Brand-new Keys to Success—See Things Differently

This week, I’m heading out to SXSW Interactive. There, I’ll be interviewing some of the most ambitious, change-making, cliff-hanging, impassioned brandmakers I can find for a research project I’m working on with an intrepid librarian, Tony Tallent, under the auspices of the Urban Libraries Council.

Our research aim is to uncover the winning behaviors of new-economy brands.

Some days, I wonder if it’s a fool’s errand. After all, the subjects I will be interviewing don’t run regular businesses. They are renegades out on the ramparts.

I begin to doubt myself.

I’ve begun to notice something. Every time I allow myself to fill up on self-doubt, I start feeling blue. As my conviction weakens, doubt turns into fear. Do you recall the scene from Alien when the monster gets right up next to Sigourney Weaver’s cheek and breathes on her? That’s what fear does to me. It’s a paralyzing monster.

So, I decided to kick the self-indulgent habit of doubt. I devised a way to stop worrying about failure. Face it, head on.

This might help you tame your monster, too:

Take out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of the page. On the left, list your top 5 goals (any more and you’re spinning your wheels). They can be professional, emotional, health- and fitness-related.

Now make a list on the other half of the page, alongside your goals. Write down everything that you fear will prevent you from achieving these goals. Be brutally honest. Write the most vexing barriers in your way.

Put it in a drawer, and move on with your day.

Before you retire for the night, consult your list. What patterns do you see?

Here’s what I found out from mine:

1) My second list is more elaborate, whereas my goals are more succinct. This means I devote a great deal of creative energy to telling myself stories intended to console me if I don’t succeed. Subtly, I’m gearing up to fail. Meanwhile, my goals don’t get nearly the same attention. I don’t lavish them with the same level of imagination by a long shot.

2) Many of my goals have repeated themes. Every January, I use different words to make my list of resolutions. But the nouns and verbs reveal little that’s new. My aspirations endure.

Here’s my take: The persistence of our goals is scaffolding that rests against the structure being built inside. They offer the platforms that help other people, influences, and experiences find their way inside to strengthen us brick by brick.

Here’s what else I learned: No matter how overwhelming the evidence that we are likely to fail, it doesn’t hold a candle to the thrill of improving our lives and the lives of others.

Over the years of attending SXSW, I’ve learned that it’s likely many of the start ups I encounter there will fail. They know it, too. So, in my own small way, I hope to lift them up by shining a light on what is good about their work that others might be inspired.

We are building a new economy. It’s time to change the way we see things and strike a balance between hope and fear.