Our minds crave variety all the time. We are always in a hurry: we want it all, we want it fast and we want it now. We want to consume new and exciting information as rapidly as possible as we think this is how we make fast progress.
But are we really?
If you've been following the ActiveGrowth podcast, you may have notices that we take a different approach with our content. We go slow. We spend weeks on a single topic, talking for even as long as an hour each week if we need to. Why?
Because "slow down to go fast" is not just an overused cliché.
Before we dive deep into our next big topic, listen to our mixup episode to learn why we take things so much slower and how you can benefit from doing the same.
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Hello, and welcome to Episode 13 of the Active Growth podcast. In today's episode, I want to explore a topic that is related to both how we do this podcast, and also to my own experience in building businesses online. It is basically the most important lesson that I've learned about how to make fast progress in your business, and that applies to the progress that you make yourself in terms of developing your entrepreneurial skills, and it also applies to things like product design and business strategy. This is really all about fast progress.
Now today, it's just me on the podcast. Hannah's on vacation, and we are, by the way, preparing, and we're still in the process of preparing the next big series of content. This is another mix-up episode in between, and as the purpose of the mix-up episodes is, I basically picked something that we can sufficiently cover in a single episode.
This is very valuable information just as the stuff that we go into in greater detail in the series, but there's not that much to say about it. This is a topic that is really, really important and that we can cover in one episode that I think you can walk away from this single episode and it can make a big difference to what you do. Before we get into it, two quick notes. The first is you can go to ActiveGrowth.com/13 to find the show notes for this episode, which includes a summary of the episode, links to any resources mentioned during the episode and also a place where you can give us feedback, and you can ask questions and things like that. You can record an audio question right on your phone or on your computer, or you can leave a comment to start a dialogue with us.
Secondly, on the Active Growth blog, it's been a bit quiet lately and that's mainly because we've been tied up in the launch of Thrive Architect. Thrive Architect is our totally new and, dare I say, revolutionary visual editor for WordPress. I'm not going to turn this into a big ad, but if you use WordPress, you should go to ThriveThemes.com/Architect. That is ThriveThemes.com/Architect to learn more about our new plugin. Let me start by stating what is perhaps the obvious at this point, which is that we, and by we I mean humans, or perhaps human brains, we crave variety. The other thing is we're in a hurry. We want new and exciting stuff all the time, and as an entrepreneur, I think you're especially in a hurry. You've got a lot of things to do, and you need to get them done as quickly as possible. You have fires to put out. You have projects to finish. You have things to launch.
Those two things, this craving of variety and excitement and being in a hurry, they don't mix very well, but they explain a lot of what we see when we're online because basically we want a new and exciting and different headline every time. It is comfortable to consume shallow things rapidly. I mean, look at social media and stuff that's shared on social media and popular content and popular platforms, how they work. It's all about consuming shallow things rapidly. Consuming shallow things rapidly, it makes us feel like we're making rapid progress. It makes us feel like we're moving forward and, as entrepreneurs, this is a feeling that we want very much. Unfortunately, we can feel like we're making fast progress and not make progress at all.
By contrast, you might have noticed if you've been listening to the Active Growth podcast, you might have noticed that here we tend to go slow.
We just spent five episodes, five entire, often hour long or longer episodes spread out over five weeks, diving deep into one single topic. The skill of shipping. The skill of finishing projects. That's not very glamorous to begin with, right? It's like how to be better at finishing projects. How to learn how to ship, how to build the skill of shipping. It's not exactly a click-bait, Facebook share headline. Before that, we spent four episodes on another single topic, which is getting your first customer. Again, can you see the pattern here? This is not nearly as sexy, or interesting, or exciting as something like how Blitz Corp scaled to five million users in two weeks and how you can to. I hope you are seeing the heavy air quotes here that I'm putting around this. The kind of stuff we do here seems to be much, much slower and working at a very different pace, and in a different way than most of the content we'll see in our space in the online marketing space.
In fact, on the internet in general.
Why is that? Why do we choose to do this? Why do we do series of content instead of single episodes? Why do we do one hour plus long episodes diving deep into well researched topics, interviewing experts in the field, and so on, instead of doing the much more typical podcast kind of thing, which is lightning round, rapid fire, asking a super fast series of questions of a bunch of experts or want to be experts and something else every week? Of course, that's much more exciting, right? There are two things that I'm addressing here, and the first is, obviously, that we do content series and that we go deeper and it takes longer to do that, but the other is that we don't go for the exciting headline-like content. Our content is based on conversations that we've had with our listeners. Many, many conversations, including one on one conversations on the phone that we've had with our listeners, and identifying what are the real problems here? That's what we base our content on.
