The Leap From Big Idea to Big Thing

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Jean MacDonald, partner at Smile, makers of TextExpander and PDFpen for Mac, iPad and iPhone. Since one exceptionally cool job wasn’t enough, she’s putting the rest of us to shame by bringing one of her big ideas, App Camp for Girls, to life. I had the good fortune to spend time with Jean this year at the World Domination Summit, it was one of this year’s highlights.

When Michael asked me to contribute to the series, my first reaction was that I am not qualified. I recently announced the plan for App Camp for Girls, a summer program where girls learn how to design and build apps with assistance and inspiration from women software developers. It’s a Big Thing, but it’s not even close to being Done.

However, I have gotten started. You have to start the Big Thing, if you’re to have any hope of actually getting it done, of course! Here’s what I’ve learned about getting started.

First, the Big Idea

Last year, at the Apple developers conference, I was in an auditorium with at least 1,000 other people, and there wasn’t a single woman in my range of vision. I know there were a few others there, but I would have had to stand up and look around to actually see them.

For the first time, it struck me how weird this is. It also struck me that I wanted to do something to change that.

I am a volunteer at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls, where girls get to learn an instrument, form a band, write a song and perform a showcase, all in one week. They get inspired by women musicians to get loud and try new things. Could that model to used to inspire girls to be developers?

An Idea Can Only Take You So Far

For a year, the idea of App Camp for Girls simmered. I mentioned the idea to a few people, who were encouraging. But a good idea alone isn’t enough. I knew I had to make a commitment. I took a few days off work and headed to the Oregon coast with no Mac or iPad (ironic!), just notebooks, pens, and a few inspirational books. I took long walks on the beach and I made lists:

  • Why this is important?
  • Who will help me?
  • What else would I do, if I didn’t do this?

The last point is important. It’s been said here before: saying “Yes” to one thing means saying “No” to something else. Making the commitment to a Big Thing requires saying “No” to all those other great ideas and aspirations you have, at least temporarily. By the end of my time off, I knew that I had to do this.

The Dynamic Shifts

You can talk to lots of people about your Big Idea. You may get great feedback to the question “What do you think?” But once you commit to making it happen, when it goes from Big Idea to Big Thing, you’ll notice something: you’ll get much more than feedback. You get offers of help.

Once I made the decision to go forward, once I put App Camp on the calendar and had a logo designed, it took on a life of its own. People have been enthusiastically stepping up to help with time, expertise, money, or all of the above. I had no way of knowing that this would happen, but if I didn’t take the first step and make a commitment, there was no chance that it would.

The excitement of others confirms that I’m on the right track and helps me to get farther down the road towards the first session of App Camp.

Leap of Faith

In September, I went zip-lining for the first time while attending the Big Nerd Ranch program in iOS Development. (If I wanted others to learn how to develop apps in one week, I better try it myself!) There is nothing quite like that sensation of stepping off the platform into thin air. But you don’t fall to the ground. You’re held up by a cable that supports your weight. The cable may bounce and you may twist a bit, but you don’t fall.

Deciding to do the Big Thing is like stepping off that platform. As soon as you do it, people step up to support you. You may lose momentum and get stuck out in the middle somewhere, but you don’t crash to the ground. If you don’t step off the platform, you won’t go anywhere at all.

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