Something great starts with, well, something. Bob had a big idea for the community, yet his first step was just asking a few people to meet to talk about it. Allen wanted to start a new business and he began by setting up coffees and lunches every day with those who could help him learn. Cynthia’s first step in changing the culture of the call center she worked in was setting aside time each day to walk around and listen. As a nurse, Lindsay’s first step in changing procedures in her neonatal ICU unit was bringing new information to her team meetings.
None of these first steps are daunting. It’s because the first step wasn’t the end game. It was just a way to get started and move. In my research for my book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life, I’ve learned that those who start change are incrementalists. They know that progress happens and grows, but you have to start first—even if the first step is small.
I have had many conversations with others about their idea for a change—or what I call a wave. I always encourage exploring and learning to find the first step. Getting started is the hardest part.
What’s your wave? How can you get started?
Here are some simple ideas that may help you create the right first step for you:
1. Schedule three meetings with smart people.
Talk to those with knowledge about what you want to do. Ask questions. Listen. Don’t go in with a set plan yet. Good discussions can help you create yours.
2. Read a few books that push your thinking.
Don’t view a book as the bible on your topic, but to spur ideas. Menlo Innovations was first envisioned after Rich Sheridan started reading books about the new ways of leading a business and on design. A new idea emerged.
3. Invite knowledgeable experts over for a discussion.
Create a time for a conversation about your ideas and ask those who could contribute for an hour or two of time.
4. Start an ideas notebook.
Begin to research and collect ideas and interesting examples for your new business, product or non-profit. Writing down your thoughts and creating a file for inspiration can help your ideas emerge and grow. Share what you have learned with someone you trust.
5. Binge watch YouTube.
Between TED Talks and thousands of other speeches you can listen to almost any speaker on almost any topic. Create your own personal viewing station. Take notes and write down important points that can help you develop out your plans. Determine how to translate your key points into action.
6. Set up a shadow day.
If you are interested in starting a business or expanding a non-profit, find someone who has done it and ask if you can join them for a day to better understand what their work is like.
7. Create the vision and impact you hope to have.
Answer ‘what will be happening when you realize your change?’ What will the impact be? Don’t worry if you don’t know the goals and specifics yet. You shouldn’t—it’s too early. You should know your why though.
8. Find one small experiment.
Find one small way to dabble in your idea. If you have a new product idea, try creating a few examples to see how it works. If you want to write a book, start a blog to try writing more and explore new topics. A good experiment answers questions so identify those upfront. Let your experiment guide your longer term decisions.
9. Write down your “must haves,” including financials.
I find that this is the step most often overlooked. Your must-haves’ create boundaries for you. Questions like ‘can you invest in the business?’ or ‘ what are your minimum earnings required and for how long?’ make sure you know you your minimum requirements for your idea.
10. Create an options matrix.
On the left column list out all of your ‘must haves’. Across the top row write out all of the viable options you have developed for getting started. Rate each option against your must-haves’ While this won’t give you the answer, it will help you compare one against the other and rule out choices that just don’t get you where you want to go. Pick the one that is the best place to start and begin.
When you are starting a wave, it hasn’t been before in quite this way. Expect surprises and understand that you won’t have all of the answers upfront. Find your way to get started and move forward.
As Brett Hurt, the co-creator of Bazaarvoice said, “Motion creates motion. Momentum creates momentum.”
What’s your first step?
This article was published in June 2014 and has been updated. Photo by @albertolopezphoto/Twenty20
Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at PattiBJohnson.com.