We don't base our content on what's the most exciting headline, what will get the most clicks, what will get the most downloads. One could say that we spend a lot of time moving slowly through relatively boring and unexciting content, and why on earth would we choose to do that? Now, we choose this slow pace very deliberately, and it's because it's for the purpose of helping you make faster progress. It's as simple as that. I'm not saying this to sound poetic. It's not "Oh, you must slow down to go fast." That sounds poetic and deep. That's not the point here. I'm saying that because that's literally why we're doing this. This is about accelerating your progress. This is about we've worked with so many entrepreneurs, we've had conversations with so many entrepreneurs. We see where you get stuck. We see what slows you down. All of this, what we're doing, is to help you move faster.
Let me tell you a story of how I first learned about this strange, seemingly paradoxical thing of moving slower to make faster progress. This is many, many years ago. I was, at the time, a younger version of me. I was absolutely obsessed with martial arts. I was training martial arts every day. This was my life, basically. In the martial arts school where I was training, after a while, I became an instructor there. I was basically a junior instructor at that school. With this role of junior instructor, I was also then invited, or I was part of, or I had the responsibility of also helping manage the place to some degree. In this school ... You have to think of this is a school where they have classes every day with different people, different groups of people. Kid's classes and adult classes and different styles. There's many teachers. There's a group of ... I can't remember exactly, but let's say it's like eight people who do all the teaching, who run the place.
I was one of those eight people. What happened was that at one point we decided that we would have to have a monthly meeting with the whole team to discuss organization and process. We'd get together once a month and everybody was asked to take notes about the things that they need to address, things that needed to be fixed, things that they were unhappy with, and that could be whatever. It was anything from we need to move a class from this time to another time or we have trouble with certain kids in one class and we have to do something about that, or the locker rooms aren't being cleaned regularly, or we have to order new drinks for the vending machine. Whatever, right? Anything that is on anyone's mind, monthly meeting is there to talk about it. I remember the first one of those meetings. It was pretty excruciating. It was late at night after the last class, and it took about four hours, because everybody had a list of stuff to complain about. A list of things and suggestions and things they wanted to improve.
Not only did everybody get a turn to talk through their stuff, but also whenever anyone presented one of these ideas or one of these complaints, there usually was a big discussion among everyone back and forth and so on. Nobody could agree what should be done and so on. It always took a long time to settle on okay, what are we actually going to do about this. This dragged on and on and on. Like I said, it took about four hours. It was really late, or actually it was early in the morning by the time we were finished, but at the end we had basically a long list of things where we agreed okay, we're going to change this and that and this and that and this and that and so on. All this stuff that we were going to change to fix all of these things that had been brought up during the meeting. Then, what happened? Well, life went on and a month later, we would have the next meeting.
Lo and behold, basically none of the problems from the last meeting were really properly addressed because everybody had agreed to do everything, so nobody ended up doing anything usually. We made very, very little progress basically. What would happen is that the next meeting would start with a discussion of why haven't all these things been fixed? I thought we talked about it last time. We'd have a re-discussion of everything that we talked about last time, and on top of that, we'd have a whole bunch of new things that had come up. We'd have, again, a really long discussion about this. Really trying for one's patience. We'd end up with a huge list of things to change again, and the cycle would repeat. We'd always try to fix everything. We'd always end up basically fixing nothing, and every month with the same story. I got really, really tired of this.
At one point, I realized that we could make our lives so much easier if we decided that instead of having a meeting where everybody gets to talk about everything, if the rule was we take turns. This meeting, it's one person's turn to present one problem, their highest priority problem, that needs fixing and we all discuss how are we going to do this, how are we going to hold ourselves accountable for this, and then do that. Then, next month, it's someone else's turn to present their one top priority problem and we fix that and so on. We only move on to the next person and the next problem if the previous problem has been fixed. Of course, when I suggested this ... Remember, I was junior there ... basically, I was told this was crazy. We're never going to get anywhere. We're not going to do this. Of course, that's what'd you think because if you think about, okay, that basically means if I get to suggest my problem, if I get to talk about my problem today in today's meeting, it'll be at least eight months until it's my next turn, right?
