Taking The Big Leap

““The impossible often has a kind of integrity which the merely improbable lacks.”” – Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the SoulSometime in your business career, you will have a chance to do something or sell something –and it will be obvious to you that you are looking at a great opportunity. However, you will realize that you simply don’’t have the time, the knowledge, or the resources to meet that challenge. If you are sensible, you will probably say “No thanks” and bow out. But if the opportunity is really extraordinary, you might want to try the Grand Canyon Jump.I’’m thinking of Evel Knievel’s now-famous motorcycle jump over the Grand Canyon.

The story I heard was that the idea was suggested as a joke – Evel and company needed to do something dramatic to regain media interest. Adding another bus to the umpteen buses he had leaped before was no longer interesting.

It was a joke – it couldn’’t be done –but Evel woke up the next morning, called his publicity agent, and announced he was going to do it. When asked how, he said, “I’’ll figure that out later. Make the announcement now.”

In a much less bold way, I did the same thing recently. I was invited to speak at a seminar this summer about Internet marketing. (See Message #187.) Trouble was, I knew next to nothing about the subject. Certainly not enough to make a speech about it. (No. 1 rule of effective speaking: Know what you’re talking about.)

But I agreed to make the presentation, because I figured it would force me to think hard and fast about this important and growing part of my business. Not only did I agree to talk, I agreed to a speech title (“7 Myths About the Internet and 7 Ways to Profit From It”) that was – given my experience at the time – audacious.

I have done this before. Many times, in fact. When I really want to do something but I have no idea how to do it, I don’’t just agree to do it, I promise that what I will do will be very good. I set a high hurdle. I suppose what I’’m doing is fueling my drive with the fear of humiliation.

But it works. Most of the time.

In this case, I pushed myself – because I had to. Reading about what others have done. Observing what my own employees were doing. Trying some stuff on my own. And I made remarkable progress. In fact, after only two months, I had gotten to a place were 80% of what I read on the subject either (1) bored me because it was so simple or (2) infuriated me because it was so obviously wrong.

OK, I admit it. I almost had a nervous breakdown worrying that I would embarrass myself in front of my colleagues. And I didn’’t actually figure out my presentation until about 15 minutes before I gave it. But along the way, as the weeks passed and the day of doom grew nearer, I found myself thinking more and harder about the subject. Comments I heard about other media (direct mail, print advertising, etc.) reminded me of the Internet. Bit by bit, ideas were coming together.

When the event finally took place I had patched together about a dozen pretty interesting ideas and observations that felt right. Many of these defied conventional wisdom. Then, when I heard what other presenters were saying – their accounts of what worked and failed for them – it all kind of came together.

My presentation worked. It felt good. I had that good level of energy when I gave it – thinking, “Hey, this really is important!” And I got a good reaction from the audience. Maybe most important, I got what I hoped to get: a foundation of ideas that have helped me and will continue to help me make money on the Internet.

Since today is Action Tuesday, I’’d like you to think about one thing that you have not done or declined to do that could be very good for your career. It could be something general like learning how to sell on the Internet, or something more specific like making your next sales presentation or direct-mail campaign work.

Next step is to announce your intention. Contact the appropriate parties and let them know what you’’ve decided to do.

Finally, set a high standard for yourself. Set the standard so high that it seems foolish or pretentious and then start thinking about how you can actually achieve it.

You can’’t change the law of physics. Evel used a rocket-powered engine to get over the canyon and, if memory serves, a parachute to land. But he got over nevertheless. And it gave him not only the temporary career boost he was looking for but also a stunt that he will always be remembered for.

So what is your next Grand Canyon Jump?

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]