Talking to People

  • January 31 2018

Sharing your sacred vision with the world is necessary, but challenging. Here’s what to watch out for.

This post is part of the series on Lessons Learned in Achieving Your Vision

As you travel toward your island, aka your vision, you will have to talk to others about your dream.

It’s terrifying.

But other human beings are holding the tools you need to achieve your vision. They have maps, star charts, sextants, compasses, and sails. Be aware that sharing your dream with people comes with risk. Many a beautiful dream has run aground in the shallows of criticism. Real or perceived, the damage is done. You’re kept small. The world is deprived of your vision because you internalized what another person told you.

I’m an entrepreneur in the most fundamental sense: I’ve built organizations out of an idea. I wrote and produced a musical, I was part of a nationwide speaking tour on the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and I’ve sat on boards of non-profits. Some were successful beyond my wildest imaginings. Many ventures were not. None were possible without talking to people.

Based on my experiences, several categories of individuals emerged. You will get good at spotting them. And their “tell” is usually the first thing they say to you after you’ve shared your dream:

“Yes! And…”

One of the core tenets of improv is “yes, and…” It drives the comedic act forward. If Alicia is on stage and says to Michael “I’m going to the store…” and Michael says “No, we’re not going there” it breaks the suspension of disbelief. If instead Michael says “Yes! And I’m going to buy 15 bags of cat food”, it gives something for Alicia to play off. Tina Fey, in her memoir BossyPants, writes that “you are supposed to agree and then add something of your own.”

The “Yes! And…” people are solid gold. They are on the same page, can conceptualize your vision, and want to help you succeed. They are your collaborators and allies: they can provide you with a wealth of resources and networking. People who say “Yes! And…” have the potential to be your team members and co-creators. Keep these door-openers close and pay attention to what they have to say.

“You Should…”

The “You Should”ers mean well, but often end up being a distraction. Unlike the “Yes! And…”ers, they typically don’t have experience in the field. They may understand your vision but see it from their perspective, not yours. They imagine themselves in your shoes, and tell you what they would do in your position (no matter how outrageous or off course it is from your idea).

When I told people I was writing the origin story of Carmen Sandiego as a musical, I had a lot of input like this: “Oh, you should have a love story between the two female leads” or “Don’t forget to include Rockapella!” In the end, I didn’t use either. I had the clarity of vision and the boundaries to be polite but firm: I never sacrificed my vision for what someone else thought it should be. Don’t let the “You Should” folks distract you. You are not there to please them. Your purpose it to bring your dream into reality, not theirs.

“I Don’t Get It”

You live and breathe your vision. It is your shimmering island and you know the exact number of palm trees, can trace every curve of the coastline in your mind. Sometimes you’ll do your best to explain it to others, and they will not get it, no matter how hard you try. This can be an indicator of your opportunity for growth in honing your pitch. You may need to work on how you sell your vision. But most often you ought to take “I don’t get it” as “it’s time to move along.”

Be patient with people who don’t understand your vision, but don’t use up too much energy. Tell them to “wait and see” what you roll out when you’re further along. Some people may only be able to grasp your vision with a chart or other visuals. Others will be enthusiastic supporters of your final product. But for now don’t belabor the point, or it will frustrate both of you. Conserve your energy and direct it toward reaching your goal.

“You Can’t”

People who tell you that “you can’t” achieve your life’s purpose are the most dangerous on this list. First, make sure they are not potential allies who are merely identifying challenges you may face. That type of input can be helpful. But if they are not, if they are just trying to shut you down, MOVE ON. You do not need their feedback. Do not waste any time or energy on these people.

You may meet “You Can’t”ers who stand between you and achieving your vision. If this is the case, don’t be nasty. Get creative. Call on your other allies for advice. Strategize on how you can neutralize their opposition. Gatekeepers can be a real pain and challenge your commitment. Find a way to go over, around, or through them. And whatever you do, do not take their comments to heart (no matter who they are). Do not carry their negativity with you.

Talking to others can be terrifying, but the input you receive can further hone your vision. It will make you better at selling your dream to others. You may gain friends and allies along the way. My graphic designer turned out to be a close family friend: I told her about WokeUp over Thanksgiving dinner. I connected with my development team by pitching my startup in front of 60 strangers at a entrepreneur meetup in Seattle.

And finally, don’t worry about someone “stealing” your ideas. Eric Ries, entrepreneur and author of The Lean Startup writes: “If only it were so easy to have a good idea stolen! Part of the special challenge of being a startup is the near impossibility of having your idea…be noticed by anyone, let alone a competitor” and the grounding advice that “if a competitor can out execute a startup once the idea is known, the startup is doomed anyway.”

You will eventually have competitors. You will have to be faster, smarter, and better than they are. In the meantime it’s more important to identify and recruit your collaborators and allies. So get out there and talk to people! We want to hear from you.

Check out more Lessons Learned in Achieving Your Vision:

Holding the Space for your Vision

Stop Staying Small

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