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Call Your Own Bluff This Year

Have you ever had an idea burning inside of you that you knew could really take off, yet you just couldn’t stir up the courage to take the first steps?

Have you ever had an idea burning inside of you that you knew could really take off, yet you just couldn’t stir up the courage to take the first steps? Unfortunately, many people choose to let those ideas die because they refuse to step outside of their comfort zone. Instead of taking strategic steps in the direction of their goals, they keep waiting for just the perfect moment to take a chance. (Of course, there is no perfect moment. Risks are inconvenient by nature.)

Just a few short years ago, Julien Smith was considering taking a risk. He had an idea for a business, but he also had a pretty comfortable life doing work he loved. As a NY Times Bestselling author and an in-demand speaker and consultant, he had a pretty great life. However, as he shared in a recent interview for the Accidental Creative podcast, he always wondered if what could actually do what he was teaching others. “There’s a thing in startups they call an ‘operator’. It’s someone who can make things happen,” he told me. “That was profoundly missing from my life. I was wondering, ‘can I do it? Am I a phony?’ I didn’t know if I was going to fail… but I decided to take that path and it led me to where I am today.”

Smith knew it was time to become an operator. If he wanted to be able to look himself in the mirror, he needed to call his own bluff and actually build something he could be proud of. That’s how his company Breather was born.

However, the path to building the company from concept to launch to raising over $73 million in venture backing wasn’t easy. Here are three great insights he shared for anyone who is reading to make the leap and launch a new venture:

“You have to constantly tow the line between confidence and doubt.”

Smith says that there is rarely a moment of complete certainty in business, but you still need to act with confidence even when you’re riddled by doubt. If you fail to act with confidence, your waffling will trickle down to everyone around you. This is especially true if you are a leader of a team that’s trying to accomplish something difficult. Your team will sense your own wavering and it will affect their ability to engage.

On the other side, if you’re super confident, you may go out and act aggressively in the pursuit of your idea, but you have to hold in mind the idea that you could be wrong. You must be willing to question yourself and your idea even if you believe you’re right.

Question: Where in your work do you need to project more confidence, and where might you be blinded by over-confidence?

“It’s important to know when to be the tree that resists the wind, and when to be the tree that bends.”

In a similar vein, you need to know when it’s important to seek counsel from others, and when you need to ignore the cultural headwinds and stubbornly pursue your idea. Many people are blown to-and-fro by the opinions of others and as a result they never follow-through on their idea. Instead, it becomes a watered-down version of whatever pleases the voices around them. You have to have a core set of ideals that drive what you’re doing, and that you aren’t willing to compromise.

Question: Do you know what you are – and aren’t – willing to compromise in order to build your idea? It’s important to consider this before you’re in a critical moment.

“You need to build something a few people will love rather than something a lot of people will kind of like.”

Don’t aim for the mediocre masses. Instead, build something that you know a core group of super fans will scream from the rooftops about. You want to build something that people will share willingly and evangelize with enthusiasm rather than building something that people will mildly like but never spread. Smith said that this has been core to the rapid growth of Breather. “People say, ‘did you know this is a thing?!?’ when they enthusiastically share it with others.”

Question: How can you refine your idea so that it targets a small group of super fans? How can you shape it so that those who embrace it will really, truly love it?

Don’t look back this time next year and wonder what happened to your ideas and ambitions. Make 2017 the year that you step out of your comfort zone and build something, whether that means in your current organization or on your own.

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Last modified: December 1, 2022

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