Dedicated to: Cristina, Divinity, Michael, Melissa, Robin, Yelena and Vinay, and our wonderful teacher Gail. Thank you for that time when we all decided to be a bit braver, together.
As I’m developing my first podcast the last few months, I’ve consistently found myself in this dark space of the unknown. For many who sets foot in this dark space, the simple solution would be to remain where they are and not explore the unknown. In this post, I want to first share with you my own take on a little known 75% Rule, and then some insights I’ve come to gain on the remaining and nagging 25%.
I can’t remember the first time I heard about the 75% Rule, or from where, but I’ve used this Rule over the past few years to get shit done. The basic principle is: perfectionism will keep you from starting the things you want to do, so if you’ve got an idea, and time / resources to devote to it, you should just do it. Psychotherapist and blogger Megan Bruneau published her own take on The 75% Rule in 2012 on her blog One Shrink’s Perspective, which is worth a read for those interested in its principle and application.
On a day-to-day basis, this means I get out the door most mornings looking 75% ready for the day, and I aim to be 75% involved with pretty much everything. By the way, when I’ve mentioned this to friends and family, no one thinks I’m only operating at 75%. So yes, this is sort of all in your head. Why, then, is this still useful? I argue here that once you’ve got the 75% Rule down, you’re in the territory of the remaining 25%. And that remaining 25% is that dark space of unknown where creativity, imagination, and innovation is buried.
I often use my experience as a business management consultant to illustrate this: one of the things I like to work on with businesses and organizations is to set indicators and targets to measure success. But I often explain to my clients that we’re not actually just measuring success; the key is also to measure what failure might look like. In other words, if you’ve met all your targets that you’ve set for the year, then you might’ve been less creative, or taken less risks, than what your company can withstand. So, why not aim meeting just 75% of your targets, and make sure you have 25% rate of possible failure? In other words, why not build in some cushion for innovation? To drive the point further, this is ultimately where growth happens. Because even if you only met 75% of your targets, then you’ve now gained insight into how and where you need to focus year two’s resources in better developing – that remaining 25%, which has the potential to take you to uncharted territory.
For myself then, this 25% means engaging regularly in creative work: developing my podcast, writing for my blog, exploring ideas on where my next big move might be. In other words, when I need to be a bit brave and explore something that I’ve yet to try. So here’s the insight I’ve gained in the last few months: that remaining and nagging 25% actually operates on a different timescale from the 75% you’ve just mastered.
Metaphorically speaking, this is where your worlds split apart, and you find yourself in a gaping hole: this dark space of the unknown. Your first goal is to get relatively good at operating and navigating at both timescales. This is crucial because you can’t rush innovation or creativity – I’ve seen people rush this creative process and the outcome is often creating what they’ve already created before. Now, there’s nothing wrong with creating the same thing again; but if that’s not what you were visioning, then you’ve now got another problem on your hands, which is to decide whether to start over, or botch the whole project, or go with what you have.
And if you can function well at both timescales, then you have a better handle on what people call disappointments from unrealistic expectations. To illustrate: when you’re operating at 75%, your expectation is to just get out the door, so your execution is immediate. When you’re working with that 25%, you’re engaging with dreams and imagination. And dreams require questing. And questing requires time.
Sorry for the cliffhanger: but I’m going to end here today with a promise to further unpack this 25% in my next post, including how to stay sane through your creative process. For now though, give yourself permission to start the day, everyday, on the 75% Rule, and then listen, really listen, for clues to that remaining 25%.