"That doesn't sound impossible"
Ethan Hunt and Ilsa stare blankly back at Benji.
"Ethan can hold his breath for three minutes, no problem."
Hold his breath while diving into a waterfall vortex draining into a sealed underwater vault. No problem indeed. Just another day of impossible for Hunt and, incidentally, what it feels like to be inside the entrepreneurial mind.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, the fifth and most impossible of all the Missions, opens with the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) being dissolved and integrated into the CIA. Ethan Hunt is the last agent in the field, working to expose The Syndicate, a powerful terrorist organization that only he believes actually exists. Hunt is faced with a choice: give up his mission and come back to Langley for job with The Man or go it alone, pursuing an idea so clear to him, he is willing to put everything on the line to see it to its conclusion.
If this sounds familiar, you are likely an entrepreneur.
Ethan is now truly on his own—no outside resources, no team covering his back, and only a collection of theories and a vague idea of how to stop The Syndicate. Much like Hunt, the entrepreneur is a bit of a lone wolf—the only one who can see his idea totally realized and while he knows what it looks like when it is complete, the exact steps to getting there are more theory. From inside the entrepreneur's mind, and in the mind of Ethan Hunt, the mission is truth and he is the only one that can shine a light on it so everyone understands.
When tackling a big idea, taking the first step is often the hardest part and requires a clear focus on the thing that if completed would start to tip the balance towards success. In Rogue Nation, Hunt has gotten a glimpse of Solomon Lane, who he believes is the key to The Syndicate, so all of his efforts get focused on finding Lane.
In the pursuit of actualizing ideas, there is an endless stream of things to do, a million big and small tasks that you know need to get accomplished and what seems like no time to get them done. From this view it is easy to get paralyzed by all of the decisions that need to be made and things that need to get done.
Skill upgrade: Hold the vision while getting clear on the One Thing that if completed would move everything forward. Today.
The One Thing is often something that feels uncomfortable and is usually something we consciously or subconsciously push aside despite knowing its importance, to engage busy work instead. Busy work is safe and harmless—when the One Thing is clear it is both an a-ha! and duh! moment.
The resources needed to build a team aren't always available early on, but without allies your mission may actually prove to be impossible. Few things can actually be accomplished alone. The mind of an entrepreneur is often incredibly lonely, but everyone has people—family and friends, people worked with in the past, or people that can be charmed with a combination of experience and a picture of a grand vision. These initial allies believe in the mission and are often willing to dive in for relatively little in exchange. In pursuit of your mission, and even your most immediate One Thing, it is time to take stock of the skills you are lacking and start recruiting.
Hunt initially relies on Benji, the tech-savvy genius played by Simon Pegg, for inside information, but as he needs more help, Hunt pulls Benji into the game, bringing him to Vienna where Hunt believes Lane will be attending the opera with the intention of killing the German Ambassador. Hunt's operation does not go according to plan: he fails to find Lane and ends up shooting the Ambassador himself to save him creating mass panic at the opera house. He does manage to gain a potential ally in the British double agent, Ilsa who is deep in the operations of The Syndicate.
Character upgrade: Our victories are not always what we expect, failure can be a disguise for what is really a net gain.
Treat every effort and outcome as a learning experience rather than something as black-and-white as success or failure.
Get in Gear
Underestimating Lane at the opera created a mess for Hunt's efforts to stop him, but it also created the opportunity for Hunt and Benji to track Ilsa to Morocco, where she lays out Lane's desire to access billions of dollars to fund his operations. As you'd expect from Mission Impossible, this is no easy task—the bank data is stored digitally in an underwater vault that requires impossible skills and some new tools to infiltrate.
When bootstrapping an idea (or saving the world), resources are tight and yet there are still things needed to make it all happen. Time is always running out and there is no pausing it to make the impossible easier—to find funding, or think out and prepare for every possible outcome. Do an inventory of what you have, what you need and what your allies bring to the table. For what you can't get, it is time to get creative:
- Simplify the idea to something that will still validate it.
- Brainstorm how you can transform, combine, or creatively utilize other available resources to fill the gap.
- Fake it. There is almost always ways to get things done "by hand", with mockups, lower tech solutions, or other ways of making it appear together from an outside perspective.
Know Thy Enemy
As the story of Rogue Nation twists and turns and Hunt and crew get closer to their target, the reach, power and influence of Lane starts to come into focus. Even with a couple more team members (Brandt and Luther) added to the mix and some validation by the Director of the CIA, played by Alec Baldwin, stopping Lane is getting increasingly complex. What was impossible before now seems like a walk in the park compared to what is in front of them.
One guarantee on the entrepreneurial journey is that it is going to be harder than it seemed. Foreseeing obstacles and realizing where the bad guys are going to come from can not only provide preparation for when they show up, but can keep you one step ahead.
Obstacles come in many forms—as the internal critic telling you all about failure, the distractions justifying themselves with perfectly logical explanations and the entrepreneurial disease, "its not ready". Some obstacles take physical form as money, bills, government agencies, unsupportive friends, or spouses, even people who don't know you but don't want your idea to succeed. You can't stop these villains from coming at you, so exposing them ahead of time keeps you prepared, not reactionary.
Remember: Saving the world has a ticking clock, so do your endeavors.
Get past the things blocking your way by staying focused: cut the green wire and figure out what needs to be done next, tomorrow. The final twist in Rogue Nation has Hunt putting it all on the line in the moment—pitting Lane's own greed and evil intentions against him. Lane has lost the game, good has triumphed over evil, Hunt has vindicated himself, saved the world and validated the IMF's existence.
The Next Mission
I was reflecting before seeing Rogue Nation on how I have liked the idea of the Mission Impossible series far more than the movies themselves—the first film was a mess, but each sequel has gotten incrementally better. Rogue Nation is the best film of the franchise, Ghost Protocol was the most entertaining, MI:III was the grittiest and had the best villain (the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman). The second Mission Impossible film was the most stylized and the original, while hopelessly flawed, paved the way for the rest to come to life.
I push early stage entrepreneurs through a rigorous process designed to release an initial product addressing only a specific piece of their overall idea and designed to attract early adopters. Products evolve and it is best to do that in stride rather through a series of experiments that only simulate a real market. The idea is to get early champions using the product and hooked on its benefits while continually refining and adding value, steadily drawing in a wider audience until you have a blockbuster.
Tom Cruise has seemingly gone through this process with Mission Impossible, incrementally making a better, more entertaining product and growing the audience each time. Mission Impossible has never been a runaway blockbuster and none of the films have been Cruise's highest grossing. It may be a surprise, but War of the Worlds is his most successful film. Without Cruise throwing the Mission Impossible franchise on his back and climbing over every obstacle, it is likely that the studio would have given up on it after the second film, or shelved it for a reboot later.
Inspired by the spirit of Mission Impossible, I created the Rapid Vision Development 1-Page Mission Planner, which you can download free. Though relatively simple, this one sheet can give you a huge boost in staying focused, getting clear on what you need and how to get it. You can also join the Idea Mission Force (IMF) by getting in touch here, or if you are in the San Jose to Santa Cruz area, come to Incubeach, where missions and challenges are dispensed weekly.