on the topic of Growth, Leadership

The Big Problem with Our Big Ideas

Driving all day in a compact car with three kids (all of us under the age of 7) couldn’t have been the most relaxing experience for my mom.  But, since tying your children to the roof of a moving vehicle is illegal in most states, the next best alternative was to turn up the music and hope that the whining & screaming would eventually wear us out and put us to sleep.

We were only an hour from home, but we would have to make one last stop for gas to make the final stretch.  My younger brother (2 years old) and sister (4 years old) sat strapped in the backseat.  Being the oldest sibling by a solid 3 years, I’d earned the coveted right to ride shotgun.

After she finished at the pump, mom hopped back in the car and proceeded to pull forward into a parking spot at the front of the store.  She had the option of dragging the three of us into the store for a mere 60 second transaction, or, she could put me in charge of the car, and be in and out without notice.

She decided on the latter, appointing me, the oldest and most mature among us, to be in charge of the running vehicle and it’s inhabitants while she ran inside to pay the tab.

“Adam, don’t even think about leaving that seat. And trust me, if your hands go anywhere near this steering wheel…I’ll know.  And you don’t want to know what will happen if after that.  Is that clear?  I’m going to lock the door when I leave, so the only thing you’re hand is allowed to touch is the unlock button when I get back.  I will be right back.  Do. Not. Move.”

Most days, this type of directive would have only sparked curiosity and a sense of challenge in my mind.  But after hours in the car & fatigue obviously setting in, I could tell she meant business.

So, I gave her a confident nod that said “Mother, you’ve aptly chosen the most worthy of your offspring to entrust with the provisioning of this critical responsibility. You can trust me.  I’ve got this.”

With that, she opened her door, clicked the lock, stepped out, and securely slammed the door shut behind her.

As I watched advance towards the counter, I suddenly realized that she was about to make a terrible mistake.  Ice went through my veins and I instantly felt sick at my stomach.  Because only an hour earlier, I’d politely informed her that I was on the brink of dehydration, and that the only solution would be an A&W cream soda when we stopped for gas.

I knew I’d have to remind her several times along the way to make sure she remembered, but I guess the rush of adrenaline from being elected as ‘Protector of the Car’ had clouded my focus & imposed a momentary lapse in memory.  It had now been at least 15 minutes since I last reminded her, and based on her position in the store, it was clear that she’d completely forgotten.

Thinking on my feet, I turned around to make sure my sister and brother were still strapped in and secure.  All clear.  It was time to take matters into my own hands and devise a plan of genius.  Operation hydration was a go.

I unbuckled my seatbelt and bolted inside to save my poor mother from the impending embarrassment of 1) forgetting my A&W cream soda after so many reminders, and 2) having to turn around and make a second appearance in order to procure said forgotten beverage.

I busted through the double doors of the station.   The bells hanging from the handles announced my arrival, almost shattering the glass.   This caught everyone by surprise.  I had their attention, and began to inform mother of the mistake she’d almost made.  Her face instantly turned white, her eyes doubled in size and her pupils dilated.  She looked furious.

Maybe this look was just her realization that she’d almost made the mistake of forgetting my cream soda?

I wanted to tell her it was ok…I wasn’t upset or offended…but before I could, she screamed, “Adam! What did I JUST tell you!? I told you to stay in the car, and now you’ve left your brother and sister in an unlocked, running vehicle, all by themselves!!  What are you thinking!?  Do you not understand that someone could steal the car, kidnap your brother and sister and we would never see them again!?”

I felt like her words were a little over-dramatic since we could all clearly see the car from where we stood inside.  Even if some car thief or kidnapper felt lucky that afternoon, it’s not like we couldn’t run out, overpower them and thwart their criminal activity.

I remained calm and collected through her screaming, because I knew something she didn’t know.  I may have only technically been 7 years old, but on that afternoon, I was pretty confident that I was operating at the mental capacity of at least a 10 year old.  I felt clever, because I’d actually anticipated this exact response before leaving the car, and in that brief moment of planning out Operation Hydration, I’d proactively implemented a solution to calm her concern.  I was confident that these measures, once brought to light, would result in her apologizing for her lack of confidence in my advanced level of maturity & superior vehicle protection abilities.

Her screams ended and she waited for my response.

I smiled.  And in the calmest, and most confident tone replied, “Mom, relax…I locked the car before I came in.  No one can get in.”

I don’t remember much after that, but I think there may have been firetrucks and my mom may have fainted.

———————-

I’ll never forget that day.  For a few minutes, I was completely confident in my own plans and my own personal ability to make the best decisions for everyone around me.  And then, in a matter of seconds, all control was lost, all of my confidence was shaken and the greatest of ideas built on the best of intentions suddenly came crashing down around me.  I’d missed the boat…big time.

I’d love to tell you that I learned from that train wreck of an afternoon, but the truth is, the same blind confidence that burned me as a 7 year old in that gas station parking lot is the same blind confidence responsible for turning a dozen of my “big ideas” into a dozen startup failures over the past ten years.

Its taken way longer than it probably should have, but over the past couple of years, I’ve finally started to see the common bond between each failure.

Have you made the connection yet?

You see, as long as we rely solely on our own intuition, on our own experiences and on our own self-proclaimed expertise, all of our big ideas only have the potential to make an impact on our own selves.  And building anything that only impacts one person is an unacceptable a waste of time, money and talent.

Think bigger.  Build something that matters.  Solve a problem that has an impact, not only on you, but on your family, on your friends, on your company, on your team members, on your customers and on your community.

Stop building out big ideas built on a foundation of intuition, trends and forged confidence.  And instead, go talk to the people you intend to impact.  Admit to them that you don’t have it all figured out and that you need their help to dig down and define the real problems they have that are worth solving.

The truth is, just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come.  But if you can figure out a way to show your customer that you are truly invested in solving their problems…they will respond.

Because the truth is, your customers don’t actually care about the technology.  They don’t actually care about the features, the functionality or the fact sheets.  They only care about the impact your work has on them at a personal, human-level.  And work that has a positive impact on the human experience is always worth doing.