If you can find the right people, and truly have faith in them, you’ll be surprised how much you can take off your plate and not even worry about it.
We Did It Our Way
Years ago, my wife Emily and I were part of a sketch comedy troupe called Common Sense for Dummys. I say “part”, however, we made up two-thirds of the team.
I want you to try and picture three very inexperienced people doing everything from writing sketches, to acting, to running cameras and lights, to doing all the post-production (like editing).
Pretty crazy, right?
Now that you have that in your head, I want you to instead picture one person handling nearly all of that. Not just the writing, acting, prep and producing (which was done as a team) but specifically running cameras, sound, and handling de facto directing duties while acting, and then doing all the post-production including editing, website design and distribution… the list goes on.
If you’re guessing that person was me, I’m very proud of you! It’s clear you pay attention to my blogs!
Why in the world was I doing that? Was the rest of the team just not willing to help?
Well… the answer to that is rather complicated.
It’s All On Me
For starters, I had spent the latter part of my teens and the first half of my twenties having to depend only on myself to get projects done. No matter how many times I tried to get rock bands together, they either didn’t stay together or they just weren’t as dedicated to being rock stars like I was. That’s why I eventually ended up going solo. If I couldn’t depend on other people to contribute to making this thing happen, then it was up to me to figure it out.
Didn’t show up to practice? Gone.
Expressed on more than one occasion if this was ever “work” and not just 100% “fun” you were out? Well, see ya. Not wasting my time.
Couldn’t be bothered to wake up before 1PM? Stay home, then.
And without many resources available in Northern New York (like money or people), it was also up to me to learn how to play guitar, record music, mix music, write music… you get the idea. If I was going to be a rock star it was pretty clear fairly early on that it was my responsibility to figure out how to do that.
That’s a lot of pressure. And over time it turns you into someone who, sure, has a lot more faith in himself – which is good to a certain extent – but has a lot less faith in other people. And that can be a super slippery slope.
In 2007, believing I’d finally made it, I handed the keys to my rock career over to a music label. I trusted the machine because up to this point, if you wanted to be a rock star, this was what you were supposed to do.
But over the course of nearly two years, they did nothing, which in the end hardened my self-righteous belief that no one was to be trusted with getting anything done but ME!
So naturally when the sketch comedy thing came about in the years thereafter, I pretty much took over all the production duties – pre, post, and beyond.
It wasn’t necessarily that I didn’t trust anyone to handle them. By this point, it was in my nature to say, for instance, “well if we’re going to film these things and release them we need to know how to film and edit video, so I’m going to learn how to do that” and off I’d go. Once I’d really dug in and was the expert among the group, there was very little room for anyone else to jump in.
And to a certain extent I’m sure they looked at it like, “well… if someone else is handling editing then that’s one less thing for me to worry about”. I can’t say as I blame them.
But doing things that way puts you on borrowed time.
An Out-Of-Control Demolition
When a small business starts to gain some real steam, its natural next phase is to want to expand. Doing this requires focus, a very skilled strategy, a strong customer base to support it, and a lot of luck.
Oh! And the ability to delegate.
See, a business can’t expand if the CEO is doing everything himself. It can’t even really expand if a central office full of many people doing many different things tries to do everything itself. An expanding business needs to be able to delegate work out to newly-hired folks who take up positions strategic to the continuing expansion and success of said business.
Think about the franchise model. For all intents and purposes, that McDonald’s restaurant you just went to isn’t owned by McDonald’s. It’s more (though not entirely) accurate to think of it as a restaurant that has licensed the McDonald’s name, branding, food and culture, to the extent that it is now bound by that licensing contract to follow McDonald’s rules.
But it’s still kind of its own thing.
If a CEO or a central office tried to handle and control every single little thing, that business would very quickly stretch too far and collapse in on itself. The product quality suffers because that’s not being properly tended to. Money stops coming in because people don’t want to buy a product that has diminished in quality. Suddenly the business can’t pay for this second or third location.
It all starts to look like an out-of-control demolition of an old building nobody wants.
A good business can identify when it’s overreached and, thus, can make proper adjustments. Do you hire more people or do you set into motion a controlled contraction of the business (which in itself is not a bad thing)?
If you’re trying to do everything yourself, you can get blinded by your own self-righteousness, which in turn makes you blind to these kinds of problems.
I still struggle with this today.
It’s also something Common Sense for Dummys struggled with.
Responsible For Too Many Things
Roughly four years into the sketch comedy experiment, as a team we had been smart enough to bring in more people to help us out with some things. Now and then we had a director to work the cameras and lights, and to do bulk of the filming. We would sometimes have a sound guy on-set to handle recording audio.
This was largely volunteer work. The idea had always been that once we expanded and were making some money, we could pay these people for their time and talents. But we weren’t expanding. And we weren’t making money. (Conceivably that could have been due to poor creative, poor production management, or a bit of both). At a certain point it wasn’t reasonable to keep asking them to volunteer their time for us. So, even though we’d gotten really good at our end of production, we just couldn’t keep doing what we were doing on our own.
As a result, we quietly put the whole thing on hiatus.
Kind of like a controlled demolition. Which as it was made way for new projects… like having kids.
And working on my new album.
It’s good to learn new things, to challenge yourself, and to be willing to do the work required of taking responsibility for your own destiny. In a sense, you really do have to depend on yourself to make a lot of these things happen.
But there’s a very thin line between taking responsibility for your destiny and taking complete control of it.
Much like when a business has overreached, you need to know when there’s too much on your plate and be willing to not only ask for help, but have faith in the capabilities of the people you’ve asked.
Yes, sometimes you’ll get burned. But that’s something to learn from. That’s meant to help you find better people, not to take all of the control from them.
If you can find the right people, and truly have faith in them, you’ll be surprised how much you can take off your plate and not even worry about it. This is true for businesses, for major projects, and for your family life and/or marriage.
Do you recall a time where you took control of everything? Did you specifically take that control from other people or did you assume control before anyone else could? What happened as a result? What would you do differently?