Theme 7: Experimentation & Projects

Find your new path by doing, not thinking.

“It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

E.L. Doctorow

Why is this theme important?

The more you conduct experiments – even without knowing exactly what you want to do – the more you will uncover clues as to your potential right direction and the more confident you will become.

Core Ideas

Ready. Aim. Shoot!

This is how we should approach our Escape, right?

Make sure you’re ready. Carefully prepare until you know you’re ready. Then (and only then) start moving!

It’s easy to get caught up in all of the theory and navel gazing that comes along with making a big, scary change. And we do more than our fair share of this in the Escape Tribe, especially in our first weeks together. We do it because it’s important; it’s important to know who you are and what matters to you to make sure you’re moving in the right direction for you.

But at some point (and this point comes a lot sooner than you’ll probably want it to) we must start acting. We must start moving, doing, testing, putting ourselves out there and engaging with the world.

This is the hard part. But it’s where the real magic happens.

‘Ready, Aim, Shoot!’ unfortunately is wrong.

Instead, the essence of this theme is: Act first. Reflect later. Aim a little bit, but shoot before you’re ready.

People who end up succeeding in their Escapes do so by constantly acting, testing, moving their way there. They do it by approaching their escape as a series of small projects rather than huge leaps. They do it by viewing each move as an experiment instead of their be-all and end-all. They do it without feeling “ready” and without having it all figured out.

View your escape as a series of projects.

Plotting your escape can feel like trying to shift a giant glacier. It’s hard enough to figure out where you want to go, let alone the best way to get there and where to start. If you get too caught up on trying to shift a glacier, you risk never starting.

Try instead to view your escape as a series of tiny steps. Or better yet, a series of self-contained projects.

Projects are temporary. Projects are short-term. Projects have a self-contained goal. Projects can be fun. The outcome of a project need not be tied to your ego and your self worth. The goal of a project is to inch one step closer in your escape.

Examples of projects might be:

  • Lead a “women in tech” meetup for 6 weeks.
  • Write 500 words every morning for the next 30 days.
  • Make a batch of your baked goods (or fashion accessory or whatever else) and commit to selling it at 5 different market stalls.

Say to yourself and to your other Tribers: “I’m going to try this X thing out for the next Y weeks and see what happens.” Commit to a set amount of time (6 weeks), a certain milestone (writing 5 blog posts), or another metric (get 3 paying customers).

Just because you’re viewing it through the fun lens of a project doesn’t mean you do it half-assed. You still must care deeply about the project and you must give yourself enough time to really learn from it. It may or may not work out. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re trying something out. You’re “shooting.”

And here’s the kicker laid down by Sam Altman, president of tech accelerator Y Combinator, which has birthed companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, and over 800 others:

“The best companies start out with ideas that don’t sound very good. They start out as projects, and in fact sometimes they sound so inconsequential the founders wouldn’t let themselves work on them if they had to defend them as a company. Google and Yahoo started as grad students’ projects. Facebook was a project Zuckerberg built while he was a sophomore in college. Twitter was a side project that started with a single engineer inside a company doing something totally different. Airbnb was a side project to make some money to afford rent. They all became companies later. Great companies often start as projects.”

Your projects may not turn into a full blown company. But they’ll likely spiral into something you never could have predicted.

Act like a scientist.

As you view your escape as a series of projects, consider yourself a scientist, and each project you take on as an experiment.

The goal of a scientist is to learn. The scientist may be hopeful of a certain result, but that’s not her main concern. She cares mostly about what she learns from the experiment. Every time you complete a new project or conduct a new experiment, you gain a new piece of information to carry with you along the way of your escape.

What if the project ‘fails’? What if you don’t enjoy your project as much as you thought you would? What if things don’t turn out how you hoped?

Great! You just learned something. Every outcome is a new piece of feedback.

The scientist reflects. What did you learn from your experiment? What are the ingredients of your project that you want to take with you? What components can you discard? How can you use your learnings to conduct a brand new experiment?

As long as you’re learning and conducting new experiments, you’re doing it right, regardless of the outcomes.

Little steps >>> Big leaps.

The “big leap” is what you see publicised in the media and even at Escape. The big leap is sexy. The big leap sells the dream that people who make a drastic change or begin a new venture did it with one single brush of bravery.

The big leap is misleading and not helpful. It can make you feel that your own escape is a daunting distance away from becoming a reality.

The reality is that the big leap is just the tip of the iceberg. If you look at anyone who has successfully “escaped,” at the base of their iceberg are a series of little steps, tiny projects, mini experiments to lead to that almighty big leap.

With every little decision, every little project, every little experiment, every little step: you’re learning. Learning about yourself, about the things you like, dislike, about the things that matter to you, about your strengths, interests, gifts and passions.

And when it comes time to make a big decision or take a giant leap – you’ll be ready because of the steps you’ve already made along the way. You’ll have become more confident in yourself, your abilities, who you are and what you stand for. You’ll be ready because of the little deliberate projects and experiments you’ve been making already.

Make an agreement with yourself that instead of giant leaps, you’ll commit to a series of little steps, projects, experiments and actions. You must act first. Reflect later.

Your Objectives
  • Move from thinking mode into doing mode.
  • Run some small outside-your-comfort-zone experiments.
  • Test-drive new ideas, behaviours, and tools.
  • Get clearer on your potential right direction.
Useful Resources

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