I didn’t expect to learn so much about business from my barber.
Let me tell you about Zac Reese. Since opening his business 2 years ago, Zac Reese (at a tender 23 years of age) has made Cratchit Danckut one of the most popular barbershops in Orange County. Interested patrons must book with Zac at least 3 months in to get an appointment. Naturally, I asked about his plans for expansion. His thought process left an impression on me…
Zac said that he’s keeping his barbershop intentionally small because it gives him the freedom to experiment with his business with little risks. He likens his small operation to a laboratory. How to configure each barber station. How to best teach his trainee barbers. Playing with different types of promotional events (he successfully raised $16,805 via GoFundMe).
“Basically,” Zac said, “this is my laboratory and I can experiment and keep tweaking my business to see what works. Once I refine my formula, BOOM, I’m expanding.”
The idea of having my own makeshift laboratory really struck me. It’s not so much about having a formal lab than giving yourself an environment to test things without the fear of failure. It turns the mindset from winning & losing to playing & exploring. The goal is to maximize learnings while minimizing costs, whether that be in the form of money, time or embarrassment.
Imagine what kind of laboratory you can give yourself. It can take place in numerous forms…a blog, a garage, or your cubicle at work. You can give yourself a free laboratory by reimagining it as a place of exploration and adding a few things.
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about how a young Bill Gates had virtually unlimited playtime with rare computing equipment at his middle school and the University of Washington. That safe space to play with the nascent but game-changing technologies at the time was vital to Bill Gates’ growth as a tech entrepreneur. There are numerous other examples:
Tony Stark. Though fictional, Ironman has an incredible lab outfitted with Jarvis, which helps him prototype new technologies. But as we saw in Ironman 3, Mr. Stark used a kid’s garage as his workshop to fashion what he needed. The idea is the same.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak prototyped their first personal computers in Jobs’ garage.
Jennifer Dewalt used her free time and blog to create an environment to learn code on her own. She got a lot of attention by coding 160 websites in 160 days, and reflecting on each day’s learnings (along with each day’s website project) all on her blog.
Startup Weekend invites participants to link up with strangers and create a startup in 36 hours. The format of the event paired with a collegial working space makes for one of the most interesting experiments in mass scale business creation.
Walter and Jesse converted a mobile home into a lab, then drove it to the middle of nowhere to learn how to cook the perfect meth.
I don’t recommend that last one, but you’re probably interested in how to set up your own laboratory. Here are my thoughts on how to create your own “lab,” framed by a personal experiment called to write consistently.
HOW TO GIVE YOURSELF A LABORATORYEstablish an Objective:
Before worrying about building your own superintelligent AI to automate the fabrication of supersuits, we can start with the most important thing – pick your objective. Is it to learn how to draw better? To validate a business idea? Or to lose 15 lbs before beach season?
The objective I wanted to test for myself was: “How can I write more often and more consistently?”Brainstorm + Hypothesize
This part is actually fun – list all the ways you can think of to reach your goal.
To reach the goal of writing more, I brainstormed ideas like setting up a daily reminder to write more, setting WordPress as a my homepage, or committing 30 minutes on my lunch break to write. I ended up choosing what seemed to be the most effective option from that list, then framed it in a hypothesis:
“I think that a writing accountability group will help me write more often and more consistently.” What I needed to do next was set up such an accountability group and test how well it works.Use What You Have
I didn’t want to get too fancy and overwhelmed starting a writing accountability group, so keeping Theodore Roosevelt’s words in mind was helpful:
I reached out to my existing network on Facebook to see if there’s any writers experiencing the same pain as me. Turns out there were some. There was no need to invite everyone and their mothers in the beginning to help me stay accountable to writing more, so I started with a small group of 5.
Others have been far more ingenious in using what they have to create something new. The winners of one Startup Weekend used a local farmer’s market as their local laboratory to interview people and validate ideas with their target customers. In “My Roommate’s a Genius,” Farhad talks about how his roommate used existing materials to fashion really cool (and useful) furniture.
We can think of it as “What would Macgyver do?” You don’t need much to do a lot.Logistics
The last actionable step is to actually create the laboratory – the necessary space to which you can test your hypothesis. That space, for my writing experiment, takes form digitally via a Facebook Group and Google Docs.
For someone losing weight, it might be a corner in a room with a scale and a Macbook positioned to take images of weight loss progress.
For an artist working on a stained glass project, it might be a dining table covered in newspapers with craft tools around him.
The process of creating your own laboratory isn’t difficult at all. I want to make a final note that it’s important to start with what you have, but keep adapting your lab so that it becomes a space you want to keep working in.
“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.” -George Bernard Shaw
A gearhead is much more likely to work on his car if it’s already on the jack, a creeper is near to roll under the car, and all the necessary tools are in an easy to access toolbox. There’s a certain beauty to leaving your space in your own controlled chaos – you own that space and the playground is strictly for your own exploring.
Soon, your laboratory will become a personal haven with minimal distraction and plenty of useful tools to facilitate what you want to experiment and play with.
As I keep strive to hit some big goals in 2014, I look forward to using my own laboratory to write more, learn more, and do more interesting projects. Please share what kind of laboratory / workshop / setup works well for you!