I can only fix one of my problems every eight months, and I can only fix one of my problems every eight months if I make sure that everyone else's problem in between gets fixed because otherwise, we have to spend a second month working on a problem and my turn gets bumped further into the future. The gut reaction to this is this is impossible. We have all these problems. It's impossible to only solve one single problem every month. We will not make enough progress. We will not move forward fast enough if we follow this system. Of course, the irony here is that by not doing it, by trying to fix everything all at once every time, we were fixing nothing, and my suggestion, had it worked, had we followed my suggestion would have meant that we would have fixed things at a pace of 12 problems per year. Maybe would have missed ... Let's say 10 problems per year. We would have moved forward at the pace of 10 problems solved per year, which is 10 problems solved more than with the current system.
This was the first time that I realized we were making an organizational mistake. By trying to move fast, we were actually standing still, and we could move a lot faster, in this case infinitely faster, by going much, much slower. This idea of restraining your pace, this idea of doing something that's really difficult to do like suppressing this urge to go faster and to do everything all at once, of applying a system that seems crazy at first, this is an example of what Jim Collins would call disciplined thought and disciplined action. This is from the book, Good to Great, by Jim Collins, which is a really good book to read, and also linked to an article that summarizes it. It's a really good read, especially if you're business is already at a growth stage, if you're not just starting. If you already have something running, Good to Great is a really good read.
In this book, this is an as scientific as possible examination of what makes good companies turn into great companies. What leads to long term sustainable growth, and one of the things they identified was disciplined thought and disciplined action. This is exactly the kind of thing we must apply, right? We must suppress the impulse to jump from one thing to the next, which is a very natural, human thing to do ... See also Episode 7 of this podcast about chasing bright shiny objects. If you haven't heard that one yet, it's one of our most popular episodes. Check out ActiveGrowth.com/7 to listen to that episode ... We must suppress this impulse to jump from one thing to the next and just so, we must also suppress this desire to fix all the problems we see all at once. Tell me if this is familiar. At some point in your life, you've been fed up. You've been fed up with how things are going. Maybe in your life, maybe in your business, maybe in both and you're determined to change.
It's late at night. Maybe you're lying awake in bed thinking about this, but you feel this surge of determination. You've had enough. You've had enough of this and from now on, things will be different. From now on, you will change. You will get up early. You will exercise. You will work hard. You will be disciplined. You will clean up the mess in your office, and you'll never make a new mess again. You'll quit smoking. You'll do all of this, all at once, starting tomorrow and you'll never look back and things will never be the same. You feel this surge of determination. You feel certain this is it. This is it. I'm changing my life right here, right now. Then, the next days comes along and before you know it, that next day looks exactly like the last one. Just like the one you got so fed up with.
This surge of motivation, it just doesn't work out, does it? This idea of fixing everything all at once, it just doesn't work out. I'm telling you these stories because I really want to get you into this mindset because our intuition simply misleads us here. Our intuition tells us no, slowing down makes me slower and applying this kind of discipline is a bad idea. I will never, ever be able to move fast enough. I need to do everything right now. You will have a voice in your head screaming at you to do this. I'm telling you these examples because we need to apply a lot of force to overcome this intuitive, this natural reaction to how things go. We need to change the course of how we usually deal with these things, because the way we usually deal with them doesn't work.
What is the solution to this? What is the solution to how can you apply this kind of method to slow down in order to make faster progress? What it comes down to is deliberate choice. There is a painful, terrible component to making deliberate choices. I'll get back to that in a bit, but first, let's bring this back to what I originally talked about, which is the way we structure this podcast. Why do we do in depth series? Why do we spend four weeks, or five weeks, on a single topic? The topics we talk about are worth spending time on. They're worth going deep on. If you look at the topics, the first two topics that we've treated in series have been about how to get your first customer and then scale up from your first customer to a sustainable business and the second has been how to get really good at shipping. How to get really good at finishing projects. These are things that are totally worth spending a lot of time on.
See, if you compare this to ... Again, I know I'm bashing other podcasts. It's really about the format of marketing information, marketing blogs, marketing content in general. What we usually see is basically the hot tip of the day. It's always how to get an instant result using some latest thing without much effort right away. I bet that you know from personal experience that you can follow this kind of content and you're always just treading water. You're jumping from one tip to the next, from one hot thing to the next, from this trending platform to another trending platform, but you're not actually getting any results.
Now, something like your ability to ship, something like your ability to finish projects and publish them and get them out there is worth spending time on because if the alternative is to spend a bit of time on the one thing here, and then spend a bit of time on the other thing there, and so on, in the end you've made 1% progress on 15 different things.
