The iterative Loop unrolled

Let’s break down the Loop a bit more and flesh out some details.

Before starting, you’ll want to establish some long-term goals. Answer the question “What would my life/business/career look like if everything was going the way I wanted it to?” Often a way to do this would be to envision a typical day for yourself. What would that be like? Although we’ll talk more about this in the future, that’s enough to get you started.

Armed with this long-term vision, we now turn reaching that goal in small chunks. The Loop is about six steps. While this may seem like quite a bit, after you’ve habituated this into your process, you’ll find that most of the steps can take only minutes, and most of your time will be spend DOING.

Approach the Loop with an eye towards momentum and action. It’s MUCH more important to iterate through the Loop than trying to complete any one of the steps to perfection. There will always be another iteration if you’re wrong this time.

  1. Focus: Figure out the most important problem to work on.
  2. Prepare: Think of an action can you take try and solve that problem.
  3. Simplify: Pare down your action to its shortest, easiest, quickest version.
  4. Do: Take the action, whatever that is.
  5. Reflect. What worked? What didn’t?
  6. Evolve: Feed what you learned and produced into the next iteration.
The Loop. The version on the right reflects the relative amount of time spent in each part of the Loop. Lots of doing.
LoopBasic LoopWeighted

Ask yourself, “what is the most important problem that I should be trying to solve?” Although there are dozens of possibilities, you can probably narrow down the list of critical items to small number. For a problem you think is the most important, ask yourself, “if I made this happen, would something else still be preventing me from moving forward?” If the answer is yes, then go work on that something else – it’s more important. We are often distracted at this point wanting to work on what’s fun, what’s easy, or what others expect us to doing.

If you’re unsure of which one to tackle, pick one and go with it. Make things happen.

To try and solve this problem, what action are you going to take? What will you create? What do you want to learn? In some circumstances this step is obvious and straightforward. “Create my web site so people can find me.” In others you may have to be more creative. “Find a way to drive more customers to my business.” Again, if you get stuck deciding, you’ve probably got a few good candidatee. Pick one and move.

Your trip through the Loop should be short, measured in minutes, hours, or maybe a day. To do this, you need to pare down your action to the bare minimum. That means putting boundaries on your actions. So “get feedback on new prototype” becomes “get feedback from 3 people on the usability of new prototype.” “Create my website” becomes “Create the home page for my web site.” “Train for 10K run” becomes “Run 2 mile distance.” You can think of this as an 80/20 situation. How can you get 80% of what you want with 20% of the work? Another way to think about it: how can you scope your task so that there are no excuses why you can’t make it happen?

Go do what you planned, whether it’s easy, scary, difficult, or even boring. This sounds obvious, but action is what separates those who make things happen from those with just ideas. Good ideas and intentions are cheap. Action, and the risk you take by doing something, are not. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect, and it is altogether possible that you may try your hardest and still fail to some degree. If you have chosen a problem to solve that will stretch you, then succeed, fail, or anywhere in between, you will have learned something that enables you to move forward or to do it better the next time through.

This is the step where most people get stuck. You can spot someone stuck on this step because they start sentences with “I had this great idea but…” or “I tried but I couldn’t because of…”

No matter how awesome you are at getting things done, if you aren’t learning from your experience you will often stay stuck in the same place. So, immediately after you are done, take a few minutes write down “what worked?” and “what didn’t?” Be honest with yourself, and include others involved in the action you took to participate (like customers, or teammates). If something worked, make a few notes on why it worked. If something didn’t work, then make notes on possible changes and alternatives. Reflecting about inventorying failures, it’s about giving you input and ideas for your next iteration.

Don’t wait to reflect, because when you’re fresh off of your action, the results will be fresh in your mind and you will still be focused on thinking about the problem. Admittedly, this can be an annoying step if you’re in a groove and making progress, but if you don’t do it now you’ll probably never do it, and if you don’t reflect you can continue go to full speed but in the wrong direction.

This is where the value of the Loop really lies. Now that you’ve tried something and learned from it, you can adjust your priorities, modify your approach, or pursue a previously unknown or unavailable opportunity. All this at a cost of minutes, hours or a day. You probably learned something about what you want to do more of, and maybe learned even more about what you don’t want to do.


Now, go back and Loop again…and again…and again, as you learn and progress towards your goal.

Will every iteration be a fantastic new opportunity? Will you make huge strides on a daily basis? No. But all you need is a few great days, and like evolution in nature, the power of the Loop will do the rest over the long run as you repeat it day in and day out.

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