A Bowlful of Flakes
One of the things that used to annoy me a great deal is when I would find a talented person whose personality I liked and I’d invite him/her to work on an interesting project with me
– and s/he flakes out.
The flake-out takes many forms. Here are three of my favorites:
1)Mr. Enthusiasm bubbles over with excitement about the project and vows to make it a life’s priority.
And then disappears; no-call, no-show.
2)Miss Excitement starts immediately making plans and brainstorming the second the project is mentioned. She gives creative input and moves the project in potentially better directions than originally planned.
And then she does lazy, subpar work for a session or two and then quits.
My personal favorite is 3)The person who bubbles over with excitement, contributes to the plans and goals, brainstorms, starts working full-steam on it, and then….
The excuses start rolling in. Some of them revolve around genuine life problems ( “My wife left me”) and some of them are just ridiculous (“My cat needs to see his therapist every day for the next two years and he needs all my spare time”).
To be completely honest, I have been guilty of all three of these in my past. I was pretty awful. If I met 24 year old me, I wouldn’t hire him to clean the toilets, much less give him an executive or creative role in my company. No way. He’d fumble the ball out of bounds and hurt me. The people who clean the toilets have an important job!
Every would-be artist or entrepreneur experiences the magical wall of flake-dom from prospective collaborators or business associates at some point, usually when the first “serious” enterprise is starting to gain traction. Floundering for people with resolve at the point when you need them most sounds like a nightmare. And some would-be artists and entrepreneurs find themselves crushed when their would-be partners flake out, because people tend to trust people close to them and the first time they wimp out can be shocking. Perhaps self-doubt might even creep in.
“Am I good enough?”
Of course you are.
The reality is that 99% of people who say they want to do something never try. 99% of the people who try don’t possess the necessary skills to accomplish their imagined goal and, rather than take the time or make the effort to learn them (or acquire them in other ways), quit. 99% of the people who have the skills, quit when the first real challenge pops up. 99% of the people who face this initial challenge quit after the first difficult defeat. 99% of the people who persist beyond challenge and temporary defeat quit when they approach the goal itself when they realize that the goal brings with it unexpected, daunting challenges and obstacles. The tiny group who remain have to persist from there.
Many enterprises build gradually and require patience, like gardening. Others blow up in a flash and require decisive and sometimes drastic action. I’ll write posts about these scenarios in future blog entries.
When you think about how many people make it to the finish line (of sufficiency, at the minimum), is it really surprising that most people you initially want to collaborate with will ultimately let you down?
One of the major challenges in finding success involves building your “People Pipeline”, and that means your immediate team and the web of people you have to work with in other ways (contracted talent, showrooms, distributors, web stores, social media, factories, agents, etc.). And the people who are doers and who aren’t you face the same people challenge as everyone else.
Nobody succeeds in a vacuum. Dreams ultimately involve other people. Learning to discern the doers from the wannabes is one of the keys to success. It’s also why there are so many “Gatekeepers”, especially in creative fields where the wannabes think it is 100% easy-fun and games while the professionals realize it takes work, patience, and more work. The Gatekeepers exist to weed out the people who can’t cut it. Sometimes, the Gatekeepers are wrong and you’ll have to persist anyway, usually by becoming a Gatekeeper yourself.
Letting wannabes into the club makes the club weak; the wannabes will bow out at the moment you need them most. And, most of the time, you can’t teach them, inspire them, or reform them. They have to learn on their own, eventually – if ever. Even a fresh-faced intern can reveal that she is a doer – the one who shows up on time, every day, with no excuses, who does what’s needed and asks a lot of questions in order to learn but makes not being distracting a priority, too – while learning and working to develop on her own time. That’s the one who gets hired or recruited away. If wannabe creatives and entrepreneurs approached their enterprises like the determined intern, they wouldn’t be “wannabes” for long.
It’s a hard lesson and every successful person has to learn it:
Success means showing up and doing the work.
Even when it’s hard. Even when it isn’t fun. Even when you fail. Even when you face rejection. Even when you fail to connect with your audience. Even when people you mistakenly trust flake out and you have to quickly replace them.
And to make it doubly challenging? Success means making other people’s dreams come true. The artist serves the audience. The entrepreneur sees a need in the world and meets that need. Creative enterprises grow strong with brainstorming, collaboration, and teamwork.
Through trial-and-error/success, you learn where your blind spots are in evaluating potential teammates, collaborators, and business partners. Everyone’s blind spot is a little bit different.
My blind spot is that I excel at evaluating talent and when I discover a diamond in the rough, my enthusiasm for helping talented people develop and succeed clouds my perception and I forget why these people are diamonds in the rough in the first place: typically, they haven’t put in the time on their own to learn how to shine.
To counteract my blind spot – and it’s still a weakness – I’m focusing now on diamonds in the slightly-less-rough who are taking the time and putting in the work. It’s my filter, the lens I use to differentiate the wannabes from the doers. And the more I practice filtering, the better I get. And I don’t let the disappointment I feel from flake-outs linger. Being flaked-out on is mathematically inevitable.
In your experience, what is your “People Pipeline” blind spot?
What steps have you taken to overcome it?