't have much budget for IT work. As a matter of fact, they didn't even own the domain name that matched their company name. To me, this just isn't right. I bought their domain name and put together a small, but nice looking website for them. It was a great experience in low-cost, high-speed (i.e. I didn't want to spend a ton of time on it) web development. While I would love to tell you that this led to a multi-million dollar contract through strange twists of fate, it didn't. As a matter of fact, I never made a single dollar off of it. Something could have happened because I created the site, but it didn't this time. Oh well, I still consider it a success, because some really nice, hard working, honest guys got a good looking site that they wouldn't have had otherwise. By creating the circumstances where something great could happen, I feel that I increased the chances of something great happening.
As a contrasting example, I met someone who was interested in cloud computing. I volunteered to do some writing about what cloud computing is, where it's going, and why it's valuable. To me, the chance to write/speak about the subject and tell people what I think about an interesting subject was the goal. I ended up getting an email a few weeks later from a colleague of this person which led to a paid writing gig and a little consulting work. As it stands it looks like this opportunity may end up being one of the highest paying –and most interesting– in my entire career. And it started by me wanting to see something happen . . . not by me wanting money. So start looking around with fresh eyes. Eyes that are looking to do things instead of eyes looking for a payday. Once you start seeing these opportunities, you'll realize that there are more than you could ever jump on and you can pick and choose which to pursue based on your time and inclination.
Take the First Step: The "Making Things Happen" Part
Everything up to this point has been prep work. Preparing yourself to see things and finding things to do are necessary steps, but you still need an action step where things start happening. The key here is finding the first step. For example, when I talked to the forklift guys the next step was to find out if their domain name was available. When I talked about cloud computing, the next step was to outline what I thought was important about the technology. When I meet others, the first step may be to build them a small piece of software that can lead to a bigger project down the road. Because I've practiced doing these things so many times, they cost me less than they would cost others. I know where to get inexpensive hosting, web templates, development tools, stock photos, etc. I would never have had these skills, or they wouldn't be nearly as developed, if I had waited for paid opportunities each time. Instead, once I saw something that I could do, I volunteered to take the next step since the next step cost me relatively little. Right now I have a financial threshold of about $100 and a time threshold of about 20 hours. Any time I see something that I can do in less than 20 hours for less than $100, I consider it "free" to me. This means I can try something every other month for $600 and 120 hours per year. That's 6 additional opportunities a year for something great to happen and through making things happen, I meet people, upgrade my skills, and uncover even more opportunities.
In summary: Take small, bounded risks where the payoff is doing something that may otherwise have not been done. Over time you'll get better and better at both seeing opportunities and capitalizing on them. And who knows, maybe one day you'll wake up and find out that something you did has paid off in a Big Swinging way.