The Unlimited Entrepreneur

Let us count brick walls. They are everywhere. We encounter them at work and at home. We find them in our personal and business relationships. Brick walls seem to be a part of our lives. But do they need to be?

We tend to be great masons and build some very elaborate and impregnable brick walls. The brick walls to which I refer are the limitations that we impose upon ourselves. Sometimes we believe that these limitations are imposed by others but if we really examine them closely, they are more often than not, self-imposed. It is critical for us as entrepreneurs to avoid allowing thoughts of lack or limitation to creep into our psyches.

Let us look at some of the things we speak to ourselves and say to others. Anytime a sentence contains the words “I can’t,” “I don’t” or “I won’t” there is a strong possibility that limitations are in play. Certainly, there are some limitations that are rational and necessary – I am not talking about those. Thoughts of lack and limitation that prevent us from achieving our greatest potential and success are what we need to train ourselves to eliminate.

I can recall several times over the course of my career where a rookie entered the commercial real estate business and completed a series of amazing transactions. Everyone looked at each other and said, “How did he do it?” Well, I know how. This rookie did not know what he did not know. Make sense? In other words, he did not know to place limitations on himself that many veterans of the industry had imposed upon themselves. As a result, he made cold calls on clients that others thought to be untouchable or intractable. And guess what? He got deals done.

Why do we limit ourselves in the first place? Often it is the result of fear or a lack of knowledge. Analyze the following statement. “I can’t pursue that business opportunity because I don’t have the money to do so.” This statement contains both the “I can’t” and “I don’t” negative affirmations which will probably result in this person not pursuing the business opportunity. Most likely the underlying reason for the statement is that this person either has a fear about the business opportunity – perhaps it’s a fear of failure – or he/she simply doesn’t know how to find the money needed. Regardless, the opportunity will not be pursued because this person has built a brick wall around it.

So, what is the truth? We have a choice to either create reality or face reality. If we choose to create our reality, we can do so by removing all thoughts of lack and limitation. We tap into our creative energy and identify the resources that we need to succeed. We pursue that business opportunity because we find a way to raise the money that is needed. In several of the companies with which I am involved, we regularly complete apartment developments and acquisitions utilizing very complex financial structures. We have rescued many a deal from the scrap heap because we not only have the knowledge to figure out how to make them work, but we also have no fear of failure. Do we fail? Sure, we do. But our failures are simply steps toward our ultimate end goal. And we manage our risk so that none of our failures are fatal.

We can go through a life full of brick walls that are of our own making, or we can create our own reality by taking the simple yet powerful step of eliminating thoughts of lack and limitation. Whenever these thoughts start to become a part of our mindset, we recognize them; we release them, and we replace them with the truth of unlimited possibilities.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Entrepreneur Negotiator

Harrison Ford starred in the classic movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson starred in Lost in Translation. Richard Dreyfuss played the lead in Lost in Yonkers. The television show Lost in Space ran from 1965-68. And entrepreneurs star every day in the Lost Art of Negotiation. Why is negotiation a lost art? I believe that too many of us see negotiating as a competition.

Google gives 90,500,000 results for the word negotiation so there is no shortage of material about the subject. But I do not want to focus on negotiating techniques – that is not the point of this blog. Instead, I would like to offer some ideas that may be helpful in making the negotiating process more productive.

If we start with the premise in a negotiation that we want to win, then it becomes a competition where someone (not us) is going to lose. From here we harden into our “positions” and the tension begins. There is a better way. First, we need to see a negotiation as an opportunity to solve a problem. It is a dual problem – one for us and one for another party. Trying to solve just our problem may be far more difficult than figuring out how to solve for both parties. What do we do when we solve a problem? We start by clearly defining all elements of the problem. Then we catalog all the possible solutions. Our innovation and creativity come into play at this point.  

In the process of attacking the problem we establish our bedrock principles. For example, we may resolve that no matter what, we will always be respectful. Perhaps we commit to avoid getting hung up on personalities. Or we may decide that regardless of how dirty the other party may play our approach will continually reflect total integrity. Ultimately our analysis leads us to the bottom line for the most critical factors to the outcome we believe will best solve the problem for both parties.

