Gumption, from the Brooklyn SuperHero Supply Store

Gumption, from the Brooklyn SuperHero Supply Store

In order to really make strides, we have to be willing to experiment.  We have to be willing to take risks, and we have to be willing to be wrong and fail.  I know I had tons of this as a kid, but keeping this sense of willingness to make mistakes, knowing things could go horribly wrong, gets harder to maintain as we get older.

The problem with success is that it can make you scared to fail.  Once you’ve done something well, you can back yourself into a corner where nothing other than further bigger and better success seems acceptable.  Yet you only get to future success by keeping that same sense of experimentation and risk alive that you had in the beginning, where everything was an exciting adventure and you really had nothing to lose.  Once you achieve success, you do have something to lose, which can slowly eat away at the “No Holds Barred” attitude which made you successful in the first place.

From time to time, I struggle with keeping the “Go For It” attitude alive.  But I know if I don’t keep experimenting, tinkering, playing, adapting and changing, stagnation can set in.  Experience leads to better and more fine-tuned experiments and a better ability to predict outcomes ahead of time.  But experience can also make us cautious and nervous.  You can get trapped feeling that any failure will lead to embarrassment and humiliation, or feeling like you’ve disappointed others- powerful negative emotions.  But that fear can be paralyzing and hold you back needlessly.  This makes it critical to balance experience and experiments, with an emphasis on Experimentation.

Think Geek Shirt
Think Geek Shirt

The Definition of Gumption is initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness; courage; spunk; guts.  While you can buy it by the barrel at theBrooklyn Superhero Supply Store, it’s really that fire that burns within, and helps you attempt what may seem challenging or maybe even impossible at times.

I’m reminded of this quote from Lewis Carroll I keep in my office:

“There is no use in trying,” said Alice; “one can’t believe in impossible things.” “I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.  Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

In order to keep moving forward, we have to keep the dreams alive.  We have to believe what some people may think of as impossible is probably and even easily accomplishable, if we put the right pieces of the puzzle together.  You see companies like Apple and IDEO approach every product from a “What would make our lives better?  If I could have my dream device, what would it do?  What would it look like?  What problems would it solve?”  They have a vision and a dream, and they’re willing to take all the steps necessary to make those dreams come true.  They are also willing to push boundaries and possibly fail, but get back up again and try.

Companies like Microsoft seem to be less willing to experiment and fail.  Their success has made experimentation riskier, but by taking the tried and true path, they don’t seem to be doing anything other than “more of the same” rather than rethinking and developing something truly exciting.  Tried and true is calming.  It seems more secure.  It’s boring, but it can be profitable.   But we are living in an age of rapid change and evolution where taking the tried and true path may actually be the riskiest thing of all.

Becoming comfortable with constant change and risk isn’t always fun.  It can give you stomach aches and sleepless nights at times.  Sometimes I want things to slow down just so I can have a moment to breathe and consolidate, before getting back on the treadmill of change. (This is called vacation and leaving your iphone at home on purpose.)

The rate of change is faster than ever before, and as a result, we have to accept that we have to just make the best decision possible at the time and move on, rather than trying to reach a perfect decision every time.  We need to embrace experimentation, look at life as a big lab for our experiments, and go for it.  We need more gumption, and a little less fear.

I know those are my goals- what are yours?