On Being An Early Adopter

Ingenues best maneuver the shifting tides of change precisely because their feet are planted, eyes fixed on the future. Every business owner is, to an extent, so fixated on a vision, they have to be ridiculously stubborn to bring it to fruition. Every new level in business requires a new level of stretching of that […]

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Ingenues best maneuver the shifting tides of change precisely because their feet are planted, eyes fixed on the future.

Every business owner is, to an extent, so fixated on a vision, they have to be ridiculously stubborn to bring it to fruition. Every new level in business requires a new level of stretching of that muscle; a marriage of vision, strategy, but perhaps most importantly, an even more finely-honed discerning intuition. Being ahead of the crowd requires the ability to operate without recognition, without outside validation and eyes set unwaveringly on the future, driven by an internal knowledge you’re on the right path. This can be a long, shockingly quiet road, because the vast majority won’t recognize the merit of the pursuit until success is achieved. Success is always a lagging indicator.

On the same note, early adopters of ingenuity requires a similar marriage of vision and strategy, but also an intuitive and open mind to adoption.

As Charles Duhigg notes, “It’s funny to talk about what happened when telephones became popular about 100 years ago. There were many articles about how people would never have a real conversation on the telephone. They said, ‘Since you can’t see the other person, you won’t be able to communicate anything meaningful.’ Everyone thought people would use telephones like telegraphs—to send stock orders or grocery lists. (McKinsey & Company).

And in fact, if you look back at transcriptions recorded by researchers in the early years of the telephone, that’s actually what happened…for a little while. But then, culture adapted, and now similar research shows that some of our most significant conversations occur over the phone. Not just because it’s more “personalized” than text messaging, but because we, as a culture, learned the “rules of telephone communication”.

A study of the telephone isn’t an example of a society “giving in” to a new technology. It’s an example of a cultural shift that occurred because the inventors and early adopters were stubbornly visionary in their pursuit of this new technology. This technology didn’t steal from our conversations or connections, but enhanced it. As Duhigg notes, “When talking on the phone, you overemphasize your words a little more without realizing it. You’ll tend to put more emotional direction into the tone of voice that you’re using because you know the other person can’t see you. You know how to transmit your feelings through your voice. We don’t consciously do it; it happens automatically.” (McKinsey & Company).

Early adoption, and pioneering a new idea quietly requires the stubborn skill of patience just as much, if not more, than innovation and stubbornness. There’s sharp distinction between stubbornness born from ego, or from faith in what is not yet seen. Discerning between the two, is of course, the key question, and muscle to cultivate.

Stubbornness about something new: is it a trendy fool’s errand, or have you caught onto the forefront of a massive change?

When I started a remote law firm in 2017, I was offered my job, and several others, while I “gave it a run” until I “wisened up to the fact that clients don’t want to build a relationship over zoom”. My industry barely recognized me as a lawyer, because my practice didn’t look the same. I wasn’t invited into the same rooms I was pre-independence. I was told that I would need to prove a skill set of a “real lawyer”. Meanwhile I was working with business owners around the globe. When the pandemic hit, our firm was able to be immediately responsive, while many of those same people reached out with questions about how to actually use zoom as a law firm.

This isn’t a knock on traditionalism; rather, a realization that the movers and shakers from history typically weren’t the person who invented the new technology, or overturned a status quo. They were the people who recognized that digging in one’s heels with egos behind the status quo left them, quite literally, on their heels when consumer behavior or economic trends shifted. They were the ones who were positioned to quickly ask themselves the question: “I will just think how can the situation get better? What actions can be taken to solve or the situation? Or how can we actively choose to move towards higher productivity and satisfaction. When I know that the real problem is not what they should do, but what I should do, I will not complain about myself, which will only make yourself stronger. The stronger you are, the smaller the influence of others will be. It seems that this is not a bad thing. If I can treat every obstacle as an opportunity to understand myself, rather than care about what others have done to me, then I can find a way out of the face of adversities.” (John D. Rockefeller).

These aren’t inventive questions. They’re in fact, the opposite: grounded in the truth of generations, and brilliant largely in their simplicity.

True entrepreneurial stubbornness is rooted in the knowing that your vision has legs, even before most of the industry recognizes it as a reality. It requires an almost asinine level of commitment. A willingness to carry on even when there is no applause, validation, or even the luxury of a competitor analysis, because you’re operating in a world without parallels. By the time the “crowd” gets it, and the venture is deemed as a success, you’re already onto the next. Success is a lagging indicator.

Doggedly determined in what you know in your gut is the next best step. Trust and action now, to achieve freedom later. The most successful entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to; those who have created “unicorns” don’t possess some unique intellect. They weren’t able to “pull the right strings”. Not a single one would tell you they’re the smartest person in their industry. Their distinguishing factor? They know that pioneering isn’t just a “lonely road”. It’s an exceedingly quiet road. And those who have honed the skill to be comfortable in the quiet do so because they know, innately, they’re not chasing the next shiny object. They’re willing to withstand the quiet of an industry with no peers, because they know in their gut they’re leaders ahead of the pack.

Pioneers, and early adopters, navigate a typically lonely road. Don’t let early criticism or seeming silence from the crowd stop you from doing the work that matters- hone your intuition to be the loudest voice that influences your futuristic moves. The greatest irony is that ingenues are able to maneuver the shifting tides of change precisely because they operate from the deepest roots.

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