Recently I was coaching a business owner about the potential sale of her company. I asked her what her bottom-line number was, and she gave me a figure. Then I asked her if negotiations led to a value that was $50,000 less than her bottom-line number, would she sell. She replied in the affirmative. So, we went back and forth with the $50,000 question until we finally reached an amount that she absolutely positively would not accept. The takeaway for her was that the initial figure she thought was her bottom-line number actually was not.

As we engage in a negotiation we listen to and understand what the other party is telling us. This information is then overlaid onto the problem we have identified, and our array of solutions is applied. We avoid confrontation by working from a set of facts; seek agreement wherever possible, and constantly narrow the scope of issues.

Being in the commercial real estate business I have been in continuous negotiations in one form or another for more than 45 years. You can read all the books you want and watch all the videos in the world on negotiating strategies. And if you pay attention to them you can easily end up getting too cutesy. I have found that a fairly straightforward approach has been extremely successful for me. I do not try to outthink the other party or construct a series of chess-like moves. Instead, I know what my bottom line is, and I know the principles that I want to maintain. If I must violate my principles to get to my bottom-line, I’ll withdraw. And I have learned that transparency and respect have been more valuable than anything else.

Entering a negotiation as a creative opportunity to solve a problem for both parties puts us on the same path. Bedrock principles and a clear understanding of our bottom line is then the recipe for a positive outcome.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The “On It” Entrepreneur

I have the good fortune to regularly mentor several amazing entrepreneurs. One question I frequently ask is, “how much time do you spend working on your business versus in your business?” A similar question is, “how much time do you spend working on strategy vs. tactics?” Usually the answer to both questions is, “not much.” The problem is easy to identify. Entrepreneurs find themselves sucked into the daily grind of firefighting and there is no time left to do much else.

So how do we focus on strategy and vision when the bullets are flying, and we are hunkered down in our foxholes? For starters, we need to examine exactly what it is that we are doing. As part of my mentoring process I inquire on specifically what an entrepreneur is spending his or her time. It is interesting to listen to the responses which often reflect the fact that entrepreneurs are handling things that really should not be their responsibility. Mostly this includes performing tasks for which others should be held accountable. And it is not just about the failure to delegate. Some entrepreneurs take the position that “if I want it done right, I need to do it myself.” Or “I really don’t have the time to show someone else how to do it – it’s more efficient for me to bang it out.”

To solve this, we need to understand what prevents us from delegating that which should be handled by others. Do we have the right people on the bus? Do we have enough people? Are the right people properly trained? Are we too high control? When I have experienced problems with delegation in the past it is usually been the result of not having the right people to whom I can delegate. Getting to the root cause of our inability to delegate is crucial. If we do not have the right people, what is more important than solving this problem? One of the nice things about having the right people on the team is the fact that they may not need as much training – bright, right people figure out a lot of things on their own.

How is an entrepreneur who has a very small team able to delegate effectively? In other words, he or she is a player/coach and is on the field for every single play. This is where blocking out specific amounts of time to plan and strategize can be invaluable. Perhaps this occurs every morning from 8:00 to 9:00 without fail. During that timeframe, the entrepreneur takes no phone calls or any other interruptions and refines the strategy for the enterprise, reviews key performance indicators and determines if the business is on track with respect to vision and mission. Then the entrepreneur suits up and runs out on the field with the rest of the team to face another day. I cannot emphasize enough how absolutely nothing can be allowed to disrupt this daily routine.

We can ill afford to procrastinate when it comes to working on our business because we are too busy working in our business. The more this happens the more likely it is that we will get caught on the hamster wheel. Around and around we go as fast as our legs will churn – but we are not making any headway. Why exert so much energy (and money) to end up right back where we started?

Learning how to delegate and hold others accountable will allow us to strategize and envision the future for our enterprise. And sequestering ourselves for a specified period of time every single day will enable that planning and visioning to happen.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Coach-Entrepreneur

There is a lot of talk these days about mentoring. Many members of Generation X and Generation Y (Millennials) have told researchers that having a mentor is of high importance to them. As a Baby Boomer, I take great pleasure in being called upon to mentor other entrepreneurs. But as the CEO of our family of companies, I made the mistake of also thinking that I could be a mentor to some of the up and coming leaders in our organization. Over the years, this realization has become more apparent to me and its subtlety is what tripped me up.

