Not a Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a prince who traveled to the far reaches of the kingdom. He spied a young woman who was the most magnificent creature he had ever seen. The prince spoke to her and rather than being demure, she was witty and charming in her reply. They conversed for nearly an hour over a chalice of wine and the prince hurried back to the castle in a state of euphoria. He just knew that he was going to take this woman to be his wife. After telling his father and mother about his encounter, he set about making plans for the wedding. The royal florist was summoned as was the baker. The wedding was going to be an elaborate affair with only the finest of materials for the bride’s gown. Special jewelry was to be made for the soon-to-be-bride, and the prince had a long conversation with the priest about the ceremony. He also cast about to find the perfect location for a new home to be constructed inside the castle walls and met several times with the royal furniture and cabinet makers.

Everything was going to be perfect . . . or so thought the prince . . . except for one thing. The woman with whom the young prince was smitten was already married. In his eagerness to move forward with a wedding and a life with a new wife, the prince ignored the first step in developing a plan. He forgot to get the facts first.

It’s easy to fall into this trap whether we’re entrepreneurs or not. We become so enamored with an idea that we immediately want to plunge into developing a plan to make it a reality. Then we either pay lip service to the facts, or we just blow right on by this step. Fact Finding should always be Step One for any planning process.

Suppose we have an idea to scale our business. We’ve been sailing along making a reasonable profit, but believe that we could really make it big if we could only grow much larger and capture a wide range of efficiencies in our processes and cost structure. Our experience in the industry is extensive and we think we’re tuned in to the nuances of the market. We begin to look at all of the different options for expansion. The owner of a competitor is rumored to be retiring and perhaps we could acquire his company. There’s a sharp woman in another city that we’ve been recruiting for quite some time – she could open an operation for us in that city. Our production line has been running at full capacity for over a year. Maybe we could invest in a second production line that would allow us to ramp-up even further. Lots of ideas are swirling around and suddenly we’ve entered the Danger Zone. Why? Without some serious Fact Finding we could make a number of mistakes with our expansion – some of which could be fatal.

For starters, even though we think we know the market like the back of our hand, there may be subtle shifts that we haven’t noticed. When is the last time we calculated our market share and that of our competitors? What is the longer term outlook for our product? Maybe it’s going great guns right now, but in two years it will be obsolete because a better mousetrap is in the offing. Do we have more than anecdotal evidence that there’s demand for a second production line?

The Fact Finding step should take a “fresh eyes” approach to all aspects of our business and the market. It’s as though we are entering the business for the first time. No matter how much we think we know; no matter how experienced we think we are, looking at everything with a fresh and detailed perspective is critical to our success and maybe even our survival.

Great ideas need to be fleshed out in a careful and systematic fashion. While we don’t want to be frozen in analysis paralysis, performing adequate Fact Finding should always be the first step when creating an implementation plan.

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 44.

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.

Mistake-Prone

I have a philosophy that mistakes are simply unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life. That doesn’t mean we want to leave unfinished the same experiment over and over. But being too tentative and too cautious to avoid making a mistake may itself be a mistake! The obvious conclusion is that we want to learn from our mistakes and turn them into productive experiences.

To turn our mistakes into productive experiences we need to analyze them in a process-oriented manner. Being a go-go entrepreneur, it’s not easy for me to slow down long enough to reflect on what went wrong. Generally I just want to get back in the game and do it right the next time. This worked somewhat well in the past, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that being more intentional about analyzing mistakes increases the odds of not making the same mistake again. It also has caused me to look for the “silver lining” – that nugget of information that might enable me to turn the mistake into something unintentionally positive.

Step One in my mistake analysis process involves the simple act of identifying what went wrong and writing it down. Yes, I know this takes time, but it forces us to take a hard look at what happened. Did I follow an established process or did I deviate from it – maybe even wing it? Did I fail to build-in a sufficient margin of safety at the front end? Did I somehow ignore warning signals that were flashing at me? Was I driven by emotion or was my initiative grounded in facts? I’ve found that most of my mistakes came from deviating from an established process. Because of my go-go nature I want results to happen very quickly. By analyzing my mistakes I’ve recognized a tendency pattern to cut corners.

Step Two requires that we consciously determine what we need to do differently and commit to do it. Knowing that I have the propensity to cut corners, I have become committed to following established processes. Before I move forward with anything I’m doing, I stop myself and ask the simple question, “What is the process that needs to be followed?” I make certain that I know exactly what the process should be and then I affirm, “I know the process and I will follow it.” Sometimes I may even make this pledge to a close colleague for accountability sake.

The final step in mistake analysis is that of looking for the “silver lining.” History is littered with mistakes that resulted in brilliance. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin due to a mistake he made in his lab. Another famous mistake at the 3M laboratories turned into Post-it Notes. Plastic was invented as the result of a mistake – some say that Charles Goodyear left a mixture of rubber and sulfur on the stove too long and found that he had created a new material. Wilson Greatbatch was building a heart rhythm recording device in 1956; used a wrong part, and realized that the device would maintain a heart rhythm – thus the pacemaker was born. If we don’t look for the silver linings in our mistakes we may never find that little (or big) something that manifests into a positive development. Finding the silver lining requires a creative mindset – perhaps this is an exercise that can be done with others. Take the mistake and purposefully look through the “rubble” to see if there’s anything of value that might be useful.

Mistakes don’t have to be the end of the world for us if we take the time to find out what happened; how we’re going to act differently in the future and committing to such different action, and finding the silver linings that may be hiding in plain sight.

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.

mistakes

Cucumber Cool

Question: Some people never seem to get flustered when situations become chaotic. How do they do that?

Answer: We all would like to stay cool, calm and collected when the pressure rises. Sometimes it’s not easy to do. My dad was one such individual. He was trained as a scientist and was absolutely steady as a rock. When my mother would become excited about something, he was unflappable. I studied his quiet manner for many years and often wondered if what I saw on the outside was really happening the same way on the inside. As an adult I was finally able to answer this question the more mature I became.

Dad really was cool as a cucumber inside and out. His scientific background helped him analyze everything and find the facts rather than getting caught up in the emotion. Dad also never took himself too seriously. I can’t remember a single display of egotistical behavior in all of the years he was alive. These attributes are instructive for all of us.

When things start to spin out of control, we can look for the facts. Analytical thinking tends to be a calming process and may be a steadying influence. Imagine a circumstance where we are feeling “fight or flight.” Suppose a large customer has just indicated that it is no longer going to purchase from us. The revenue loss from this customer will mean employee layoffs and potential losses for the company. The staff is upset and panicked over the news. What is needed is someone who hasn’t lost his or her cool. This can happen if we focus on obtaining the facts about the situation. Our words and demeanor are soothing and our pursuit of a logical conclusion is comforting to those around us. Panic and discouragement give way to our team figuring out how to turn lemons into lemonade.

In addition to calmly tackling the situation in a clinical fashion we also avoid letting our egos get in the way. We show concern for others and help them manage through their feelings. We stay positive and upbeat. The people around us see that we’re unruffled and in a problem-solving mode and they respond in kind. Our approach to an unsettling situation helps to defuse the anxiety and channel it productively.

Staying cool, calm and collected is not an act but a mindset. Generally an emotional response to a negative situation does little to produce a resolution. When we shift into analyzing the facts and subordinate our egos to others, they are reassured and able to function in a fruitful manner.

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.

Cucumber on White