Working with startups, nonprofits and associations and on the errant passion project, it isn’t uncommon for me to hear the catchall of excuses: “We just don’t have the money.” This is a real problem. Not because it’s the death of revenue generation, but because it allows for a cancerous school of thought that puts progress behind a paywall. I believe that as team leaders, business owners, executives and people with goals, we must stop allowing the lack of a single resource to dictate what we can and cannot accomplish.
Most of us have been trained over the course of our lives and careers to equate money as the crux of every solution. Consider adages like “Time is money,” “Money is power” and “Cash is king.” These statements are so oversimplified that they ignore the fact that innovations are often born of creativity, not a surplus of resources. The airplane in 1903 was the brainchild of Orville and Wilbur Wright. They weren’t funded by governments nor corporate sponsors. Philo Farnsworth was well into developing his idea for an electronic television before receiving any outside funding.
A fallacy of modern thinking about any major development is that it requires some major capital investment. “Let’s put that on the back burner; we can’t afford it this year.” Where this mentality fails is setting you up to accomplish it any year. Building groundwork is free. Setting the stage is free. Motivating creative thought is free. Establishing a workplace where good ideas are fostered is free.
In Peter Sims’ book Little Bets, he describes a myriad of accomplishments by people like Ed Catmull at Pixar and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Their near legendary accomplishments were hardly brought down the mountain as a gift from the Almighty, but rather were the conclusions of small calculated decisions and risks spread over time. Catmull worked on what would become Toy Story for years before recruiting John Lasseter, and even then, it was years before they teamed up with Steve Jobs to co-found Pixar. As for Page and Brin, they started Google as a side venture of the Stanford Digital Library Project while trying to find ways to make books easier to find online, hardly with a capital investment befitting the behemoth that arose from their efforts.
Adam Grant in his book Originals makes similar observations about how nonconformity and even procrastination are often the secret to hidden genius, not large funded working groups and think tanks.
Obviously, money will always be required in some fashion. We can’t afford to work for free, and our teams certainly appreciate their bonuses if not their paychecks. However, many of us lean so much on the crutch of money that we often don’t allow ourselves, our teams or our clients the opportunity to experiment, which likely wouldn’t cost anything more than time.
“We don’t have the money” is the rallying cry of the uninspired to enable the unmotivated to accept the unremarkable. By allowing ourselves, our teams and our clients to implement ideas that are low-cost and unconventional, we can encourage innovation, foster disruption and excite the market.
Specialists cost money, and for it, they’re invaluable. But a few hours of internet tutorials, a passion for an idea and the permission to screw it up can lead to a basic prototype of a concept that can get the ball rolling far better than an abstract pitched at the person with the purse strings.
But where do you start? Ask yourself this series of questions:
1. What does success look like?
• What is the end product I want?
• Where am I trying to go?
2. If tomorrow I were offered 100% of the money I need to accomplish that success, would I be prepared to utilize it effectively?
• If my financier said they could do it, but could only give me 50%, do I want it enough to make that work?
• What if they said 25%?
• How low could that number be before my passion for the idea goes away?
3. If tomorrow my organization were instantly there — we had created the final product — would it be a logical progression for my clients/audience?
• If the answer is no: What can I implement today, right now, that would signal to them the direction I’m steering in?
• If the answer is yes: What can be put in place now that can prepare me for the next step?
This new mentality quickly becomes not one of thrift, but of wantonly recreating the wheel to discover new ways to get it rolling. By encouraging our teams to do big things in new ways, we can break the lather, rinse, repeat cycle that can cost us more than money. It can cost us clients, top talented employees and personal job satisfaction.
Take stock of all of your resources. Money isn’t the only one. Money isn’t even the most important one. Stop allowing the lack of this single resource to dictate what you can and cannot accomplish.