When I used to competitively swim (back in my glory days), my coaches would always tell us to “build” every 25, focusing on form and technique, until the last lap when you go “all out” – arms thrashing into the water, kicking until it felt like your legs would give out, lungs burning as they tried to gasp for air.
Today, it’s July 21, and we’re going all out.
This is challenging my longstanding habit of starting projects but never finishing them. The internet offers many ways to pathologize this behavior, but I think it’s a rather natural occurrence in the entrepreneurship journey. In the beginning of a project, you get rewarded quickly and significantly for little strides in work. You get some publicity and attention, and people get really excited about your idea’s seemingly limitless potential. In implementation, large amounts of effort go unrewarded and long hours of work yield very few results.
Michael Loop illustrates the four phases of a project this way in his article “The Half Life of Joy:"
Similarly, I sometimes think of the 3 phases of the HFA fellowship as follows, courtesy of some statues we found on Stanford’s campus.
I have to admit that the implementation phase terrified me. Having mostly working on research projects prior to HFA, most of what I did stopped at proof-of-concept studies. In the lab, we researched for the sake of building knowledge. We would run our experiments, note some improvements or positive results, make some cool discoveries, write some papers, and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. Customers, production channels, and manufacturing partnerships were separate ballfields we simply weren’t playing on.
When people think of innovation, they usually think of ideation, but I’ve come to really think implementation is where the bulk of innovation occurs. People ideate hundreds of ideas – ask any developer and he has half dozen domain names purchased for ideas he never saw through. Engineers have half-finished CADD files, and entrepreneurs have emails still in the “draft” folder.
The fellows, however, have had to be truly innovative now that the rubber is meeting the road – pivoting based on feedback and performance, thinking about different use cases for our products, shifting our customer markets, re-defining our value propositions, and making the most with what we have and not what we had hoped for. In implementation, the motto is no longer “fail fast,” it’s “succeed how you can.” The pressure, the high stakes, and the reality of implementation is what breeds innovation.
As we push through “all out” with KnightCap and Galva, I’m especially grateful for what I’ve learned during the implementation phase about how to actually take a project to the finish line.