Knowing You Can Get There

Barry Sanders is one of the greatest running backs ever.  It seemed impossible to bring him down unless you had an entire team tackling him.  A sportswriter once asked Barry, "What do you see different than the rest of us that allows you to find all the holes and make these amazing runs?"  Barry responded simply and powerfully, "I see the same thing as you.  The difference is that I know I can get there."

What an awesome quote.  Sanders was fast, but not the fastest person in the game and he certainly wasn't the tallest, at 5'7" he was actually one of the shortest.  However, he knew he could get there.

I think this philosophy applies to business and life as much as it does to football.  We're all seeing the same thing, the difference is some people just know they can get there.

Everyone experienced losing a package or having it arrive two days late -- we all saw that the mail system was broken.  Well, Fred Smith saw it and knew he could get there, causing him to start FedEx.

Companies had already built mp3 players, people knew the music industry was changing, but Steve Jobs saw it and knew he could get there, leading to the iPod.

Look at Facebook -- there were plenty of people  in the space before Mark Zuckerberg, and while they recognized the value of social networking, they were content to just go with the flow and enjoy the ride.  Zuckerberg's determination to actually get to what he saw is the real difference in why Facebook crushed the competition.

These people all have unique skills, similar to Sanders' speed and agility, but those assets alone don't explain how they become such gamechangers.  The real difference is their supreme confidence in those skills, even in the face of daunting challenges, and their committment to getting there.

You can have all the foresight in the world, but if you're not totally confident in being able to close that gap  and do what's necessary to get into the endzone, you will fall short of the mass disruption you're shooting for.  

For me, I vividly remember the first time I embraced the concept that I could "get there."  Our startup was less than six months old and two of our co-founders decided to go on to graduate school, and Joel and I decided to buy out the majority of the shares.  Joel and I sat in a room, talked about the option for maybe 30 minutes and decided to do it.  The decision put us in debt and altered our career and life trajectories toward the unknown.

At this point, the company hadn't paid us a dime, struggled to show a longterm growth path, and was seriously hurting our chances of graduating from college.  However, I remember sitting there thinking, "If it comes down to it, I'm willing to get up at 6 am everyday to cold call or knock on people's doors to talk about websites.  I'll do whatever it takes to sell some damn websites." 

That was me realizing that my vision may be blurred and there could be some big obstacles approaching, but I was confident that I would do whatever I needed to to get there.  That was almost 400 websites, nine employees, one co-founder returning, and four years ago to the day.   I know the next time I'm presented with such a grand decision, that I can have confident in my determination to get there.

We could all learn from Barry's philosophy whether in work or pleasure, there's value in not just resting on the fact that you recognize something, but actually taking the strong steps to get there.