Failure to Launch: Reframing New Initiatives

Fewer Rockets, More Rocket Science

THIS WAS THE PLAN (image source)

Ten days ago I — and my three founding partners — launched hues, a global justice organization I’ll be working with/for/beside/inside/under in 2016 and [with luck] beyond. Rather, I should say I tried to do that. This post is about why that [gloriously] failed, why it’s taken me ten [excruciating] days to realize it, and what I plan to do with the next 355 [precious] days in 2016. Listen up, Future Sam.

An organization isn’t a rocket.

I (and a lot of other people, I suspect) have this idealized vision in mind when it comes to “launching” something. There’s a countdown, a bunch of smart people looking at giant computers screens, tensions rising, then — at just the right moment — the thing takes off, people clap, and it’s on its way.

Yay! We did it!

You’ve launched, and the organization is flying into the stratosphere. Leaving dust and a trail of smoke and high-fives all around.

In 2015, I spent a lot of time prepping, writing things, rewriting things, putting them all together, getting everything in order (“all systems go”), with the hope that on January 1, 2016 I could hit a button and watch hues fly. And I do that a lot with projects.

But hues, like so many other projects, isn’t a rocket. It’s a bunch of people working together to co-create something beautiful, it’s a collection of past work and a platform for future work, it’s a process. An organization is closer to rocket science than the rocket itself: the rocket is just the byproduct.

Thinking of the creation of an organization as being the moment it goes public, and using the metaphor of a rocket launch as my metric for success, was how I failed long before 2016 ever came about.

Me on January 1.

And me, these past ten days, frantically working to pinpoint all the flaws in our website, fix all the bugs, get everything else online, and get our advisory board, inner circle, and collective in order — all that and more — wasn’t indicative of hues failing to launch: it was hues itself, happening, being, processing, and progressing.

An org is rocket science, not the rocket.

I got so distracted rocket building these past few months, and launch trouble-shooting these past ten days, that I missed what is obvious to me today: the organization has been in working order for a year, and in many ways for countless years before that.

Hues is the evolution of everything I was doing before hues, which was an evolution of all the justice work folks were doing for years before me (which was an evolution of the work before them, and so on). This, I posit, is not true only of hues, but of all organizations (or, I dare, even more broadly, all initiatives).

Like rocket science — the evolution of physics and engineering and computer science, which evolved from mathematics and architecture and language — organizations don’t have a neat start as much as they don’t have a neat finish. They may have a trajectory, but it would be more accurate to say they have trajectories (ebbs, flows, visions, revisions).

I wonder if they believe in organizations in Kentucky

An organization is launched when it’s introduced to the public. It was also launched before that, when it was defined legally with the government. And when its founders drafted those documents. It was launched when its founders agreed on an idea to create. And when that idea first popped into one of their minds.

An organization is thousands of rockets, built over so many years, by so many people. More than that, it’s the science of building the rockets, not the rockets themselves.

This realization, for me, is as comforting as it is overwhelming.

It’s comforting because I can stop working maniacally trying to make up for what wasn’t already done by January 1.

It’s overwhelming because rocket science isn’t a metaphor people invoke lightly.

So hues is a launched as it’s going to be. That part is long since done. And we still have a long way to go (right now, that looks like getting bank accounts working, the website finished, and the advisory board filled in). And we always will, until our mission is complete.

Now will you please buy a t-shirt or something?