By my definition, a mentor is an advisor and nothing more. The mentee can take what the mentor offers and do with it what he or she wishes. A mentor typically has no “skin in the game” where the mentee is concerned. As a result, the mentor freely dispenses advice and opinions without an agenda. CEOs should not try to be mentors within their own companies. Why? Because they clearly have an agenda which is first and foremost shaped around what is in the company’s best interest. In my experience trying to be a mentor to a handful of leaders in our firm has not worked effectively. They are deferential to a fault because I am the CEO. They listen to what I have to say differently than if I were outside the organization. For example, when I challenge them with a particular question or premise, they take it as gospel. The relationship of the CEO to any member of the team is going to be such that a true mentoring relationship will be very difficult.

So, what is an appropriate role for a CEO to play in developing leaders within his or her company? I have found that becoming a coach is the right path to take. Let us use sports as the metaphor here. The coach is a teacher. He/she may call the plays from the sidelines until a sufficient level of expertise and trust is developed with the players to allow them to call their own plays. A coach should be wise and compassionate; yet there are times when he may be appropriately demanding and exacting.

Gen Xers and Millennials are well-served to understand the distinction between coaching and mentoring. I believe that a future leader should have both. Find a mentor who is older and has plenty of experience outside the company. By building extensive relationships throughout the community, one can usually connect with someone who may be willing to serve in a mentoring capacity. Then, try and establish a coaching relationship with a superior inside the company, assuming the individual has a coaching personality. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with certain people in positions of authority who are insecure and have power issues. I submit that it is healthy for the organization to move away from the boss-employee mentality and develop an attitude of coach-player.

CEOs and members of their teams can be fulfilled by a healthy coaching relationship. And an outside mentor can be the icing on the cake.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The “Paladin” Entrepreneur

I grew up in an age where the hero of the day was a cowboy or someone like Superman. I think my favorite was a character named Paladin played by Richard Boone in Have Gun Will Travel TV western series that ran from 1957 to 1963. Paladin wore a black hat, but he was definitely a good guy. He took care of the bad guys with his cunning and his fast gun. He wore a stoic expression and generally solved the problems he faced by himself. You never saw him flinch. There were no high fives; no fist bumps; no complaints, and he was always the gentleman. Many of us grew up idolizing macho heroes of this sort.

Paladin is a wonderful metaphor for today’s entrepreneur. How many of us take the “never let ‘em see you sweat” approach and soldier on to the finish line regardless of the obstacles we encounter? I know that I certainly have felt responsibility for the hundreds of employees and their families that are integral to the success of our companies. And as a result, there have been times when I have sacrificed mightily to make certain that my colleagues are safe and secure. After all, isn’t that what a leader is supposed to do?

We entrepreneurs often spend more time working in rather than on our businesses. I will stand at the head of the line to admit that in the past I handled things that others could have been doing because I a) wanted to set a good example, b) figured that I could get it done more quickly than showing someone else how to do it, or c) wanted it done properly. After a while I began to wonder why everyone stepped back and let me do these things not realizing that the example I was setting was encouraging people to believe that I would handle it! I suppose at the time that there was a feeling of indispensability on my part. I needed to be in the middle of things to pave the way to victory.

So, what did I learn following this path? I learned that no one saw me as “the hero.” They became reliant upon me and they also felt that I did not have confidence in them. Apathy became a real problem. The quality of work slipped because the “Lee will fix it – he fixes everything” syndrome was in full swing. I was burning out and not having as much fun as I had in the past.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that if I really care about my team members and their families – and I really do – the most important thing I can do for them is to create a sustainable organization. Companies where the founder or key principal micromanages everything and strangles everyone are doomed to die when the leader retires or dies. I cannot bear the thought of that happening to the people I have worked with for decades. My solution has been to develop a culture of empowerment and coaching. I now spend time helping my teammates learn how to fish as opposed to doing the fishing for them. It is my responsibility to hold the vision for our companies, but that has become a shared vision rather than just my vision. Delegation is a key element to sustainability and all team members now have clearly defined roles and accountabilities with training and resources devoted to helping them succeed.

Heroes come from the battlefield or burning buildings and not from the boardroom. Sharing responsibility is the best way to create a sustainable organization.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Self-Talking Entrepreneur

I have written a lot about mindset and how much it influences our lives. Embracing a positive mindset is empowering but it requires us to establish new thought patterns. I thought it might be helpful to catalog some of the more common things that we may say from time to time and offer an alternative. I find that when I intentionally pay attention to what I say verbally and silently, I catch myself before I go down the “negative road.” But if I do not pay attention, it is easy to end up there.

