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Nature & Nurture Of Action - Issue #10

Sunletter from Ondřej Bárta
Nature & Nurture Of Action - Issue #10
By Ondřej Bárta • Issue #10 • View online
A car engine cannot run purely on potential. Neither can people or anything else. Potential is a promise that requires action. And nobody will take that action for you.

In the last issue, I explored ways of catching ideas. I want to focus on the exploration and execution cycle in this one. There’s a saying that ideas are cheap and execution is the king. It is a generalization that I disagree with, mainly because it’s too broad. Ideas count and are crucial for you to move forward. But on the other hand, it’s true that an idea needs to be followed up by execution if you want anything to come out of it.
Exploration and execution loop
Exploration and execution loop
Why is it a loop in the first place? Even with the most rigorous preparation, there’s always something that must be reassured in the process. No single process is perfectly linear and always moves only forward. If there is, that process could be perfectly automated so that it wouldn’t need any external intervention (and perfect automation exists only in video games).
Too frequent a loop might also not be what you’re after. Going from exploration to execution and back in a matter of moments would make everything extremely chaotic. So much so that it’s unlikely you’d get anything done.
On the other hand, keeping the loop too spaced out. Either spending too much time in exploration where you’d research without doing anything. Or in the execution where you build something but slowly lose a sense of what you are creating.
There are times when specific workflows are unavoidable. If you’re working in an environment where mistakes are very costly (especially in financial sectors), a particularly extensive exploration phase for everything is absolutely necessary. At this kind of enterprise, you always get comprehensive documentation, and every change needs to be refined several times before anything gets done. But this is also why banks are slow to implement any changes or improvements in their offerings. And the banks that move fast will always be less reliable than the slow established ones.
A lengthy exploration phase also doesn’t make you entirely prone to mistakes. A particularly famous story is that of a NASA orbiter that crashed in 1999 due to different teams using different units for calculations. Costly project on a very long timeline. And while the exploration phase was necessary, it didn’t protect them from this mistake. If there were a possibility of sending ten orbiters a month, the approach for the missions would undoubtedly be completely different.
But there are, of course, situations where rigid planning is utterly unachievable anyway. Most typical for this are basically all creative endeavors. Making movies, games, paintings, music, and everything else that directly stands on a creative process. When you start painting, the exploration is often a part of the execution. There might be storyboarding or moodboarding, but in the end you will always end up with something different to what you imagined in your head. One executed part will lead to another part to be explored.
This makes planning difficult. There are plenty examples of this. Game of Thrones books still aren’t finished. While this could be, in part, because the show has already ended and there might not be enough motivation. But each of the previous books also took many years to write. Cyberpunk is an example when it comes to the gaming scene. Since the announcement in 2012, the game was postponed again and again until its release in 2020.
You might find the transition difficult from an idea to exploration and execution. It’s much easier to stay in the cycle and explore when you’ve done at least some work. Only then you might find hidden complexities, and only then you’ll have a clear picture of what you’re aiming for. But you must make the transition first and take action to go from an idea to its exploration.
All this comes down to advice that many people have already heard. Doing a thing once and perfectly is impossible. But getting things better in an iterative process is the only way to move forward. The book Atomic Habits echoed the same idea, which describes a photography teacher that gave their students an assignment. The assignment was to take pictures. But half of the class was graded on many photos, while the other half was graded only on a single shot. The students who took many pictures got to experiment with many different forms of photography, while their counterparts were focused on making a single picture the perfect one. The best shots were found in the many photos of the students who took more photographs.
Iterate - @visualizevalue
Iterate - @visualizevalue
What ideas do you have in your drawer? Go through them, find an appealing one, and take a weekend to make the first iteration. Write the first page if it’s a book. Create a draft of a business plan if it’s an idea for a business. But make the first step towards something. Don’t be a procrastinator or a perfectionist. Be the iterator.
Have a wonderful Sunday!
PS: I tried to avoid all terms like agile, scrum, or OKRs in this as I wanted to explore this using my own words. These terms can be useful, but only if everybody in the room knows what you’re talking about.
PPS: For writing, I enjoyed reading this essay writing guide by J. B. Peterson (downloadable DOCX document)
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Ondřej Bárta

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