That doesn't actually get you anywhere. If, however, you spend five weeks going through our content, and our course that accompanies that content, on how to get really good at shipping, that pays off in a huge way going forward forever. In fact, I would say that if you drop everything else you do in your business, you drop absolutely everything else, and you dedicate an entire five weeks to nothing other than building your skill of shipping things, that will pay off in massive ways within weeks afterwards. Once you pick your work back up with the skills you've acquired, with the shipping skills you've acquired, that will pay off within weeks in ways, and it will give you leverage because everything you do from then on will be so much more effective and so much more focused and you'll get things finished so much faster. You could have spent five weeks, five months on this and it would still have been worth it.
This is what it is in practice. This is what I mean in practice when I say you have to slow down to speed up. Only if you slow down sufficiently to really get into this topic, to really address this problem ... This is a fundamental problem that you probably have and I'm saying that not because I know you, but because most entrepreneurs have this. Most entrepreneurs have a fundamental problem in that they're not very good at shipping. They're not very good at shipping on a small scale. Producing and publishing content, for example, and they're not very good at shipping on a large scale, producing products and shipping products. If you have this problem, if you slow down and you get un-distracted, you get focused enough on fixing this one problem, and you're willing to spend a 30 days challenge focusing on that every single day, and nothing else, or you spend an entire five weeks going through our content, working on this one thing, that will be absolutely worth it.
That will make you move faster from then on, because as long as you're unwilling to focus on this, if this is a problem you have, for as long as you're unwilling to focus on this, for as long as you're distracted to jumping between other things, this will always, always be a problem. You might feel like you're making fast progress. You might feel like you're frantically doing things, right? You're frantically jumping around between things, but you're not actually moving forward. This brings us back to that deliberate choice. In order to do this, in order to apply this principle of disciplined thought and disciplined action, in order to apply this principle of slowing down to speed up, you have to make a deliberate choice about what you do and that means you have to be deliberate about what you say yes to and about what you say no to. This is where the painful part comes in because saying no to things means suffering.
This is the hard part of discipline, right, because of course you suffer or you will always suffer from a lack of discipline, but if you suffer from a lack of discipline, it feels like it's outside of your own control. It feels like you can't do anything about it and it's not really your fault, but if you're being disciplined and you're saying no to things, that means you suffer by your own deliberate actions. That is the hard part of discipline. In the example I gave before, if you acknowledge, if you see and acknowledge that you have a problem with shipping or whatever else. You have a specific problem that you need to solve in order to make progress in your business. You have to slow down and focus on that problem until it is solved, and during that time, you have to say no to everything else. Trust me, attractive, interesting things will come along all the time asking for your attention, and you have to say no to all of them.
What's even worse, problems will come along, and you have to say no to those, as well. There will be fires that tell you you have to put out this fire. Something's wrong and you have to take care of this, and you have to say no. I'm going to solve this major problem first, and then I'm going to go put out fires. This can be very, very difficult. So far, I've related this to the idea of personal growth, of growing your own skills, growing your entrepreneurial skills and making progress in your personal life with your skills, and as an entrepreneur, but this paradox of going slow to go fast doesn't end there. It's also how a business can grow fast. A recent example of this is from Thrive Themes. Thrive Themes, in case you don't know, is my main business, where as I mentioned in the beginning, we have just released the Thrive Architect plugin. The Thrive Architect plugin a completely new, built from the ground up visual editor for WordPress.
It forms the foundation of almost all of our other products, because many of products have some kind of a building component, something where you build a landing page or you build an opt-in form. You visually build something. Now, Thrive Architect is something that we've been working on for a very, very long time. We have been suffering because of the discipline that we have applied. You see, we could have continued to move "fast" by working on the previous builder called Thrive Content Builder that we had and basically adding minor improvements. We could have kept adding minor improvements there, little tweaks here and there, and added increasingly esoteric and crazy features to the existing product because the deeper you go into developing a product, the more kind of out there feature requests you get.
We could have basically followed that path, and we could have tried to please everyone, no matter how crazy their feature requests are. We would have been frantically busy, and we would have been producing stuff all the time, and this would have given us the feeling of moving fast, right? Really, we would have been investing more and more time into a product that becomes increasingly obsolete. Instead of doing that, we chose to take a leap forward. We decided that what we wanted to do was build the next thing instead of tweaking and working on, slightly polishing and refining the last thing.
We knew that we needed to move forward, really forward, and it would take one big step to do that. In order to free up the time and resources that were needed to do this, we had to say no to many, many things, and we had to make people wait. We had to make people wait for feature improvements that they'd asked us for, that are absolutely reasonable requests or absolutely reasonable suggestions. Absolutely needed improvements to the product that we had also promised.
