“You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.” ― Amy Poehler, Yes Please
I’ve heard some variation of the same horrible advice given time and time again to newbie entrepreneurs – “fake it ‘til you make it.”
It’s important to make a vocabulary distinction here, though:
There’s nothing wrong with “I Don’t Know, Let Me Find Out.”
“Challenge Accepted” is totally noble.
“Cool project, how can I help?” is also a lot of fun.
However, BS-ing your way through a complex task or project – all the while getting paid while you waste someone else’s resources – is not a noble accomplishment in the realm of startups or entrepreneurship. It’s a very inefficient way to learn and it wastes the trust, time, and resources of the people you will need to help you climb the ladder.
“The only way we will survive is by being kind. The only way we can get by in this world is through the help we receive from others. No one can do it alone, no matter how great the machines are.” ― Amy Poehler, Yes Please
I quote Amy Poehler a lot, not just because I was a huge Parks and Recreation fan, but because a lot of startups and entrepreneurs could learn just as much from her book Yes Please and binge-watching Parks and Recreation as they can from reading Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things and binge-watching Shark Tank.
Amy Poehler used a similar quote on her show as Leslie Knope: “No one achieves anything alone.” Entrepreneurship, for all the hero worship of CEOs and creative renegades who lead the charge toward fulfillment of the American Dream, is very much a team sport.
I’ve written a lot about how Ron Zasadzinski’s loan of $72 allowed me to create over 4,500 meals for the Larimer County Food Bank, teach my fellow entrepreneurs about social media for $5 a head, and start the next phase of my business. (Read more about this on my blog – includes colorful language.)
A dollar is a lightsaber – it’s a tool that lets you accomplish great and terrible things, one that goes mostly wasted without the leverage provided by partnerships, mentors, and helpful teammates.
Being brave enough to admit what you don’t know, but are willing to find out is the mark of a mature entrepreneur. Being brave enough to admit that you have an unfilled need on the team is the mark of a mature startup.
“Fake it ‘til you make it” is a surefire way to stay ignorant. How about “do it ‘til you prove it”?
See, these aphorisms and axioms we wave around like the battle standard, they all start out genuine enough, and the idea behind “fake it ‘til you make it” is that you should put as much effort into getting your foot in the door as possible. The intent behind the saying has skewed over time to become something less than genuine.
The intent, I believe, could be rephrased as “do it ‘til you prove it.” That is – work your butt off at proving that you CAN do the thing until they (whether they are a customer, your parents, your significant other, or your community) believe it.
Do it ‘til you prove it and you won’t have to fake knowledge. You’ll be earning it. And the best way to do a thing is to do the thing, not talk about the thing (fake), not worry about the thing (fake, because you have no basis for worry), not thinking about the thing (fake, because it doesn’t exist outside your head). Do, as the great, short-stature’d green man once said.
“Do or Do Not, there is no try,” – Yoda
And the only way to truly get started on doing is to say yes to a few things, even though we’ve been conditioned since our business birth to say no to as many things as possible. (See: Warren Buffett.)
“Saying ‘yes’ doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say ‘no,’ and saying ‘please’ doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission.” ― Amy Poehler, Yes Please
Being able to say “Yes,” even when circumstances have run you over and are gliding the stick shift into reverse for a second pass, is how you grow new partnerships, cultivate new believers, and bond with new teammates.
Two kids sick? Do the thing (after taking them to the doctor, obviously – you’re not a monster). Credit card stolen? Do the thing (after, you know, locking down your account). Don’t purposefully overload yourself – be aware of what you can commit to, but don’t shun an opportunity just because you’d have to fake your way through it. Do the work and learn what you need to know.
It’s the best way to get started.
Then, take what you’ve learned, and go to Fort Collins Startup Week to fill in the gaps. Knowledge is the beginning of wisdom, not the end, as Spock said.
So, get yourself some knowledge, grow some wisdom, build your team.
Because no one can do it alone.
Nick is a dad, author, speaker, and entrepreneur. His company, WTF Marketing, has declared war on boring marketing by being unapologetically awesome at making small business marketing FUN. Nick’s penchant for organizing (and co-organizing) large-scale events includes Fort Collins Comic Con, Ignite Fort Collins, TEDxFoCo, PodCamp Fort Collins, and LaidOffCamp/CareerCamp Fort Collins.