One of the things that I love doing with my kid is building lego. It amazes me how he is able to sit there for hours bringing something that is somewhere in the depths of his head to the jewel tone colourful creation in his fingers. Admittedly, I don’t seem to have those same creative genes. I need to follow instructions. Or maybe it’s that I haven’t built enough Lego to create something that looks legit on my own. In anything new that we create, we need to first have the fundamentals before we can go buck wild and explore and create. Before you create your masterpiece, it would be helpful to know how to use the brush. Before you create your wedding dress, it would be helpful to know how the sewing machine works.
In any case, I gave myself a quest of putting together a dragon from Ninjago. We had made it together before. But over time, the dragon got re-purposed for a helicopter, a ninja submarine, and other vehicles and weaponry that came to inspiration. As I started to follow the intricate directions of Sensei Wu’s crazy dragon, I learnt some pretty key elements that I discovered could apply to more than just my checkered career in lego construction. These are lessons that I could apply to building my business as well. After all, there are hardly clear-cut instructions when it comes to entrepreneurship. Sure, you can follow courses (which would be akin to building instructions), and maybe even buy a turn-key operation. But at the end of the day, what you learn for yourself involves a whole lot of exploration of your own volition.
1. No Guarantees to Success
I started off strong. The first few steps were easy. I was fresh; I was focused. Then I got stuck on step 6. I couldn’t find the piece. I got overwhelmed. The longer I scanned the mass amounts lego before me, I suddenly wasn’t convinced anymore that all the pieces were still around. They could have been used somewhere else, in a furnace vent somewhere, behind the couch, or vacuumed up. In other words, there were no guarantees as to whether or not I was able to complete the final product. This is not unlike when the beginning of a journey, a new start up, or new job.. or anything new for that matter. There are no guarentees that we will succeed. In fact, how many times have you heard that the probability of failure in starting a new business are 90% in the first year, and 96% thereafter? Even when we cross a road, there are no guarantees that we would make it to the other side. But we don’t really think about that, do we? When we cross the road, we do it with the understanding that we will get to the other side. We know that there are obstacles. We navigate them as they come. We are vigilant but we push on. When we need to cross the road, we need to cross the road. When we need to get to that next step, we need to get to that next step. And the risk of potentially not making it doesn’t phase us. We just push on.
2. Read the Entire Set of Directions Before Embarking
There is something to be said about jumping in with both feet, and not thinking. It’s reckless. And wasteful. It’s wasteful in terms of time, effort, and mental energy. You’ve heard it before. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. In my case, it was particularly important because there were a few times where I needed to know the pieces that were required in the future 15 steps. The information was valuable because I was tempted to make substitutions. I needed to know if those substitutions would still work in the entire plan. Without familiarizing yourself wit the overall plan, how could you do this? In the game of business, and life, for that matter, it pays to know the future. I know… no one can predict the future, it’s true. But we can have a hand in creating it. We can set goals. We can guide its manifestation. Recently, I have been listening to Zig Ziglar’s book on Goals. It reminded me again how important goals were to creating your own fortune. If we were to ever have a set of lego directions for creating the life that we desire, reading your personal goals is the next best thing.
The Double Edged Sword of Tunnel Vision
There were times where I was so focused in my search, that I was blinded by my search in the first place. I failed to see what I needed a few steps ahead. This is yet another reason for why it’s so important to come up for air ever so often and re-familiarize myself with the big picture. I had to remember what I trying to accomplish overall. For me, this time, it was my family. Lego building was something that Zane and I love to do together. The whole point of family time was to construct something challenging and beautiful jointly. Eventually, his 6 year old mental capacity expired, and he sauntered off to do something else. Yet I pushed on and continued the quest by myself. Then it dawned on me. Why am I doing this? I’m not doing this for my health. I’m doing this for my kid. And yet my kid is now two floors up playing ninja’s with his dad. Coming to this cold realization, I set down Step 15, went upstairs and became the blue ninja.
