How to Keep Moving Forward in Ambiguous Times

One step in front of the other

April 6, 2020
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint

This post is written by Carly Chase, Managing Director of the MIT NYC Startup Studio


Chaotic, ambiguous, and unsure are three of the many ways I’ve heard the current environment that we’re all now operating in described. Unknowns are all around us and leaving no part of life—health, economic, social—unscathed. We’re each left to sort through the rubble of our individual and collective paths with little data, historical precedent, and more distance between us. We’re all being forced to figure it all out, really fast.

I LOVE to solve jigsaw puzzles, and one of the things I stare at (about every 10 seconds) while solving them is the box because the final picture of the puzzle I’m solving is there to guide me. We don’t yet know what the end of COVID-19 looks like, and trying to predict what the world will look like on the other side of this is likely a waste of time.

So, how can we keep moving forward when the path is so unclear because everything is changing all of the time?

The answer is to put one foot in front of the other and take one single step at a time. Although this is age old wisdom, I’ve learned from watching student entrepreneurs at the Trust Center and those navigating their professional goals at Crabwalk (and, if I’m really honest, my own habits), that this is NOT easy to do in practice.

We’re achievers; we want to move fast, show progress, feel like we’re accomplishing something, which means that we’re often trying to skip ahead. It’s great to want to move fast! But, sooner or later you will miss steps, forget why you’re doing what you’re doing, and ultimately get lost in your journey. That happens when we do anything out of order.

But, how do we do this in practice? Here’s a quick framework to help you out:

  1. Define a clear goal
  2. Audit what you already have
  3. Get specific about what’s stopping you
  4. Create simple on actions
  5. Support yourself in following through

Here’s an example for a startup founder

The context:
We’re a B2B SaaS startup. My team just finished our MVP and we’re ready to go! We just need $2M in seed investment to get that done.

Let’s take a step back and reframe that…what is the goal?

Okay, the goal is to get our MVP to market with a pilot group of 20 customers by June 30 to meet the milestones we agreed upon with our angel investors.

I bet you’ve already made progress. Let’s take a moment to give you credit.

You’re right, I have already: created a list of 40 customer leads, talked to other founders who are trying to manage through this new reality, committed to a 15 minute daily meditation to fight my anxiety, been reading my investors’ twitter feed like a bible to figure out what they’re thinking, 

What’s stopping you from getting there?

  • I’m technical founder so I was going to hire a salesperson; that’s why I need $$
  • Well, I have a list of 40 leads, but I only have warm intros to 5 of them
  • My business model is B2B. Are these companies going to even be able to pay me in this current environment?!
  • I’m also nervous to tell my investors that I’m not sure that we’ll be able to hit this milestone…

What could help you get unstopped from conquering each of the above?

  • I’m technical founder so I was going to hire a VP of Sales; that’s why I need $$
    • I can….learn how to sell by reading books + watching online content, ask my brother-in-law who is a VP of Sales what type of help I really need, pay attention to junior sales talent that is becoming available due to other startup layoffs 
  • Well, I have a list of 40 leads, but I only have warm intros to 5 of them
    • I can…figure out where I have 2nd degree connections on LinkedIn, hire someone on UpWork to help me find more warm leads, ask my accelerator’s alum group who has connections
  • My business model is B2B. Are these companies going to even be able to pay me in this current environment?!
    • I can…revisit my follow on markets and see if there is a better beachhead market option to sell to today, adapt my value proposition to the new environment, test my new value proposition, survey the Slack CEO group I’m apart of
  • I’m also nervous to tell my investors that I’m not sure that we’ll be able to hit this milestone…
    • I can…get the opinion of investors who I trust and am friendly with but are not my current investors, come up with alternative milestones for my investors, get this fear off my chest by calling my best friend and telling her that I’m scared 

Alright, you’ve got a new set of goals! Let’s make sure we set you up to achieve them. We’ll use one as an example.

Reframed Goal: Determine what resources I need to be able to sell 20 pilot customers.

 

Interested in reading the other two examples?
Read the full blog at The Crabwalk.