To Topple Barriers

It’s [often] as if today is for attempts, and the real action will happen at some vague future moment. To achieve your goal, to topple the barriers that stand in your way, you have to be focused on getting it done now.

Tom Kelley & David Kelley, Creative Confidence

Most people lean toward having either an action bias or a contemplation bias. The former like to move fast, even at the expense of breaking things; the latter prefers to stay at 30,000' for as long as possible before getting their hands dirty.

Both have their benefits.

Those with an action bias make things happen. They don't wait. They don't ask for permission. They don't mind apologizing later.

Those with a contemplation bias see the big picture. They rarely mistake exertion for movement. They ask better questions. They're not scared to poke holes in new ideas.

Likewise, both have their drawbacks.

Those with an action bias often run into walls they would have seen coming if they'd just pick their heads up every now & again. Those with a contemplation bias often never get beyond ideation & into action mode, where things actually happen.

It's important to recognize which end of the spectrum you fall, & to surround yourself with people whose tendencies are different than yours.

Mostly, though, it's important to find a way to have both work for you. We can do that by reframing life as a series of small experiments we've designed with the express goal of learning something useful.

For those with an action bias, this reframe allows for the perpetual motion, but creates the room necessary for digestion, for making smaller but more educated guesses, for picking one's head up now & again to make sure the stated destination is still the right one.

For those with a contemplation bias, the reframe gives permission to get down into the dirt more quickly than is comfortable. It provides space for questions & time-outs. On an ongoing basis, it entertains the possibility that there might be a better way.

Ultimately, only action really matters. But better than mere action is right action. To get there, you've got to be willing to see yourself as somebody in the midst of a series of experiments. You've got to be prepared to move, test, learn, move, test, learn. You've got to figure out how to get comfortable knowing that the experimentation will never end.

Patrick Cummings