Image: LEP Digital HQ in Gosford, NSW
SOMETHING monumental happened this week that made it different from the other 51. We put up a 140cm bright neon sign on our wall that reads, ‘Begin anywhere.’ It has a remote control with several modes that can take it from a subtle piece of calligraphy art one minute to a throbbing, fit-inducing nightclub scene the next. But what exactly was the purpose, you may ask.
About ten years ago, while traipsing about a gift shop wasting time, I bought an inspirational fridge magnet that read “Begin anywhere.” On closer inspection, I read that it was a quote by the late US avante-garde composer John Cage. Cage was famous for his unorthodox and inventive compositions – most notably 4’33” (Four minutes and 33 seconds) of which consisted of musicians sitting in silence or “ambient noise.” Although annoying or confusing many audience members, it became clear that the purpose was to showcase the impossibility of silence in life.
So what did Cage mean by ‘Begin anywhere?’
From what I’ve read on the man, the words serve as advice for those facing the psychological paralysis brought about by not knowing where to begin their creative project. It’s what we experience in our business as writer’s block, or what financial advisers may call analysis paralysis, but it can really be applied to the invisible blockers that we have in daily life when we fail to make decisions, or simply start a project.
The problem is that we have too many options and too many places to begin – the world is noisy. There’s endless information at our fingertips, full of conflicting opinions, strategies and recipes for success. You can ask one question and get ten answers. In marketing, over the last two decades, it’s meant an increased average buyer journey time from days and weeks to months and years. Why? Because we’re all so fearful of making the wrong choice, so we keep searching, reading and discovering at the cost of doing. We continually ask ourselves and others, ‘where is the best place to begin?’
But what Cage is telling us is that the question is fundamentally flawed. Because, there is no ‘best’ or right place to begin – all places are good enough and all places are beginnings. It’s beginning that’s what counts. However, it’s important to note that Cage didn’t just start a whole bunch of creative projects and walk away. He was methodical and deliberate. He set up systems for his compositions and rigorously followed them, allowing the process to take him somewhere (whether this made for pleasing music or not is another question). These words by Thomas Brett summarise it nicely:
“Begin anywhere, certainly, but once begun with whatever it is that you’re doing, be deliberate about your going.”
My path to somewhere
It got me thinking about my own path to ‘somewhere’ over the three and a half years building LEP Digital. My approach has always been to experiment, change course and test to learn and grow, and it comforts me to know that some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs do the same. Sure, I could have waited another year to start my business, when I was more financially and mentally ready, when I wasn’t juggling freelance work on top of a full time job, a new puppy, and a difficult property separation. Maybe I could have consulted a business coach, written a business plan, or considered competitor offerings more closely. But, instead, I chose to begin with the most appropriate business name and brand colour that I could think of. (I can always change it later if it doesn’t work, I thought). I then set up a website and social channels within a few weeks while I was on a holiday in the US. I wasn’t ready to accept enquiries, but I got them, and I’m thankful for it. And that’s how I’ve run the business ever since. I begin and then begin again, and I’m comfortable with where the path takes me.
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain
In January this year, I said, “This will be our best year yet. Exciting things will come; I have a good feeling.”
2018 has been our most successful year yet. It’s not just because we made more revenue or won more clients (but that’s part of it). It’s mostly because I built a team around me that I’m extremely proud of and who I can trust to deliver incredible work. Their support meant that we could open a large commercial office, cement our business values and purpose, win several awards, gain local and national press, meet hundreds of new people, and help me grow my personal brand.
But the success is no accident. It’s perfectly deliberate. We achieved it through small but important beginnings over time. We set goals on a whiteboard and chipped away at them every week, ticking things off as they happened. Seeing goals written out in view helps us to visualise our goals and enact them every day. If something didn’t go to plan, we’d simply wipe it off and write up a new idea to pursue.
The irony, as Cage teaches us, is that to allow yourself the freedom to begin anywhere and let it run its course takes great discipline. Not everyone can start out of order, even though, as I know now, order is both an illusion and perhaps the single greatest enemy to creativity.