“I never have enough time.” Each of us has the same amount of time. It is all about how we prioritize. I now say, “I have time to do what I choose.” Notice that I am in control now rather than allowing myself to be tugged and pulled along the river of life.

“I just can’t win.” There is no way we can win if we affirm defeat from the start. How about this instead? “I will continue to do whatever is necessary until I win.” There is a hint of perseverance in this statement . . . which often is the secret ingredient to winning.

“I’m sick.” We all probably hear this quite often. In fact, we have most likely said it once or twice (or more). But again, why would we want to affirm something so negative? Here is an alternative. “I see myself as healthy and whole.” Perhaps we are feeling a bit under the weather, but aren’t we better off affirming a positive vision of ourselves?

“I’m struggling with my finances and never have any money.” To allow good things to come our way we need to shed all thoughts of lack and limitation. Why? Because they block the flow of the positive energy, we need to be prosperous. This statement (said with gusto!) will fully open the fire hydrant of creative energy. “Abundance is mine and I claim it!

“Something bad is going to happen, I just know it.” Hmmm. I know that I have been guilty of self-fulfilling prophecies and this one sure qualifies. It is as simple as this. If we expect something bad to happen, it probably will. “I expect everything to proceed in perfect order and visualize the end result that I am seeking.” There is no better way to inoculate ourselves from negativity than with a strong positive affirmation such as this.

“I don’t understand why so-and-so is treating me this way. It’s so unfair.” Conflict with others can lead to a feeling of victimization . . . if we let it. The truth is, we are only victims of our own mindset, and that is something we can control. When we are willing to take responsibility for our own actions we will say, “I am going to make a positive difference in the lives I touch.”

Yes, it is possible that these positive statements may sound hokey. But here is the point. The only way to break out of an undesirable mindset is to replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations that we really believe. The best way to accomplish this is to understand exactly what we say that we want to change, and then be prepared with our replacement thoughts. Having practiced this for years, I can tell you that I still catch myself moving in the wrong direction at times. But that is the key – we catch ourselves and move back into a positive state of mind.

Life is too short to live in anything but a positive mindset. For me, the “negative road” has become a road less traveled. I see this as so for you too.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Competitive Entrepreneur

Evil, dirty, underhanded, devious, conniving, despicable, dishonest, cutthroat, backstabbing, snobbish, arrogant, lying and cheating. These are terms I have heard applied to competitors over the last 45 years. Without a doubt I have missed some. What emotions are evoked when you think about your competitors? Some entrepreneurs I know have pure hatred for the competition and others display a great deal of fear. Why do we associate such negativity to our competition?

The amateur psychologist in me believes it has something to do with our childhood (don’t all our issues?). On the playground we engaged in competitive duels involving kickball, dodge ball, four-square and other gladiator-like activities. Losers were vanquished with taunts and teasing. When we were older, competition for relationships with the opposite sex was intense. When a sought-after girl or boy chose someone else, we were crushed and dejected. Fast forward to today and it is no wonder that we often see our competition as the enemy.

But do we really benefit from viewing our competitors in this manner? Competition is actually a wonderful thing. Let’s look at several of the reasons why.

  • Competition stimulates creativity and innovation. Every day we know that our competitors are working overtime to develop new products or services. To keep from being left behind we do the same. New discoveries are made from this process that may generate greater profits and capture a larger market share.
  • Best practices emanate from a competitive environment. Let’s face it; we don’t have all the answers. So, observing how others do things and testing our approach accordingly can lead us to implement better systems and processes. Without competition what would be the incentive to improve?
  • An inefficient market is the byproduct of competition. Some competitors are stronger, and some are weaker. If every competitor is equally strong how would anyone win? The concept of winners and losers is critical to a healthy yet inefficient market.
  • Hand-in-hand with the inefficient market theory is the opportunity for differentiation. This is good for the consumer and it is outstanding for the entrepreneur. Why? Because we can create a level of variety that may appeal to more customers. It is not just about “better;” it’s also about “different.” If every boutique sold the same black dress, doesn’t it stand to reason that a boutique selling a purple skirt might win a few more customers than the black dress sellers?
  • Competition helps to broaden the talent pool. It provides career paths for the workforce into which we as entrepreneurs can tap. We can create cultures where people want to work, giving them the chance to grow and advance their careers. And in the process, we get to attract the best and the brightest.

