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Field Notes

Field Notes #025: Limiting Beliefs

limiting beliefs

One of the kindest things you can do for an ambitious person is to help them push past their limiting beliefs. You primarily do this by showing that you believe that they are capable of great things.

Too often, managers subject the team to the oppression of low expectations. We set up reasonable goals based on benchmarks or past data, plan out incremental milestones to track along the way, and maybe hit them, maybe not. 

I spoke to Benyamin Elias on the podcast a week ago (episode to come up in a few months), and we talked about his phenomenal article “Your team is wrong about what it can get done.”

In the piece, he covers the importance of setting big, ambitious goals and projects for your team. Things that, at first glance, are a little scary. 

But when you do this, and especially when you apply very few constraints to the “how,” magic happens.

  • First, people are surprised at the impact they can achieve when they get out of the weeds of “tactical hell” and actually have a big, scary project to get excited about every morning.
  • Second, both you as a leader, and your team learn a ton about what matters and what doesn’t. In most teams and companies, we build up process bloat. We layer on new processes to iron out singular mistakes or to pre-empt fears about production errors. However, it’s rare that we unwind superfluous processes. In facing huge projects, we can finally question if the checklists we made actually matter. 
  • Finally, by setting high expectations and planning big projects, you’re implicitly telling your team, colleagues, and partners that you believe in them. This is a rare and incredibly valuable thing, as so many of us struggle with imposter syndrome. 

Of course, you have to create a culture where it’s okay to fail (in some areas at least). My old baseball coach always told me it was better to strike out swinging than watching strikes go by. 

When I was at CXL, the only editorial standard Peep Laja gave me was this: “Every piece we write has to be the best in the world ever written on that topic.”

Intimidating standards. 

But by aiming that high, I broke through my own limiting beliefs about my skills as a writer and my knowledge about experimentation. 

We’re currently working on a project that is stretching all of our own beliefs about content production velocity. In December, we’re aiming to write 100 blog posts. With a small team, this sounds crazy. And we might not hit the exact number.

But by aiming high, we surprise ourselves with our personal production capacity, test the limits (and the utility) of our existing editorial processes, and get a whole bunch of content out into the world that wouldn’t have been there if we just carved out 1 post per week like many teams. 

As you step into 2023, and keeping in mind the economic uncertainty that surrounds us, try thinking a little bit bigger – even if, and especially if, it scares you. 

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1. Your team is wrong about what it can get done – Benyamin Elias’s amazing piece on goal setting and big projects as a forcing function.

2. Don’t trust the process – Another contrarian piece by Benyamin, this one debunking the preeminence of process. “Process is safety,” he says.

3. Content is a long game. But if you want to win, play it fast.  – My call to arms for content marketers to rise to the level of their ambition.

Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.