We told them "Listen, yes, we are going to fix this," and we had to make them wait. Now, this pains me. It really does. I hate that. I hate to be in this position, and I was in this position for about 18 months, okay? Saying no left and right to everything. We worked away in silent discipline for a long time. This was painful. We were suffering away as we did this, but now, we're here and we've released, at the time of this recording, we released Thrive Architect to our members and we've taken this leap forward.
We've created a platform that is totally different and so much better than what we had before. We've created a platform on which we can build new features and improvements much faster than on the previous one. It's taken us so long to get here, but this is what will help us move fast. Even now, even now, we will have to continue to say no to certain things.
We'll have to stay true to our focus on marketing and conversion features and not just say yes to every feature request that comes along. We will continue to make slow but steady progress and to focus on top priorities in favor of everything else.
Again, that means that we will be saying no to many, many things. It's just the only way forward. It requires a lot of discipline. This is disciplined thought and disciplined action. It often feels like we're moving at a snail's pace. It can drive me crazy, but it is the only way to grow. In fact, it often feels like we're moving at a snail's pace and it drives me crazy. It really is very, very difficult for me personally, and I'm sure for other people on the team as well. This isn't just theoretical, by the way. First of all, let's make this super practical. Like I said, it took us about 18 months to do this, so we spent 18 months saying no to almost everything to get here.
We have done this kind of thing in the past as well. We've chosen this pace in the past as well. The Thrive Theme's business, revenue in Thrive Themes has doubled for several years in a row now. It's also just in a metaphorical sense that we're making fast progress. We're making fast progress in a very measurable sense, and we're not talking about something like oh, our social media following has doubled or our traffic has doubled. In the most hard hitting sense, we're making fast progress. Very objectively speaking, we really are growing fast by moving slow and that is why I'm talking about this.
One more thing. I think that the biggest mistakes I've made as an entrepreneur, and I've made many. I've really made many, but some of the biggest mistakes I've made have been in attempts to move frantically and quickly. That applies to Thrive Themes and it applies to many other businesses as well. I've often made this mistake.
I find it very difficult to say no. I want to say yes to everything. I'm a compulsive creative. I want to create tons of things. I want to create more things that I can reasonably ever create, and I've made this mistake many, many times that I keep saying yes to new things. I keep saying yes to new products, new features, new content, new everything, and I spread myself too thin. I spread my team too thin, and I make bad decisions because of this. It really is a contrast between our biggest successes have been when we've applied this discipline, even though it's so painful for me personally, and for everyone on the team to feel like we're moving so slowly. Our biggest failures have been when we have failed to do this, and when we have given in to this impulse to move frantically in a way that feels quick.
The last few episodes, we've always had many action steps. Many things that you can do. The steps you can take to put what we talked about into action. I think in this episode, we have just the one. The one action step is to look at where and when are you making this mistake. Where and when are you basically flailing around, frantically moving but not moving forward? What can you do to deliberately slow down? To deliberately spend more time looking at the top priority problems in your business, the top things that are slowing you down, and spend enough time on those things, while focusing and saying no to everything else so that you can start truly moving forward.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this so you can go to ActiveGrowth.com/13 to get the show notes for this episode and to leave a comment. I would love to hear from you. How does this apply to you? Have you made this mistake as well?
Can you see the same kind of story in your own progress of where there are times when you're frantically flailing around and not getting anywhere and other times where you apply this discipline and actually start moving forward? Do you have questions about this? Do you doubt that this really works? Whatever your feedback is, whatever your thoughts are, I'd love to hear them, so go to ActiveGrowth.com/13.
Also, I've mentioned Thrive Architect, our fantastically amazing ... I really do love this thing ... Our fantastically amazing visual editor for Word Press. To learn more about that, go to ThriveThemes.com/Architect. That is ThriveThemes.com/Architect. That is all for today's episode. Next time, Hannah will be back and we will have more slow, but fast, moving topics ready for you. Thank you for listening. I'll catch you next time.
What is your way to apply changes to your life? Do you like taking it slow and focusing on one thing or you're trying to do all at once? Share your experience with us!
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So, we've covered traffic generation in our first series (starting here) and our main point was: forget about traffic generation.
But maybe you're thinking: "I already have an offer on my website. What I need is more traffic!"
If you've already done the work of creating a product or offer of some kind and you have a website - if you're in the position that people could theoretically buy something from you, but they don't - then I want to hear from you.
If you have the "I have an offer, but I need traffic" problem, please let me know by leaving a comment on this post or by contacting us here.
We will dedicate one of our future content series to helping you solve this problem.
Alexandra is a traveling marketer. When she is not editing podcast episodes or writing blog posts, she's out there exploring a new city. She's the creator of the Morning Mindset daily mindfulness journal.
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