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Coaxing the elephant…

By January 19, 2011People+Technology

I was getting a massage several months ago with the lovely and incredibly talented Birgit Michels. In the half-dazed conversation (well, I was half-dazed, anyway), I was talking about how long it takes to start and grow a business, and how much work it is.

How it seems like pushing a huge boulder uphill; everything takes 10x longer than I want it to, and requires incredible effort just to move it an inch in the direction I want it to go.

I spoke about how it felt like I was pushing and pushing and pushing, losing myself in the struggle, barely sleeping, hardly eating, trying to figure out the best way to make the damn boulder move… One measly inch.

“It’s pretty much hopeless” I said.

I can’t remember exactly what Birgit said, but it was something, very wise, along the lines of:

“Lucas. Come on. What if you don’t need to push so much? What if you could just ask it to come with you?” (in her adorable German accent)

The best way I can think to describe that moment was like… Imagine sitting in your living room, confused and stuck, where suddenly a door to a crazy new reality opens up in the middle of smooth flat drywall across from where you’re sitting. An opening you couldn’t know existed, that changes everything.

I had a powerful realization in that moment.

Really, it’s more like pushing an elephant. Or, more specifically: coaxing an elephant.

(Note: I have never even seen an elephant in real life, and I don’t watch specials about elephants on NatGeo. The below may be completely incorrect – it’s just how I imagine an elephant to be, based on their size, a couple Youtube videos, and Hollywood. Zoologists please correct me as needed).

I figure, the elephant will move at whatever speed it wants to move. It might get spooked, and it will certainly get hungry (daily). It will meander on and off the beaten trail, and it will stop whenever it damn well pleases.

It will largely do whatever it feels is best, given the current reality surrounding it.

Except… If it’s patiently and gently led. Influenced, guided, by a consistent and knowing hand.

If you lead it in that way, using consistent and patient effort to clear the path and feed the elephant, grooming or bathing the elephant regularly, and being clear on the direction you’d like it to go, it will probably decide to come with you.

Hopefully. If it wants to.

This realization changed everything for me. I started thinking about ways to keep the elephant happy, to keep it well fed, to guide it into new territory – a little bit every day. Patiently.

You do *not* rush an elephant.

Running a business takes an idea, a revenue model, and then a whole lot of trial and error. Forging ahead into the unknown, surrounding yourself with strong role models. It takes an acute understanding of exactly where I failed, what was my lack of knowledge, that resulted in these effects that are so unpleasant. What could I have done differently? And how will it be different next time this happens?

One of my favorite quotes, on a card from my uncle Kim:

“do not go where the path may lead. go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.” – ralph waldo emerson

I would only add to that quote… “Just a little bit at a time, so as not to spook the elephant.”


  • andrew kumar says:

    great read!! If I could ask a favour? Please install wp-touch for us mobile users 🙂

  • Quigger says:

    You talk like a farmer. Farmers tend crops and do fine. Hunters on the other hand eat very well if they are good. Take a gun to the elephant and see how fast it can run. If you shoot it, make sure it doesn’t land on you killing you. Running a fast growth business is about being a little mafia when you have to. Do whatever you have to do to get that fat elephant running and eat well at the end of the day.

  • DGH says:

    keep on blogging and doing what you do; steady on!

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