For years we have enjoyed good relationships with our competitors. We view them with respect and in some cases, admiration. Other terms come to mind as well: friendship, collaboration, empathy, and gratitude. Collaboration you ask? Yes, we have often referred customers to our competitors when we could not meet their needs and they have done the same for us. In 2008 a Maine portable restroom business owned by Jeff Bellino burned to the ground. Who came to the rescue? Bellino’s competitors! They provided portable restrooms, toilet tissue and chemicals so that he could keep going while he rebuilt his operation. Competition is at its healthiest when competitors have each other’s backs in a time of need.

When we embrace the notion of strong and healthy competition, we enhance our chances for success. There is no doubt that competition makes us better entrepreneurs in every respect.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Pivoting Entrepreneur

Have you ever found yourself pursuing an idea or an initiative only to discover you have reached a dead end? Often people give up and move on to something else. Why waste any more time on something that is not going to work, is the conventional thinking. But what if this is an entrepreneurial endeavor in which we have invested serious money as well as time and energy? Walking away is not so easy. In fact, there may be a tendency to stubbornly throw good money (and time and energy) after bad.

There is a way to turn some dead ends into cul-de-sacs. This is done through a process called pivoting. Very simply, a pivot is a change of direction. I remember playing high school basketball and having the ball thrown to me close to the basket. Usually there was a defender trying to stop me from scoring which required me to pivot or change direction to get a better unobstructed shot. Sometimes I was so hell-bent on bulling my way to the basket that my shot would be blocked, or the ball would be stripped away. Frustrating? You bet. But it was my failure to finesse the situation and pivot that resulted in my failure to score.

While pivoting seems like an easy and obvious course of action, it is not. We entrepreneurs tend to be a proud lot. We often think we have the best ideas since sliced bread. We also believe we can make anything work with discipline and perseverance along with our charm and good looks. We may not even realize we are headed down a dead-end street. How can we become more objective on our journey? Setting milestones at the beginning of the process can be very helpful. This is accomplished by establishing measurable performance indicators that enable us to know if we are progressing toward our end goal or not. By keeping track of our milestones, it becomes easier for us to see when we need to make a course correction.

There are numerous examples of pivots in American business that resulted in extraordinary products and companies. The likes of Pay Pal, Groupon, Starbucks, Nokia, Flickr, Hewlett-Packard, Nintendo, Instagram, Wrigley, Avon, Pinterest and Suzuki are all case studies. An article in Forbes Magazine dated October 8, 2014 by Jason Nazar and Rochelle Bailis chronicles one of the most famous pivots of the modern era – Twitter.

“The most legendary pivot in social media history is the transformation of Odeo into Twitter. Odeo began as a network where people could find and subscribe to podcasts, but the founders feared the company’s demise when iTunes began taking over the podcast niche. After giving the employees two weeks to come up with new ideas, the company decided to make a drastic change and run with the idea of a status-updating micro-blogging platform conceived by Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone.”

Keeping an open mind; avoiding being married to an idea; setting and watching milestones; collaborating with others and maintaining an environment for innovation is the perfect recipe for discovering when and how to pivot. Sometimes multiple pivots may occur before we nail it. Smart entrepreneurs are always on the lookout for pivots that will deliver the results they are seeking.

A pivot may actually bring about an even more exciting product or service (or company) than originally intended. The process of pivoting will also help to minimize or eliminate the incidences of dead ends.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Realistic Entrepreneur

There are many acts we perform as entrepreneurs that are very similar to walking on a tightrope. They require just the right amount of focus, nerve-control, and balance to keep from falling into the abyss. You are probably experiencing one or more right now. But here is one to which you may not have given much thought. How do we be an “all-in optimist” and yet maintain a perspective that is grounded in reality? Another way of putting it is, “how do we see reality through rose-colored glasses?”

Let’s face it, sometimes reality bites. We prefer not to look at the downside which may lead us to fantasize about the upside. Eventually our point of view becomes one of hope which should not be confused with optimism. Rick Page wrote a great book several years ago entitled, Hope Is Not a Strategy. He is right. I have tried to remove “hope” from my belief system. To me, the concept of hope conveys a sense of passivity. I am more interested in assertively acting in such a way that there is no room for hope in the equation.

