The Magic Vending Machine


Why am I committing to something that I know I shouldn’t be committing to even as I’m actively committing to it?

I asked myself that question when I was caught up in the moment of a group-created idea. Oh those sexy, yet pesky, ideas.

I was at a fun networking dinner of like-minded people where we had to solve certain social puzzles or discuss hypotheticals. It was a great way for everyone to get to know each other, to mingle and to share their expertise.

Our small group was tasked with the question, “If you could make a vending machine that had to be placed in Times Square and you could have it sell anything for as much as you want, what would you sell, how would it be arranged and what would you charge?”
The Experience Box

We came up with the “Experience Box”. You would receive a surprise, time-sensitive experience depending on what your input was: age, group size, type of experience desired and budget.

We had fun with the idea, suggesting such possible gifts as: Helicopter tours, dinner for 2, tickets to a show that starts in 1 hour, etc. Our conversation turned the Experience Box into an almost on-demand, Groupon-type magic vending machine.

This was all fine and dandy but the problem was, we started thinking that this might actually work. And maybe it could have but the only people validating if it would work were the same people who thought it up in the first place.

Not exactly the textbook definition of a control group.

The Rushed Answer

As the night was ending some people wanted to take the idea to the next level and I was asked, “Bassam, I’d love to get a group together to see if this thing has legs. Are you in?”

And I responded with, “Sure!” followed by the immediate internal thought of, WTF, Bassam! Really?! Focusing on coaching full-time, launching a course, the film festival, Ignition Lab and Magnet aren’t enough?

Even as “Sure!”was coming out of my mouth I was practically shaking my head at my ludicrous decision-making.
The Reasoning

So why did I say yes in that split second?

  1. I wanted to be liked by my peer group. We typically always put our best foot forward in front of new peers because their opinion of us rests solely on our 2 hours together. There is no context outside of this moment. If I had an off night or was in a bad mood then I would picture them describing me as, “That asshole from dinner.” So subconsciously, I didn’t want to do something unbecoming of the moment, as ridiculous as that sounds.
  2. Part of me was thinking, “What if this is the spaghetti on the wall that is the million dollar idea? You don’t want to miss it, do you?”

There was my brain trying to trick me into thinking there were shortcuts to things. I didn’t think of the months and months of research and testing, not to mention teaming up with people whom I had only met 72 minutes before. I was enthralled with a shiny object.

To focus on the things you’re working on, we need to learn to say no to the other things that sparkle in your vision. Typically, we like the shiny thing when we are in a rut or feel stagnant in a project we have been putting blood, sweat and tears into. Don’t fall for it. Stay strong.

Say yes to things when you have no ideas or no projects you’re working on. Say yes when you feel like you need a new perspective on things. Say yes to getting feedback on what you’re working on. But don’t say yes to more puzzle pieces.

Finish the puzzle in front of you first. You have pieces everywhere. Say yes to new pieces when you have exhausted your current set.

We need to say no more often, but we like yes. Yes makes us feel inclusive and part of the group. But if we said yes to every possibility, just-in-case something were to happen, we end up not finishing anything.

If steel were not cast in an I-Beam-shaped mold, the molten metal would say yes to everything gravity wanted it to do and all that would be left is a flat, circular blob of thin steel not even strong enough to hold its own weight.

The mold says no to every other shape but the “I”. And because of the boundaries the mold has laid out, buildings and cities can be constructed. Thank goodness for boundaries.

Make sure you create some for yourself, lest you find your “city” and your focus in ruins. I know I have to do better at this too.

What’s your magic vending machine? Meaning, what’s the thing you’re working on right now that you shouldn’t be?

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