In our day and age of get-rich-quick schemes and “magic pills”, it’s easy to discount the journey people and companies go through. Facebook is a prime example. While the company has recently received flack from many communities, no one can argue the company and its founder’s prowess and Mark Zuckerberg as one of the richest men in the world.
Romanticizing success robs us of learning. From romanticized success we learn nothing and we gain nothing.
However, by romanticizing their success, we learn nothing and gain nothing. Facebook did not start out perfect and polished, nor have they reached a point where they are perfect and polished.
In fact, on February 4, 2004, when Facebook was launched, it was not as a glamorous website or with a business mogul Zuckerberg. It was a basic site and an inexperienced Zuckerberg. The service was restricted to fellow students at Harvard and the site was barebones, with just enough going on to keep people interested. The site was housed on what was originally called thefacebook.com (Chloe Albanesius, 2014).
However, almost from the get-go, they utilized beta-testers to improve the user experience. Those improvements, along with increasing accessibility to the world, fueled success. Even more, the greatest change for the company was the introduction of Facebook Ads, a stream that generates about 90% of Facebook’s revenue, which wasn’t introduced till the end of 2007 (more than three years after starting).
Now, some of these changes were small, some were big, but the culture of continuous change was the crucial key in all of it. An often overlooked (and possibly the most important) part of this is the courage to start before you are ready. Had Zuckerberg waited until he had a perfect product, he would have not started. Instead, he had a site that performed a single purpose and iterated along the way. This example of working off of a “most-viable product” can be seen in many successful businesses.
Sometimes, ambitions (and even organizations) start with nothing at all. Such is the example of Lewis and Clark. In the book, Escalate, I guide the reader through the experience of Lewis and Clark. At the request of President Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark set out to explore the Louisiana Territory, the land west of the Mississippi purchased from France in 1803. They covered more than 8,000 miles, the equivalent of going from New York City to Hong Kong.
However, rather than planning their trip from beginning to end, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their team, referred to as the Corps of Discovery, let their actions drive them forward. They prepared 140 maps directly on the trail in response to their environment and secured another 30 from Native Americans, fur trappers, and traders on their trek (Ambrose, 2013, Undaunted Courage: Merriwether Lewis Thomas Jefferson and the Opening. Riverside: Simon & Schuster).
Call it confidence, fortitude, or what you may, their work impacted generations of people after them. If they had waited for better maps or more knowledge, they wouldn’t have made the trip. Instead, they understood the importance of iterating, collecting knowledge, and forging the way forward. How often do you look at tasks and use your lack of knowledge or imperfect plan as an excuse to not take action or move forward? It’s never easy, but it’s worth it.
To give you an idea of how easy it wasn’t, let’s look at some of their trials. The explorers traveled through tumultuous weather, illness, and injury. Over three years, they journeyed nearly eight thousand miles. In 1806, Lewis was robbed and shot by one of his men in a hunting accident. Still, through all of this, the Corps of Discovery made good on their promise to explore the frontier. Despite the adversity encountered and many chances to turn back, they did not once consider ending their expedition early.
While their first winter proved difficult, the explorers took a series of actions that set the tone for the rest of their expedition. They treated Mandan, a Native American Tribe of the Great Plains (now North Dakota) with respect, and as a result, earned the trust of Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian.
She and her husband Toussaint Charbonneau traveled for thousands of miles to steer them in the right direction during difficult times (History.com, 2009 history.com/topics/westward-expansion/lewis-and-clark). By thinking on their feet, taking action, and forging their own maps, Lewis and Clark achieved the unimaginable.
By being willing to start before you are ready and iterate along the way, you too can forge a path forward. Think about some of the world’s largest brands today: Apple, Wal-Mart, Facebook, Google, etc. Almost anyone you can think of used some form of iteration in their innovation of a new product, business model, or service.
As you take action throughout life, you will lead a personal Corps of Discovery. You cannot analyze your way to a perfect map, so focus on what you are discovering along the way and capture the lessons learned to increase your future successes.
This article contains excerpts from Kyle’s best-selling book Escalate: The Practical Guide to Get Yourself Unstuck and Build Lifelong Momentum.
You can learn more about forging your own path and achieving goals at https://kylebrost.com/escalate.