If there is no hope and we must face reality, how can we possibly be optimistic? I believe that there is a way to be very optimistic about almost every situation while still understanding and living in reality. First, we must assess and face the downside head-on. This means that we need to take an objective look at the situation and in a cold and calculating fashion determine the facts – whatever they may be, good and bad. There is no room in this process for ignoring, denying, or rationalizing. It is critical that we inventory everything.

Next, we look at the facts and develop a complete understanding of the risks at hand. We must look at every risk as an opportunity to fail. Identifying the risks puts us in a position to figure out how we will mitigate those risks. So, let us review so far. We have recorded all the facts we know about a situation – good and bad. We have determined the risks and mitigated them. And now we want to stack the deck in our favor. We do this by creating a clear path to win. Think about it this way. Suppose you are the captain of a sailboat. You need to get from Point A to Point B. But you know that there are many rocks, shoals, severe currents, and other dangers lurking beneath the water. Before you set sail, you take charts, weather conditions, current sailor reports, and every other piece of information you can get your hands on. You then plot your course (creating a clear path to win) around the obstacles (mitigating the risks you identified from your fact-finding effort).

The last step in this process is that of holding a positive mindset. This should be relatively easy because you know the clear path that you need to take to win. And you have already planned for known and unknown challenges. The result is that you possess an air of confidence, for in your positive state of mind, you know without a doubt that you are going to sail the waters smoothly, calmly, and successfully. Now that’s optimism!

Becoming a Reality Superstar requires that we be optimistic. Optimism goes hand-in-hand with reality when we utilize a fact-based process to embrace the challenges that we experience. No longer do we need to hold onto hope, because we are supremely confident of our success.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Disruptive Entrepreneur

What do World Book Encyclopedias, the Sony Walkman, public pay phones, cassette tapes, floppy disks, Palm Pilots, and manual typewriters have in common? OK, I realize it is an easy question – they are all obsolete products. But the real question is why they became obsolete in the first place. You may be thinking, “Other more advanced products came along and replaced them.” True again. But why didn’t the makers of these products create newer and more advanced versions? And therein lays the dilemma. I am going to make a sweeping generalization here to prove my point – and the individual situations may have been more complex than I am purporting. The bottom line – there was a failure to embrace change and a desire to embrace the status quo.

For many people change is scary. It is filled with uncertainty and risk. Think of all the businesses you know about that have adopted the philosophy, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Yet, maintaining the status quo is actually falling behind. Why? Because we are in a highly competitive age where information flows more quickly and more substantively than at any time in history. Someone is always looking for a better way to do everything all the time. What steps should we take to avoid becoming the next World Book?

Step One. Constantly stay in touch with the customer. We need to mine every customer interaction for the data that can be produced. And we need to create customer interactions outside the regular purchasing process through surveys, focus groups, etc. What do our customers like about our product or service? What don’t they like? What do they like and dislike about our competitor’s product or service?

Step Two. From our ongoing customer feedback process, we can continuously fine tune our product or service offering with incremental improvements. This enables us to keep from falling behind in the competitive race.

Step Three. In addition to staying in touch with the customer we should also be totally immersed in what is happening within our industry. Trade publications, conferences, blogs, and ongoing relationships help keep us on top of trends, opportunities, and threats.

Step Four. This one is the biggie. We can make a choice as to whether to be a disruptor or be the disrupted. A disruptor is an innovator who turns an industry on its head with a radical idea. Those who choose to stick with what they are already doing are vulnerable to becoming a victim of this marketplace disruption. Some industries rock along for years with little or no disruptive innovation. In others (technology, for example), disruption occurs daily. Even if we do not create a huge and splashy disruption of some sort, the fact that we continue to try and do so will often be enough to keep us on the cutting edge.

One of the most prominent disruptors of our time is Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group. He has a mindset of looking at various industries and seeing an opportunity to innovate. Then he does it. Often it works – sometimes it does not, but few can argue the success he has had with more than 400 companies.

Resting on the laurels of success is a dangerous game. I imagine at one point in time Walkman sales were off the charts and the folks at Sony were feeling pretty good. And then, BOOM, the ride is over. It is important to keep our foot on the metaphorical gas pedal. Keep marketing no matter what. Build a backlog. Take the utmost advantage of good times. But . . . always remember and practice Steps One through Four. It is the best vaccination for obsolescence.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.