The journey now seemed real. There was a website, and on a map I could trace a line following the route I intended to take, scheduled against dates on a calendar. My training was increasing in intensity, and all of a sudden it seemed as though this journey was going to be easier than I had thought.
I soon realised that I would be unable to complete, let alone start, this quest without the financial support from others. I wasn’t going to repeat the folly of the 9 City Bridge Run and fund the whole trip alone. I knew that whatever the outcome, I would be responsible to meet some of the costs, if not the lion’s share. I also recognised that the financial contributions from others would be more than just passive assistance to meet costs, but more a tangible demonstration of their commitment to supporting the idea.
This for me was the beginning of Backswing. The start of any new idea will be filled with uncertainties. By definition, there will be more that is unknown than known at the conception of a new idea. Speaking into the void and navigating across unknown territory is normal. Those things involve a process of iteration: striking, and sometimes hitting the target, but more often than not finding a route through trial and error.
It is when we seek to have certainty that the paralysing state of Backswing overtakes us. I had reached this point from having earlier attempted something which didn’t work as I intended. I continued to try to make the idea work. But it was when I suddenly felt the expectation of a crowd that the unintended consequence of holding myself in check emerged.
I was doing something I hadn’t done before. I knew what I was delivering wasn’t perfect, but there wasn’t much alternative aside from just giving up. This is the importance of ‘shipping it’ as Steve Jobs and others were so insistence to demand from our actions. But I also knew that there was a balance between shipping and responsibility. What responsibility did I have to ask people to contribute money towards a process which I had more doubts than certainty in terms of the outcome?
I have often been inspired by the early explorers. People who set out across land and sea to a destination that weren’t really sure existed, and without any knowledge of what lay between them and the anticipated objective. Similar to how the Hero’s Journey is misunderstood, we can take a romantic view of the early explorers, and look at the overall sense off adventure, but this is normally a view taken in hindsight. Today, these explorers are seeking to conquer new domains of plumbing the depths of the ocean or seeking to make spaceflight viable for a mainstream passenger.
The success of any pioneer or pathfinder is determined by their ability to forge ahead in the face of uncertainty. To wrestle themselves away from the comfortable mediocrity of Backswing and to push ahead so as to navigate a route to their destination. It is precarious, and at times fatal.
In this regard, perhaps my mistake was not being more transparent with my doubts and uncertainty. It is not as though I was being disingenuous. I wasn’t holding out on people, but sharing a vision and asking people to join the journey. In some respects, it was perhaps a good thing that I was not too cocky because if I were there might have been no social constraints I imposed on myself for seeking the support of others.
This early beginning in cringeworthy to look back on. It was August 2010 when I first posted the website. I had an aspiration to commence in New York after the conclusion of the United Nations General Assembly which took place at the end of September. The idea was half-baked, but still it was a good one. It might have been a good idea, but there is nothing more important than execution. A sexy idea is no good if it can’t be acted upon.
I started a newsletter. It was homespun, and I should have appreciated that this involved me seeking the help from designers who might have been affordable. Today, at the time of writing this book, cheap help from the market is widely available. Back then, it was more elusive, and perhaps fair to say that I was more likely to get fleeced from a designer rather than finding a hungry developer to work alongside for our mutual benefit.
I wrote to my immediate email list. Each email was written individually. I didn’t make an email list through mail chimp because I hadn’t sought the permission from these people for this distribution, and I didn’t want to become a spammer. Looking back, there was an easier way, but that was where I was. I had my own financial constraints, so I was working to real limitations too. There was no money tree that was enabling this endeavour.
Part of my method was to test the question asking what influence the individual could have in shaping an outcome. I wasn’t imposing constraints that might limit this question, but it also meant that I needed to act as an individual and not to sublimate my identity to those of a larger organisation. In doing so, I wasn’t railing against the institution nor questioning the legitimacy of organisations. I had spent many of the previous years since 2004 examining the role of social entrepreneurs in and on society, and I wanted to test the rhetoric which often bandied about. There was more to be said about the influence of individuals working collaboratively towards a shared aim. It wasn’t something that I could just write about. It had to be practiced in order to prove.
I knew I needed to fund this quest, and so my attention towards crowdfunding as a solution. Kickstarter, the US crowdfunding platform, had existed for just over 12 months and wasn’t a service I could draw upon outside of the US. I wasn’t prepared to extend the risk and responsibility for funding onto others living in the US in exchange for access to their bank accounts as a proxy where any crowdfunding might be deposited. I needed to find a local solution.
This half-baked idea was being propped up with an architecture of other half-baked ideas. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does create a dynamic and fluid situation that is then hard to describe to others with a high degree of certainty. The less stable the idea, the more likely change will be encountered through the necessary and iterative process of innovation. In many respects, in creating something new it is the optimal state to begin with because it allows greatest flexibility for adaption. It also creates difficulty in that people who are new to the idea might find it difficult to understand what the idea is, or see the holes which might lead them to lose confidence in the ability to deliver an outcome.
I was going in blind, but if I was going to do this, I needed to make a start and work it out from there. I was also concerned about the dilemma I was soon to face: how would I communicate and sell this half-baked idea to others? Who would buy into this idea? Would I make myself a laughing stock by presenting an idea that would fall completely flat? I had no idea where this would go, but my vision for what I wanted to achieve in terms of the method was strong.
During this time, my running training was advancing from strength to strength. I was making good process across distance, with good speed, power and endurance, and very satisfied with the results I was achieving when measured against my heart rate. But because the idea was half-baked, I was reluctant to talk up my training. There were others who were stronger, faster, fitter than me. It was a mistake for me focus on what I was not. None of us are ever going to be good at everything. Get started. Now. Ship. Don’t wait for the critics to tell you what is wrong. Damn the torpedoes!
I was running in silence. There was a lot of enjoyment that I found from my running, a sense of accomplishment in being able to complete the epic task I had set myself, and this was a necessary part of achieving the endstate of improving child mortality. This silence was in part the result of a timidity and reluctance to share wholly about the quest I was engaged. If we only focus on the hitting publicly but are not prepared to discuss our misses, this will only lead to Backswing. We have to own our performance. Self-sabotage will override our best intentions if we are only prepared to share the success with our audience because we feel sheepish about starting from a half-baked idea. Swing early, strike out, but in doing so, learn.
And so I posted the first emails. That was a lumpy and imperfect process. I’m sure the emails were longwinded and incoherent compared to what I might write today. One lesson I leant in the army was that sometimes you just have to go with what you have got. It had begun.
Very quickly, I received my first supporter, and this was from my father. You might remember my earlier chapters where I talked about the building of this human bridge with my father as a consequence of undertaking the 9 City Bridge Run. I don’t think we ever recognise the full utility of a human bridge when they are first formed, besides which human bridges are not constructed for their transactional value or what we will get out of the relationship. Human bridges are about what we give, and also how together we can help others rather seeking to be self-serving.
The response from my father came within a few short minutes after posting the email. It was as though he had been waiting for the opportunity to help. I was was of course delighted. I had some social proof of the idea, but more importantly I had the confidence of my father supporting my initiatives. I’m sure he took the view that he was encouraging me to live my dreams regardless of the outcome. That too is a true gift. We should value this more than anything else.
A half-baked idea is not necessary bad, and it is a beginning. Especially if you are beginning somewhere new, that first idea will be lumpy and rough. Accept it, and work from there. Allow others to become part of the process. Take time to celebrate the beginning, don’t be too concerned about how bad it looks.