3. Collect useful Pieces as you Find Them
I was building a white dragon with gold accents. It wasn’t rocket science to figure out that if I found a white or gold piece amongst the multitudes of randoms, it more than likely belonged to my dragon. Hence, I set them aside. I figured that had I discovered the pieces and ignored them for later, I would double the effort to trying gather the pieces when I needed them.
In his famous 2015 Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs illustrated that we can only see that our dots connect when we look back in hindsight. We experience seemingly random events in our life. But somehow, in the future, they all relate.
Case in point: Back a few years ago, I decided one day that I wanted to have two contracts simultaneously. The new Personal Services Business clause had made headlines in the media as the CRA cracked down on single-client contractors in the oil field. So I wanted to contract two clients mostly so that I could be in the clear as a true contractor in the eyes of CRA. With the power of meditation and visualization, it came to fruition. I landed two contracts within days of each other: one with CAE, the other with Athabasca University. It turned out that I very much did not enjoy the work I was doing with Athabasca University. But I created a key relationship. The Project Manager for one of my projects left in frustration as did I eventually. But we kept in touch. Months later, he gave me a call serendipitously as I was nearing the end of my then contract, and connected me with a contract opportunity at my current client. You won’t find the Athabasca University gig on my resume. It had nothing to do with my specialty. But had I not spent a few months in that little town, I would have never met that key individual. I would have never landed the client where I am at now. And this client is a good client.
4. It pays to be Resourceful
How opportune that Daddy had came home with a 900 piece mega pack of classic lego on Black Friday. So when I couldn’t find the original piece, eventually in the interest of time, I’d look for a close substitute. Often it was the same piece, but in a different colour. I decided it mattered less that my dragon had a purple ankle, but that he had an ankle. There’s a saying in Chinese “Ma sei, lock dei hang,” which means “if your horse dies, start walking.” It means, of course that we have to be ready to find alternate paths to take us to our destination when our current method is blocked. Often even when we picture the end result, the process to get there is astoundly different from what we had in in mind. Would it really matter if we ultimately did get what we desired? Hell, no. I’ll take it any way I can. Thankfully, no horses were hurt in the making of this dragon, only stylish ankles.
5. When I made Progress, I didn’t Want to Stop
…even to the point where i didn’t even want to go to the bathroom. But when i saw no progress, i grew tired and wanted to stop. Have you ever read Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist. It’s a great read. It’s about a boy who embarks on a journey to find the world’s most precious treasure. As he begins his journey, his mentor advises him that at the beginning, he will have a taste of success. This is called beginner’s luck. After that, the climb becomes steeper, until he gets the summit. At this point, it is so steep that one wrong move, and he will plummet to his death. If he keeps on diligently, he’ll reach the top. But then robbers will emerge from the woodwork and beat the crap out of him, steal all of his worldly belongings and leave him to die. Such is the template of any journey. I’ll leave the end a surprise for you.
6. This Secret is why Lego is so Successfully Pricey
It was really comforting to have everything laid out for me, without my having to sift through thousands of random pieces. There is a luxury in knowing that all the pieces are already present, and organized in smaller pools. This is the value for which we pay. If you were to buy the same dragon from the lego store, you would find 4, maybe 5 individual bags of lego, already separated out according to the instructions. Then, you just build. You build happily and easily because all of the pieces are there. This also led me to the realization that the magic of lego is in the very first build, and only the first build. Once it’s complete, you might display your masterpiece for a while. After that, the pieces get re-purposed to fulfill the creative genius of a 6 yr old. But seldom, if not ever, will you re-do the original build.
This is also the value in the service that you provide as a consultant and entrepreneur. We charge a premium to make things easy for our clients. We gather clear business requirements and set up systems and processes in order to make life easier for then. We learn the hard stuff. We create a system. We set it up and teach it to our clients. None of this is rocket science. None of it is hard. But the value for which we get paid bank is so that they can be spoon-fed happily. They pay for the answers. They pay for the pretty, bow-tied package. This apples to any line of work, any industry, any level in the organizational hierarchy. People pay for easy; people pay for answers. The more you can serve them, the more money you’re worth.
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