The Swivel Headed Entrepreneur

A good pilot has his head on a swivel. He is constantly scanning his instrument panel as well as the skies around him. There may be other airplanes in the immediate area to avoid. Maybe there are TV towers or smokestacks to miss. Engine performance gauges must be monitored, and navigational displays are critical to comprehend. All of this can be summarized in two words . . . situational awareness. Without situational awareness we are more vulnerable to physical dangers around us. A lack of it can result in an auto accident, stepping off a curb and breaking an ankle, or starting a fire when the grill is too close to the house.

In the entrepreneurial world, situational awareness is worth its weight in gold. Now, you may be wondering how this concept applies to business situations. It has less to do with physical proximity and more to do with possessing a sixth sense about a multitude of factors. As entrepreneurs we can attain a much higher degree of success as we develop our entrepreneurial awareness. For example, how well do we sense what is happening in our marketplace? There is more to this than just crunching numbers. The key is to look behind the empirical data and understand what is truly happening. Here is a simplistic illustration. A quick look at market share might show that our firm is way out in front of the competition. And yet, we know that a start-up company has won three of the last five contracts for which we have competed. Not enough to move the market share needle but could signal trouble down the road. Situational awareness would have us take immediate action to understand why they are winning, and we are losing, and then do something about it.

Situational awareness from an entrepreneurial perspective involves a deep understanding of our customers and what makes them tick. Customer satisfaction surveys help in this regard, but we may need more than data. In person meetings are the best bet for getting a good read on our customers. If not in person, the next best option is a phone conference. At the root, we are looking for little tells that might indicate whether our customers are 100% in our camp. We encountered a situation a few years ago where we thought our client was totally satisfied with our services. Our team was convinced that we had performed as well as or better than expected. And yet, I had a gnawing feeling that something was amiss. When we dug in deeper, we learned that the client was hiring a competitor. The reason had nothing to do with our performance and everything to do with the fact that a corporate decision had been made to consolidate its business to a national company. I have always wondered whether we might have saved the business by doing some things in a radically different manner had our situational awareness enabled us to act sooner.

Finally, we must keep our finger on the pulse of our team. Are we on the lookout for signs of tension, boredom, or anxiety? It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day chaos that we all experience and miss the signals that are flashing relative to our team. Perhaps an outgoing team member who normally participates in company activities gradually pulls back and is less gregarious. Without situational awareness, we could easily overlook that this individual is headed for the exits until it is too late. Realizing this sooner might have given us a chance of resolving whatever issue is causing our teammate to look elsewhere.

Situational awareness at the entrepreneurial level requires a certain degree of intuition. But even more important is our being intentional about having a deeper understanding of that which is happening around us. Then we are less likely to unwittingly step off the cliff and into the abyss.

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 Unafraid Entrepreneur

I’ve heard it said that fear is a major motivation for entrepreneurs. This may be true but it’s not a healthy or effective motivator in my book. Think about what happens when we are afraid. Do we think with a high degree of clarity or are we focused on some form of self-preservation? Is our creativity in full bloom or do we just want to escape that which is making us fearful? Do we really want to be motivated by something so negative as is fear?

There’s no question that we entrepreneurs have moments when we are afraid. Perhaps we just learned that a major customer is going to stop giving us his business. What’s our immediate reaction? “Oh no! That customer represents 20% of our revenues and we’re going to have to lay people off!” We conjure up all sorts of horrible outcomes when we hear this news. And then it gets worse. Our negative thoughts multiply. “If that customer is unhappy enough to leave, I wonder how many other customers feel the same way. This could be a disaster! Our company could enter a death spiral and we’ll have to close the doors. What will I do next? Would someone even hire me after this debacle?”

It’s been my experience that rarely are things ever as bad as they might seem in the heat of the moment. What’s needed is an automatic diversion of some sort when thoughts of fear start to creep into our minds. And I have the perfect alternative for the ravages of dread and despair. Here’s the antidote . . . What could go right?

Here’s how it works. When something occurs that could have negative connotations – perhaps an event that stirs up severe anxiety – we stop and say, “what could go right?”  It’s like a train that is barreling down the tracks and it comes to a switch. If the switch is turned one way, the train goes to the left. If the switch is turned the other way, the train goes to the right. The mantra, “what could go right?” acts as that switch. If we go to the left, we are on the path to being afraid with a cascade of undesirable results. If we go to the right, we are on the path to calm and a highly desirable conclusion.

