Driven or Driving?

There’s a Netflix series that I am enjoying entitled, “Better Call Saul.” It’s about a scummy low-life ambulance-chasing Albuquerque lawyer named Jimmy McGill. Spoiler alert – in one episode, McGill becomes a minor celebrity when he rescues a man hanging from a billboard. A wealthy eccentric rancher sees the local newscast video of the rescue and calls McGill for a meeting. The rancher proceeds to announce that he and his multi-thousand acre ranch are going to secede from the United States. He needs a lawyer and offers Jimmy $1 million to handle the case – $500,000 up front and the other $500,000 when secession is final. You can see McGill sitting in the rancher’s living room – about to burst into a massive happy dance. The rancher goes to his safe and brings back a tray with bricks of 100 dollar bills. Wait for it . . . when McGill takes a look at one of the bricks, the bills are emblazoned with the face of the rancher! Perfectly legal tender portends the rancher, in his newly formed country. The scene ends with McGill driving away from the ranch in his beaten-up two-tone Suzuki Esteem.

You may be wondering what this television episode has to do with entrepreneurship. Jimmy McGill was clearly “opportunity-driven.” In other words, opportunity knocked and he answered. You may also be wondering what’s wrong with this – why wouldn’t every entrepreneur grab opportunities as they emerge? And that’s just the problem. Being opportunity-driven is effectively allowing external factors to shape our businesses and lives. Sometimes we win and sometimes we end up with a brick of fake 100 dollar bills.

There’s a great temptation for young organizations (and young people) to “grab” opportunities as they see them. This is certainly understandable. Perhaps we don’t have a lot of traction or credibility yet and need to pay the bills. The entire career of many entrepreneurs is stuck in the opportunity-driven mode. I call it the “Jim Rockford-$200-a-day-plus-expenses” approach. Those of you old enough to remember James Garner’s Rockford Files television series from 1974 – 1980 can relate to this. As a private investigator, Jim Rockford would do anything (mostly legal) for $200 per day plus expenses. I loved that show, but it taught me a great lesson – the lesson of personal limitation. Rockford would pretty much take any case that came his way and limited himself to a fixed amount of compensation and lived hand-to-mouth in a trailer on the beach.

There is another way. It’s called “opportunity-driving.” The difference between being opportunity-driven and opportunity-driving is rooted in strategy. The entrepreneur that is opportunity-driving is operating on a very strategic basis. He or she has a winning aspiration; knows where to play; knows how to win; has developed core capabilities and resources, and has created the necessary systems and processes. Utilizing this approach, the entrepreneur is focused on creating opportunities that fit the strategy.

I can relate this concept to my own business interests. In the earlier days of our organizational evolution, we would take pretty much any business that dropped in our lap. Our property management operation handled all sorts of properties – apartments, condominiums, office buildings, shopping centers, industrial facilities, and even a golf course at one point in time. We rationalized accepting assignments of all types by positing that we were in the property management business. It’s true that we developed enough critical mass with these various types of properties, but I know for a fact that not all of the business was profitable. In fact, we lost money on certain assignments. We also claimed that we were taking assignments to develop relationships that could grow into something bigger and yes, profitable. Once in a while that happened. More often than not, it didn’t.

Today, we are much more targeted with what we do. Our different business units are disciplined to handling projects that are strategically aligned. And yes, we once again are involved with a golf course, but only because it came with the 612-unit apartment community that we acquired as part of a strategic initiative. Fortunately, we found a competent operator to whom we have contracted the golf course operations since this specialty is outside our wheelhouse.

Being an opportunity-driving entrepreneur will almost always produce better results than being opportunity-driven. To accomplish this we must be strategic and disciplined.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 95 – Hedges.

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.

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