You’re not the expert until you can master the first 5%.
When I was doing my CPA studies…just a couple of years ago now (joking), I remember being taught how to write a good case study exam. Let’s say I had two hours to complete the exercise, and every fibre within me wanted to give a 5-minute read over the situation and spend the remaining 115 minutes pouring my soul out on paper (yes we used paper then). Imagine my great disgust when our first facilitator made us spend the first 35 minutes planning what we were going to do; before we even laid pen to paper. Oh Lord!
It didn’t take us long to realize that if you just put your head down and got after it, you generally missed the critical pieces. You didn’t fully grasp the objectives and you didn’t follow any clear approach to solving the problem. Outcome = failure. What was the alternative?
If you fully digest the situation, objectively review what’s been placed in front of you, and plan your approach to solving it, you might not be guaranteed to succeed but you’ll be sure you won’t look like an idiot!
Think back to my movie example about the last 5%. If you’re watching a movie and the entire thing is about wrapping up a problem that wasn’t presented in the first place, you’ll be entirely confused. Or take my example of running a marathon. If I just decide one day to run a marathon (not likely, but weird things happen) but don’t do any training, don’t learn how to run a race, and don’t even know where I’m going, would you wager that I’m prepared to succeed? No way.
The first 5% is planning with the end in mind, and you’re not an expert until you can do that. You’d think it is easy to do, but I’ve talked with hundreds of clients at this point in my career that have no idea where they’re going, no sight of the objectives or the problems, and as a result, just spend their time pouring their soul into activities that have only a low probability of success. Let’s explore what makes up the first 5% that makes it so important.
You won’t be surprised that the first key to the first 5% is the same as that for the last 5%. Your habit is everything. When I learned to write case studies, I learned that you do the same thing every time; plan and prepare. As soon as you deviate you end up with results that don’t solve the real problem.
In business, we face the same scenario. Entrepreneurs, in particular, jump off the diving board before wondering whether there is any water in the pool. Others take on significant risk before they understand where they’re going, what that might look like, and what obstacles they’ll come across on the road.
We’ve all been in the situation where we did something without really thinking it through. Don’t spend time making an inventory of those events; just believe me they are there.
In the first 5% of anything significant you do there needs to be an evaluation of some sort. Scope out the landscape, see what’s going on, where is the priority and what kind of approach can you take. As you become an expert, you’ll certainly become better at doing this. Remember Sherlock Holmes? The character can spot all the relevant details, even the minutia, on a moment’s glance. He didn’t just wake up one morning and viola! Master detective. No, he trained, had experience, and practiced creating a vision for how mysteries could be solved.
So, it lives in business. You need to practice your craft so that the planning becomes second nature. The habit is created, and then you work on the vision for what the rest of the project looks like. That vision will be clearer and clearer over time as you develop your ability to predict and your leadership skills.
Each of us has that thing that we can be great at. For some, it comes easier and earlier than others. In business, Jim Collins calls this the “Hedgehog Concept.” The Hedgehog knows how to protect itself and does the same thing every time. That’s what it knows, and what it does best.
When you find what you do best, and what you were placed here on earth to do well, you need to put yourself into the positions where you can do that! This applies to you as an individual and to your business. Find what you can be the best at and do that over and over again.
Is the first 5% of a project important? Anyone who has been burned by underestimating, under-planning, or coming up with an irrelevant result will tell you that they should have planned better. If you’re any good with math, you’ll know that 35 minutes of 120 is not 5%, however, the point is the same. Spend the first 5% figuring out what you’re going to do and you’ll see way more success than you did before. You’ll have happier customers, better work, and you’ll change people’s lives; including your own.
Do the first 5% properly and you’ll become the expert.
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