Eternity Changers: Get it started and then learn to do it

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“Don’t get it right; get it started.” The words seemed out of place at the agribusiness expo I was freelancing at. I expected to hear, “If you want a good sized heffer, feed is the key” or something like that. Still, there it was, a quick pithy saying that almost seemed like it would be more at home on one of those inspirational posters they sell at office supply stores than here.

The more I thought about it, the more it did seem to work. The speaker was the owner of the company and an entrepreneur who’d gone from a single contract years and years ago to a multi-million dollar business.

You never know where you find a mentor. I’ll admit that we don’t have an ongoing relationship, but that one phrase does mean a lot to me. There so much wrapped up in it.

Here’s another. “You can’t perfect something that doesn’t exist yet.” That one came from one of my podcasting mentors, talking about starting a podcast. Different context, but the meaning is the same.

People will often get bogged down in research, trying to solve every problem and understand every solution. The problem with that approach is that it relies completely on the intellect and very little on experience.

Experience is the thing that turns a teen driver into a responsible adult driver. It shapes how we perceive things and alerts us to problems that could arise before they do. Experience is such an aid in success, but people try and keep it at bay by planning instead of experiencing.

Perhaps we think that we have perfect vision and can see all our blind spots. We can’t. Our ability to see everything about any problem is limited at best, so we really can’t devise solutions for many problems because we just can’t see them.

The secret that a lot of people don’t share is that so many things in life are created because people don’t know what they’re doing.

I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve heard stories about the creation of the Slinky, play dough, and nylon. The thread, pardon the pun, that holds these three products together is that they were all accidents, happy accidents, but accidents nonetheless. The Slinky was supposed to be a supersensitive spring for the U.S. military, but ended up being a child’s toy. Play dough was supposed to remove stains from walls, but one of the people at play dough headquarters thought it was so fun to play with that he sent some to a kindergarten. Nylon was supposed to be a replacement for rubber tires during World War II, but it became useful in so many more applications, especially clothing while it was an utter failure as a rubber replacement.

Businesses can be like that too. Nintendo started life as a playing card manufacturer, and no, Mario wasn’t the face of the King (at least I don’t think he was). IBM is now largely a business services company, but we all remember IBM computers and some of us remember the typewriters they made before that. 3M was a mining company until someone figured out how to solve a problem with a then new kind of tape — masking tape. Even the ubiquitous post-it note (also from 3M) wasn’t what they planned on making, a reusable adhesive.

You really don’t know anything until you get started with any project. Even if you think you do, you probably don’t. The landscape is always changing and new problems are always arising, so former experience might not even prepare you for what is to come.

If you really want to know how to do something, research is fine. It’s great to be able to pop open a web browser and find answers, but if you want to take it up a notch, start doing it.

The videos that spawned this book are a perfect example. I decided that I wanted to shoot video of myself against a white background. In theory, this seemed easy enough. I’d recently acquired a professional light kit. I’d taken classes in video production. I’d read tons on the subject, but I’d never actually done it.

If you go to http://bit.ly/eternitychange, watch the first video. Now watch the later videos. A ton different, right? That’s because while I thought I knew what I was doing, I didn’t. It took experience and practice to get better and better at it.

The truth is that a lot of people don’t know what they’re doing. You’ve heard the saying “fake it until you make it,” before? The point of the saying isn’t that you should fool people until they believe the lie. No, the point is that we sometimes encounter situations where we don’t know what we’re doing, but while we could be paralyzed by fear, a better response is to try to succeed.

In fact, some of the most important parts of life are like this. I’m starting to think that I’m going to be halfway decent as a parent after the first twelve years of feeling like at any moment social services would knock on my door and take away our kids because I didn’t really know what I was doing. All I had was the feelings of love for those two little girls and the knowledge that if I could feed, clothe, and shelter them, I’d at least do that right.

Sure, I read parenting books and listened to experts, but I really just did it. I remember realizing early on that babies, although mostly helpless, were much easier than I’d believed. I just needed to feed them, change them, and put them to bed. Most of the rest was making silly faces.

During this time, I realized that my fear of being a parent wasn’t that I’d not learn how to change a diaper, but that I’d make mistakes during the teen years. Twelve years later, that’s still a fear, but now I have twelve years of experience behind me to help.

