The floundering pitch

March 5, 2015



Ugh, what now? (Photo via Flickr user r. nial bradshaw)

Ugh, what now? (Photo via Flickr user r. nial bradshaw)

I have been trying to wrap my head around vulnerability recently. Yes, I finished reading Brené Brown’s “Daring Greatly“. No, I am not the first person to do so or to be taken with the concept of vulnerability as a powerful force in our everyday lives. I am now hunting for people with whom I can speak about the topic. I am also observing people as they write, share (or don’t) and why. I am also keenly aware of what they write and why they choose to take the approaches that they do.

I have a prototype with which I am wrestling in an attempt to move forward with my findings so far. One is a journal for innovators to use while in process. It is inspired by my habit of using the 5-Minute Journal and the ways in which I have seen it change my behavior. This prototype is also inspired by my seeming inability to stick with my sticky-note-a-day habit. I have also been observing others struggle with a daily habit of recording around their daily process. Then there are the requests to promote projects via social media and other avenues without the context of what they learned and their path to success through struggle and failure.

But I  (yes, me!am actually having the hardest time getting started. All I have to do is fire up InDesign and begin. But, for whatever reason (fear?), I am not doing it. I am checking Facebook, sharing interesting things I have read on Twitter and generally procrastinating. I am not short on time either. I had almost three uninterrupted hours to work on this project at one point and numerous occasions to bang out the prototype, which is currently in the messiest stage imaginable as you can see here:

The mess contained in my notebook. I am struggling to get from this to a prototype. And, yes, that is my sad attempt at drawing a camera. (Emi Kolawole)

The mess contained in my notebook. I am struggling to get from this to a prototype. And, yes, that is my absolutely ludicrous attempt to draw a camera. (Emi Kolawole)

I’ve really got nothing.

Well, there’s this — what I am writing right now. Why am I writing this? I am looking for empathy. Too often we share the best of ourselves — the curated beauty of our accomplishments and the best shots of our products, team members and spaces. We often do this at the expense of sharing what we learn when things aren’t going quite as well. I believe that the best sales pitch is to tell someone not only what you created but how you struggled, when you failed, what you learned from that failure to achieve your ultimate success. That requires a regular recording of process.

So, why do we refrain and default to a glossier sale? Rejecting perfectionism requires us to be vulnerable and sit with our discomfort, at least so I learned from Brené. I recently read this piece by Jacob Brogan headlined, “Sharing is Caring: How Facebook is Changing the Ways We Feel”. In it, Brogan writes this of a Pew Research study on social media and stress:

“It concludes that while social media can decrease stress, it can also increase it in those who are exposed to ‘undesirable events’ in the lives of others. Withholding negative information, then, constitutes a kind of anticipatory empathy for the empathetic, an attempt to keep others from feeling the things that we feel. Here, silence transforms into a misguided form of care, an attempt to aid others when we most need to aid ourselves.”

Granted this study focused on social media and stress specifically, but I wonder if a similar thing happens in sharing around the innovation process. Do we not want to expose people to our pain points as a means of protecting them, guarding them against the pain of our insecurity, frustration or sheer panic? The act of sharing your pain points or failures opens up a vat of fear. But the struggle is just as important as the solution. How we fail as we are in the midst of doing it, is an opportunity for incredible empathy and discovery.

So, here I am, floundering. I can’t figure out how to start or reconcile my desire for a great prototype with the need to produce a prototype at all. But I refuse to hide.

Are you floundering too? If so, you can stop hiding and let me know. It’s cool. I can take it.

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  1. Heather Nelson

    I find Seth Godin’s work inspiring for situations like this. I think his recommendation would be: “You just need to ship it!” His latest book What To Do When It’s Your Turn is a call to action for getting past the prototype stage. I highly recommend it.

  2. Nadia

    Hi Emi,
    I just signed up for this blog, and I’m happy I did! Thank you for sharing your experience with floundering around an idea you have! I am working on an idea, and feel like being an “entreprenuer” and trying to push a new idea into the world is so daunting, even though it seems that everyone is doing it!
    I’m also working on developing resources for primary care to access design thinking tools, and that’s another challenge in and of itself.

    Many times though, the uncomfortable path is the one that will bring you the most learnings, and I guess that’s the fear – realizing how much you don’t know, but still choosing to go ahead!

    Thank you for sharing your post, as this is something I think we all struggle with :)


    • Emi Kolawole

      Thanks so much for reading Nadia! This really resonated with me: “I guess that’s the fear – realizing how much you don’t know, but still choosing to go ahead!” Thank you so much for sharing that!

  3. ghh

    “Floundering” is a very uncomfortable part of the creative process. The utter chaos of crap that happens right before and in the middle of the journey where you most often wonder wtf. And even if you know that’s where you are standing and that soon you’ll be on the other side or away from that ickiness, it is never any less uncomfortable. BUT could it be a simple adjustment? What if we recast the word floundering IE: ‘floundering’ changes to ‘treading’ — in a swimming pool context, floundering sounds like I’m splashing in an uncontrollable way like I’m about to drown. Treading sounds like while I am kicking and pushing water away to stay afloat and likely stationary, I am okay and not drowning. Not sure if that helps, but it’s worth a shot. An old school Hollywood shark told me ages ago that if you do just ONE thing everyday however small or large for your project, it will get going. Back to treading….

    • Emi Kolawole

      I absolutely love that pivot! Wow. It really is more like treading. You’re not inactive and your not necessarily inefficient, you’re just not moving in any particular direction … yet. Excellent build on the concept. Thank you!

  4. Sarah Barthelow

    Right there with you… I’ve started a part-time career as a food writer, and I find I convince myself I’m just too busy to sit down and actually write what with all the emails I have to respond to and pitches to send. I need to just start on a draft. (I have also been reading Brene Brown, incidentally)

  5. Umbreen

    I wonder if it isn’t about fear at all, but about excitement. How do you get yourself to slow things down in the middle of the ride, to document and reflect at all the stages and not just the end? It’s hard when things are really fun. And, for me, it’s partly because I don’t have a great process for it yet – no easy way for me to pause, document, and get back to it.

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