You’ve surely felt it before—especially in this type of economy. You are tired and beaten up and you wonder what you are in it for. I’m in that space right now. Writing from Orlando, prepping for tomorrow’s speech for an association of petroleum marketers, then immediately off to Maryland to speak on innovation in education. All I really want to do is curl into bed and sleep.
All innovators have faced the challenge of getting back into the game. They wake up tired on the campaign trail, find their budget request rejected, and deliver that same pitch for the 100th time.
Here are five things to consider to get you back in the game.
1. Rewire your memories.
According to cognitive scientist George Lakoff, author of The Political Mind, 94% of our behaviors are driven by subconscious thought. We get a stimulus and it triggers a memory that determines what we think, how we feel, and what we do.
Maybe you’re feeling out of the game simply because some things happened that triggered a memory that makes you feel out of the game. To disconnect that link and reprogram a reaction that empowers you, try this simple exercise from the world of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). First, think about the events that are making you feel this way. Imagine your "trigger." Visualize it in detail. Then think of a moment when you felt on top of the world, really empowered. Visualize that in detail. Now merge the two images together.
You’ve plugged the motivating associations of the empowering experience into the once-negative associations of the undesirable one.
Here is a four-minute video of an NLP practice to get you into the game:
2. Surround yourself with "multipliers."
In a Hindu fable, a farmer slips an eagle egg under a chicken. The eagle grows up thinking he is a chicken because that’s all he sees around him. He clucks. He scratches the dirt for food. He doesn’t know how to fly.
Your limits are set by those who you surround yourself with. So think strategically about who is around you.
Make a list of the people you interacted with last week and will interact with next. Cross off anyone whose mindset is uninspiring. Add to that list anyone you know who thinks big. Now cancel your appointments with the "diminishers," as Liz Weisman, author of the outstanding book Multipliers, calls them, and schedule time instead with the :multipliers," the people who encourage the greatness in you.
3. Reconnect to the bigger game.
It is easier to quit on yourself than to quit on others you care about. When your problems are holding you back, you need a bigger problem to help you steamroll over the smaller challenges. I was working with a client a couple of months ago whose BHAG ("Big Hairy Audacious Goal") is to give away $10 million each year to charity. The company donates 1% of revenue, so that means it needs to become a $1 billion company! The energy I felt in the room as we worked through the challenges and brainstormed ways to unlock those challenges was invigorating.
Remember the story of the two bricklayers, one loving his work, the other not. Ask the uninspired bricklayer what he is doing and he will say, "I’m building a wall," while the passionate bricklayer is "building a cathedral." The actions may be the same—laying bricks, increasing revenue—but the meaning transforms. Building a cathedral, donating to charity—when you connect to the bigger purpose of your work, you can achieve greater success. Ask yourself, "Why am I doing this?" Then ask, "To whom is that important?"
4. Remember the logic of your vision.
We look to visions for inspiration, but they also can help us rediscover our conviction. Godard Abel, CEO of BigMachines, could not have started his company at a worse time. 2002 was the height of the dot-com bubble and he decided to jump on the ride. He created a company that would help other companies customize and sell their products online. When the bubble burst, his friends started asking, "When are you going out of business?"
But Abel thought about this father, who sold commercial pumps in Pittsburgh. His father had once told him that the Internet would never impact his business because "pumps are too complicated." Customers had too many customization options. They needed to speak to an expert engineer. BigMachines was challenging that notion. It just made clear logic that if Dell could enable PC buyers to customize computers, manufacturers of other types of products could do the same. So Abel persisted. "We scaled down to minimal staff and trusted that eventually the market would come around," he said.
That was 2004, when BigMachines was generating $5 million in revenue. Seven years later, BigMachines is generating $50 million in revenue and is at the forefront of a global shift to software as a service (or "cloud computing").
5. Look for a catalyst.
One of the best classes I took in business school was taught by value-investing guru Bruce Greenwald. Friends with greats like Warren Buffett, Michael Price, and Mario Gabelli, Greenwald filled almost every class with world-renown guest lecturers.
One of them taught us to look for the catalyst. It is not enough to think a company is undervalued; you must also see a reason for the market to start valuing the company fairly.
Similarly, it is not enough that your logic is sound. You also need to feel comfortable that the world will wake up to that logic. In Abel’s case, that the market would realize his belief in a cloud solution that would help companies customize and sell like Dell. He was far ahead of his time, but his time has now come, with companies like Microsoft and Apple finally publicly embracing "the cloud."
These five tips have worked for me. I’m inspired and passionate again. Now stop reading and get to work. You’ve got big things to do!
[Image: Flickr user r0bm867]