Let’s say you are like a lot of people I know who are interested in doing a startup—but you’re waiting for the stars to align just perfectly for you to jump into this endeavor. I’ll cut to the chase—don’t wait for the opportunity to be just right. Commit first, and you give yourself the ability to let good things happen.
I have seen this pattern time and time again. Before you commit, everything is theoretical. You might do this company, or you might go on this trip, but you are just waiting for some signs. You need to reverse the cause and effect—the signs show themselves once you commit. Here are lots of examples.
When You Talk About It Now, You’re Serious
When you commit to something officially, then you are no longer talking in hypotheticals. I was about to take a road trip around the country, but I hadn’t yet decided if I was going to do it. There were lots of things that still needed to be figured out; I needed places to stay, schools to visit, and there were a lot of logistical details to sort out. However, these things were never going to just sort themselves out.
Well, one day I committed to the trip. I picked a day, and I decided I was officially going. From that moment on, lots of things started to work out. Because by committing, I had set the wheels in motion. By committing I compelled myself to figure it out.
I was at a party and I was talking about the road trip that I was going on, some of the states I was going to visit, and it came up that I was going to Alabama. Well it turned out that my friend was from Alabama, and I now possibly had a place to stay and schools to visit.
I had a friend who was deciding on whether or not to do a company, and they finally decided to do it. It was a busy season and they were out to dinner and talking about the company. The table next to them overheard, and they got to talking, the guy was interested, and he ended up working for them to help meet the demand.
These chance encounters can only present themselves once you have committed.
This scenarios are very unlikely to go anywhere if the proposal you have for someone is about some company you might do sometime in the future, or some trip you are thinking about going on.
What often happens before you commit is that you are waiting for some other concrete signal.
But how could someone else commit to something that you haven’t committed to?
The First Step, Then the Next Step
The first step is committing to a decision. Even if you want to start a new hobby, start by picking a time and a date. Do something to get everything else going. Once you’ve committed, you’ve removed the biggest thing that was blocking you from going forward. By committing, you now can figure out next steps.
In high school I ran a comedy newspaper called the Flipside, and I started this up in college as well. With a new student group, it is very hard to get people to commit—it is even harder since the group doesn’t exist and no one else has committed.
This might suggest a strategy which is to be really flexible, to try to reschedule meetings to accommodate anyone who might join. This is exactly the wrong approach. First you need to commit. You need to commit to a date and a time for meetings; you need to do this to even allow the possibility that other people could get it into their routine.
If it changes every few weeks, there is nothing for other people to commit to.
There are lots of analogies that might help make this clear. While parts of this may seem obvious, in practice it is very non-obvious. Failure to commit stops projects before they are started all the time, and no one can figure out what went wrong.
Say you live on a college campus, and don’t have a car. To make this hypothetical real, I lived on campus for three years and didn’t have a car. Because I didn’t have a car I didn’t really think I needed a car. All the things I did didn’t require a car. And I was able to rent or borrow a car on the off chance I needed one. My last year on campus, I got a car, and suddenly, now that I had a car, I realized all of the places I could go that I would not even consider going before. Because I didn’t have a car, it would be quite a hassle to figure out how to go to certain places or plan certain events. Well here, the car opened up opportunity. The car was now factored into the plans.
Once you have committed, it actually allows you to think about the problem or challenge in a new way. You have one thing set, and the scenario is now substantively different. Committing fundamentally changes the scenario.
Let’s say you want to build a building—well you need a location. You can still think about the other factors of building the building, but just as a matter of fact, you can’t start working on the second floor or third floor until you have a location. There can’t be a physical second floor on a hypothetical building in your imagination.
Committing is kind of like picking that location. It is a necessary first step. Now you get to work building that first floor there to show people you are serious. This is all necessary before someone moves in to the fifth floor.
Throwing Your Hat Over the Wall
My friend Andy told me this story, and I’ll try to retell some version of it here.
There are a few boys standing on the side of a walled garden, and they are trying to figure out how to get over. They’ve been talking about it for a while, and kind of tried to climb it, but haven’t really gotten anywhere. A stranger comes by and asks what they are doing. The boys say they are trying to get over the wall, but haven’t been able to do it. The stranger asks one of the boys about the hat he is wearing—an old Cubs hat—and asks if it is really important to him. The boy responds that, yes, it is very important.
“Hand me the hat,” says the stranger. He gives him the hat, and the stranger takes it and throws it over the garden wall.
The boys, who are now quite flustered, ask what he was doing.
“You said you wanted to go over the wall. Now your very important Cubs hat is over there, so I’m sure you’ll figure out some way to get over.”
Committing is like throwing your hat over the wall. It gives you a sense of urgency, and compels you to figure out the next steps. Start by committing. Then figure out how to get over the wall.