What I do as a church tech consultant, author, speaker, and consultant is the same way. When I first started, I was putting a lot of effort into the freelance, whatever I could do to make money, side of things. The better I got at it, the more I realized that I hadn’t started doing what I do in order to remove a virus from a daycare computer, but to help change lives and eternities.

By doing freelance tech work, I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do, even though I could do it. I knew I wanted to do more podcasting and teaching, but didn’t know how to do it.

By trying a lot of things, I started to see what I could do to make it work better and better. Now, I live-stream training 5 days a week and upload most of those shows to YouTube as well as podcasting the audio so that people can listen at their leisure in places where watching a video isn’t quite as easy.
My life is filled with examples where I went forward, not quite knowing what I was doing. I read books about marriage, but didn’t know exactly what I was doing until today, almost fifteen years into my marriage. I’m joking of course, because there are still areas that I’m struggling in and haven’t quite figured out. In another 35 years, as we near our 50th anniversary, I’ll probably laugh how much I don’t currently know. I’ll need that next 35 years to figure it out though.

Stop and think of other examples of times where people don’t know exactly what they’re doing. Each time we elect a president, do we think he (or maybe someday she) will understand the office completely? No. There’s an aspect of on the job training involved.

Maybe that’s a helpful phrase. Think of what you don’t know that’s holding you back from pursuing your dream as just the areas that require “on the job training.” I know little about the law and filling out the appropriate paperwork to make a business work, but I’m learning by doing. Bookkeeping isn’t my forte, but I’m continuing to learn as I go.

Areas that I’m good at I’m getting better at, too. So, on the job training works to hone skills as well as developing new ones.

As with everything I’ve told you in other chapters, I should tell you something to be cautious about. While anyone with reasonable intelligence can probably figure out most things, there are some things that require more training.

I’d hate a pilot to arrive at the plane I was flying on and just decide to figure it out as he went along. I don’t want my dentist to just try drilling each tooth until she figures out which actually needs the filling. Those kinds of jobs require some formal training and practice because they care so much at stake.

I also don’t think that you should bet your entire income on figuring out the core service that you’re trying to sell. It’s too large a leap to think, “I’ve watched tv, so I’ll buy the equipment and in a month I’ll be a great videographer, so I can charge $200 an hour for my services then.” Some things take longer to figure out than that.

As an aside, practice, experience, and skill make a person able to use equipment effectively. In the hands of a novice, professional equipment is harder to use than something designed for a person with limited experience. As skill increases, the guard rails, that made it easy to use a piece of equipment, start to feel like shackles limiting what you can and can’t do.

If you start with professional equipment with all the power that years of experience demand, you’ll likely have a worse product than if you start with something easier to use.

There are limits to the “start doing it and then figure it out” idea. What I meant by this chapter is that there are people who are using, “but I can’t do it all right, yet” as an excuse for not even trying. I’m not talking about people who have absolutely no clue about an area. I’m talking about people who’ve stopped themselves from pursuing their calling because they didn’t know one of the peripheral aspects of turning the dream into reality, not those who didn’t have any idea about the core of their dreams.

How else can I put this? If you want to be a missionary, but don’t actually have a sense of call or know why you’d do it, or have a passion for people, that’s a recipe for disaster. If you want to be a missionary, but you don’t know how to write a fundraising letter, maybe just doing it will help you do it. Do you see the difference? I’m not talking about being a musician, but not having any musical talent or even passion to learn. I’m talking about being a musician, but not knowing how to book a concert venue. If the core is something that needs polishing, that’s fine. If your core calling is missing key elements, figure those out first. If it’s something that’s minor, that you could even eventually pay someone else to do or get someone to volunteer to do, it’s fine if you learn that as you’re doing it and then hand it off.

So start what you need to start. Don’t let a side issue stop you. You’ll figure out what’s important and then you’ll be in a better position to fix the problems that arise.

Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div.

Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div. has been a tech volunteer with Quest Community Church in Lexington, KY since 2000 and is the founder of TrinityDigitalMedia.com, llc. He became part of the technology in ministry team when his church’s attendance was around 200 in one Sunday service and has witnessed it’s growth to 5,200 average weekly attendance in one Saturday service, four Sunday services in one online and two physical campuses. He literally wrote the book on podcasting in churches, twitter in churches, & servant-hearted volunteering, as well as writing various articles for publications like “Church Production” and “Technologies for Worship” magazines.