The notion of “what could go right?” is not just a blind state of Pollyanna. Instead, it’s a powerful frame of mind. In the example previously cited, let’s see how it might work. When the customer declares his intention to stop doing business with us, we immediately ask the question, “what could go right?” Rather than dwell on the loss of business, we drill down further and explore the cause for the customer’s departure. Let’s say that this individual was simply retiring and shutting down his operations – his decision had nothing to do with the product we’ve been providing. That doesn’t necessarily make the loss of revenues any easier, but at least we didn’t drive him away. We now have more capacity in our organization. In our newly found state of tranquility we remember hearing about a prospective customer that we have not pursued because we did not have the production capacity to meet her needs. But now . . . ! Without missing a beat, we set up a meeting with the prospective customer and guess what? She wants our product and her order will push our revenues beyond where they were with the departing customer.

Had we wallowed in fear, there is no way we would have looked for this new opportunity. We would have been “licking our wounds,” “regrouping,” and “hanging on for dear life.” Instead, we conquered fear before it ever took hold by asking ourselves the simple question, “What could go right?” We took the positive energy from that question and used it to kick our creativity into overdrive. And rather than seeing the situation as a problem to be solved, we viewed it as a steppingstone to even great good.

As entrepreneurs we’re in a much better position to enjoy positive outcomes when we look at everything with the question, “What could go right?”

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.

An Entrepreneur’s Philosophy

Jordan Peterson is a renowned Canadian clinical psychologist and psychology professor who wrote the bestselling book, 12 Rules for Life. I listened to an interview with him on one of my favorite podcasts, Econtalk with Russ Roberts. During the conversation, Peterson makes the following statement. “Life is fundamentally tragic, and ridden with suffering, and touched with malevolence and evil; and that goes for you and everyone around you.” And while Dr. Peterson may be highly respected and says much with which I agree, I must respectfully disagree with the preceding statement. Vehemently.

If we entrepreneurs bought into the premise that Life is Terrible, we’d never get out of bed in the morning. In fact, I believe just the opposite. Life is full of wonder and excitement. Life is full of joy and happiness. Life has far more upside than downside. And life offers unlimited opportunities for great and amazing things. This is not to ignore the fact that there are terrible things that do happen in life. But is life fundamentally tragic as Peterson posits? I think not.

I think it all boils down to perspective. If we choose to believe that Life is Terrible, it will be. Similarly, if we choose to believe that Life is Great, it will be. I’m not naïve enough to suggest that subscribing to the latter means that there will never be mountains to climb and challenges to overcome. But think about this. If we believe that Life is Terrible, those mountains are much harder to climb and the challenges much more difficult to overcome. It’s like adding a 75 pound weight to our back. What’s the point?

By now you know that I am the poster boy for optimism and positive thought. I attribute this mindset to the success I’ve realized over the course of my career. One of my mantras has always been, “What I think in my mind will become reality.” Because I only want Good in my life, I’m going to do my darndest to only think in positive terms.

We entrepreneurs have a lot to worry about . . . if we choose to worry. We could obsess over market share, customer reviews, rising labor costs, cash flow (or lack thereof), sales increasing too slowly, sales decreasing too quickly, government regulation, competition, legal issues, succession planning, production issues and whether we remembered to close the garage door when we left home this morning. Whew! Just thinking about all of this wears me out. But with all of this worry, concern and obsession, what exactly has been accomplished?

Being a Type A personality and maintaining a “chill pill” attitude isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Over the years I’ve discovered that concentrating my energies – mental and otherwise – on taking positive and productive steps leads to positive and productive results. There’s a surefire method that I use to measure my stress factor in this regard. I use a wrist cuff and take my blood pressure and pulse every day. I record it on a log including the time of day as well as notations as to what might have been occurring just prior to the reading. This single act is enough to serve as a reminder to remain calm. I’ve found that each year, my average systolic and diastolic readings have gradually decreased.

I’ve also trained myself to live in gratitude as much of the day as possible. When I am outwardly grateful to others for all of the good they do for me, a form of armor is created that protects me from the Life is Terrible syndrome. I’ve also found that there’s always a solution for just about every difficulty we may encounter. Somehow things just seem to always work out. I don’t think this is by accident. By maintaining focus on positive outcomes and really believing that we are entitled to them, they ultimately manifest. No longer do I blow a gasket when something doesn’t happen as planned. No longer do I wake up in the middle-of-the-night with cold sweats and a feeling of impending doom. No longer do I experience free-floating anxiety.

Jordan Peterson’s “Life is Terrible” philosophy is dangerous for entrepreneurs to adopt. A “Life is Great” mindset opens the way for a rich and full experience every single day.

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 103 – Goody Two-Shoes.

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.