How to Go to the Moon, Even When You Don’t Know How

Cole Harmonson

But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

— President John F. Kennedy, Rice University, 1962

 The moon! Can you imagine? What a goal.  

I was born into a world where humans had already landed on the moon, where they’d already looked up there and said “Sure, we’ve never been, but when has that ever stopped us?” – and they built themselves rockets and mourned tragic accidents and kept trying, and then they walked on the moon.  

That’s incredible. It’s a mindset that reminds me of what my friend Derek Sivers—great writer, entrepreneur—calls the “growth mindset.”  Dr. Carol Dweck, who researches motivation, first coined the term thirty years ago when she studied how her students dealt with challenges. Some students, she noticed, would fail and immediately work harder; others disintegrated after failure. It had nothing to do with how smart they were; only with their mindset. When faced with a new task they were unprepared to tackle, would they say “I can’t do that” or would they take a stab?

We work hard to foster a growth mindset here at Far West Capital. We have to. Each of our clients has a unique journey to success; each has their own challenges. In fact, we specifically look for clients whose challenges make it easy for a traditional bank to overlook their potential. That means that we deal with a lot of unexpected situations – and one thing that the whole team has in common is a willingness to face those situations head on. IRS misunderstanding? Paperwork a mess? Let me tell you, this team has seen it, fixed it, and lived another day.

And then there are the team members who really go for that moonshot.

Let me tell you about Matt Smulski. I met him when he was 19 and in a support role, before Far West Capital was ever an idea. Now he’s our chief technology officer.

He started with us as an account manager and noticed that we needed a better way to communicate about client accounts. So he built one. Matt didn’t ask for permission or budget. He just quietly did it on his own, in his own time. It started off as just a smarter file management system and evolved into a powerful, custom-built CRM tool that helps us far better monitor risk and client engagement in our portfolio. It’s ingrained into the operations of our company, and it’s amazing.

Matt might be humble and try to deny having a growth mindset. He might laugh this accomplishment off as being motivated by laziness—a tool he built to make it easier for him to do his work. Don’t believe him. Matt had never built anything like this before. He failed way more often than he succeeded along the way, but he didn’t look at failure as a hard stop or wasted effort. It was just fodder for the intellectual fire.

What’s your moonshot goal?

You probably have one – but maybe you’ve been talking yourself out of it. It’s hard. Rockets are dangerous. Fuel is expensive. Nobody’s ever done it before.

Or, you could take Matt’s advice, and do these three things…

Start with an idea, but for cripes’ sake, actually start.

“I didn’t have all the technical knowledge—not at all—but I did know where to look for it. It’s like changing your oil. It’s easy once you know how, but if you don’t, you go to Auto Zone to get help,” Matt says. Find out where and who your resources are and don’t be afraid to use them. You don’t need to know everything, exhaustively, to accomplish your goals. Just start with what you know. The rest will follow. But start. It doesn’t matter if your learning process is imperfect and awkward. You’re learning, and that’s what counts.

Embrace failure.

Matt says he knew he was going to fail. “In tech, you know it’s not always going to work. There’s a lot of failure, but that’s when the learning happens.” According to Matt, you can’t be scared to fail if you want to make something new or different.

“Even I have to remind myself that failure is just part of the journey,” Matt says. “Nobody wants to be a beginner. Everyone wants to be an expert. It’s so hard to start over again. But when you stick with what you’ve always done, you’re not learning anything. You already know it.”

Find your champions.

When Matt first built his tool, just he and his partner, Lori, used it.

We weren’t trying to keep it secret. We just wanted to know if it worked. And it did. Everybody thought Lori and I had all the answers, but we didn’t – we just had a better tool. When we shared it with the whole team, minds were blown. And it just skyrocketed.

Matt attributes the success of this little tool that could to Lori’s support.

Yes, I made a cool system, but it took Lori saying, Sure, I’ll try it out with you, for it to really take off. Then everyone else took a chance on it, too. Even if I built the most majorly awesome CRM, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere if no one was willing to use it.

So, let’s recap this “growth mindset” concept:

1) Get started. 2) Screw up a lot, but figure out why. 3) Get your team on board.

If that doesn’t sound simple enough, I’ll let these two corgi puppies demonstrate for you.

Puppies rolling in unison

Perfect demonstration, right?

 

What’s your moonshot? How do you maintain a growth mindset? Share here in the comments or on our Facebook page.


Cole Harmonson is the CEO of Far West Capital, a company that funds the goals of high-growth entrepreneurs. Know a great company in need of capital to unleash their potential? Send them here and we’ll give them a call.

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