The Whale Shark Entrepreneur

Solving problems is a hallmark of entrepreneurship. Challenges are presented every single day of our existence – some small, some large and some that are the size of a 41,000-pound Whale Shark. Regardless of their size, we know that we must persevere and work through the many issues we face. Let’s stop for a moment and think about our problem-solving encounters. Are they particularly stressful or do we handle them on an even-keeled basis?

There have been periods in my career where problem-solving was extremely hard. Why? Because I made it so. There were times when nothing seemed to go right. It was like putting together a jig-saw puzzle and there was a piece that I absolutely, positively knew belonged in a specific location, but it wouldn’t quite fit. It was a maddening experience until I eventually figured out that I had jammed the correct piece in another spot – and that was also wrong. How did I feel? Frustrated is an understatement. At other times I’d be cruising along fixing little nits and nats along the way, only to find that other minor issues would keep cropping up. I remember putting together model airplanes as a kid. I might get a little too much glue on one part that would leak out through the seam. Or my hand wasn’t as steady as necessary, and I’d get some paint in the wrong place. How did I feel? Irritated is the proper term.

Frustration, irritation, anger, and anxiety are all emotions that we can feel when we are dealing with our challenges du jour. Then when a Whale Shark-sized problem swims by, it can push us over the edge into a full-blown meltdown. I’ve been there with all of this and I’m betting that you’ve been there too. Eliminating the drama in my life has been a priority in recent years. I decided to try and become more like a robot in this regard  . . . a robot named Zen! As time has passed, I’ve become much friendlier with Zen. I’m much less inclined to major in drama where problem-solving is concerned.

Here’s how I’m succeeding at experiencing less in the way of negative emotions when dealing with business and personal obstacles alike. I’m not a poker player but have watched enough poker to understand what a “poker face” is all about. So, I try and emulate a poker player when I’m working a problem. It’s become a game for me to see if I can reach a solution without anyone (including myself) detecting frustration, irritation, or any other unfavorable emotion. This works most of the time for small issues.

For larger problems I take a deep breath, smile, and gulp in a healthy dose of positivity and optimism. Starting from a positive place is critical. Recently I heard someone reject optimism in favor of hope. To me, optimism is more of an action-oriented belief system. Hope is like keeping my fingers crossed. I’d rather place my trust in visualizing a positive outcome than keeping a rabbit’s foot in my pocket. Each step of the way I remind myself to stay positive and avoid the negative emotions. I look for the small victories along the way. And guess what – there are small victories during solving large challenges if we look for them. They are like steppingstones that take us from one side of the stream to the other without getting our feet wet.

Finally, here’s my approach to the Whale Shark problems. I get into a clinical state of mind. I map out a process from A to Z. My business colleagues know that I work a lot with spreadsheets and diagrams. I use these tools quite often to figure out the really big, hairy, tough stuff. This is where my robot, Zen, enters the picture. I love the story about Captain Sully Sullenberger who landed his US Airways aircraft on the Hudson River when both engines flamed out after ingesting a flock of geese. This man became a robot. In his mind he mapped out a solution to the problem. He remained calm and didn’t panic. Sully didn’t agonize over the decisions he made because there wasn’t time to do so. Embracing a process-driven approach and maintaining focus is the best way to avoid destructive negative emotions when solving the Whale Shark-sized problems.

We will succeed to a much greater degree when we learn how to control or eliminate negative emotions when solving problems. Then it doesn’t matter if the issue is small, large or of a Whale Shark scale – we’re well prepared.

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 Cumulative Effect of Little Things

Customers quit all the time. Many entrepreneurs work extremely hard to prevent the big screw-ups that alienate and enrage customers. Yet, even with this effort, there are still customers that leave and don’t come back. What’s up with this?

Consider this scenario. An entrepreneur has opened a new restaurant and works 24/7 to develop a loyal clientele. Over time the restaurant grows and enjoys success – it’s even profitable! But then its trajectory levels off. It’s not growing like it was and some of the regular faces aren’t there anymore. The entrepreneur studies his operation but can’t find anything glaring that is causing this trend. His puzzlement and frustration grow. Why isn’t he winning like he used to?

Had the entrepreneur taken a much closer and more granular look, he might have discovered the root cause of his problem. Had he followed one of his oldest customers – we’ll be original and call him Mr. Smith – he might have observed the following occurrences. On one occasion, Mr. Smith made a reservation in advance, but when he arrived the time was wrong. The hostess apologized profusely, but it did cause minor inconvenience to the customer. In another instance Mr. Smith’s credit card was declined. After an embarrassing moment for Mr. Smith, the server found that the credit card terminal was on the fritz. A few weeks later Mr. Smith was in a hurry to leave for a business appointment and his lunch was delayed due to a mix-up in the kitchen. Another time his steak wasn’t properly prepared. In still another instance, one of the side dishes he ordered was forgotten.

These seemingly small and inconsequential issues continued to occur over a period of months. Mr. Smith did not encounter problems every time he ate at the restaurant. But they happened often enough that he began to feel as though this eatery wasn’t the bright and shiny object that it had once appeared to be. Gradually Mr. Smith came to the restaurant with less frequency. The final straw came on a day when Mr. Smith noticed he had been charged for an appetizer he hadn’t ordered. The bill was corrected, but that was the last time Mr. Smith ever patronized the restaurant.

I call what happened here The Cumulative Effect of Little Things. The entrepreneur who owned the restaurant was prone to look at each minor problem on a stand-alone basis. And when viewed in this manner, it’s a mystery to see how a slightly undercooked steak here or a credit card snafu there could be enough to chase away a customer. He was looking for and trying to prevent, much larger issues. What he failed to understand is that the small stuff contributes to an overall customer experience. If Mr. Smith had visited the restaurant only once, he probably wouldn’t have given much thought to the fact that his meal arrived four minutes before that of his dining companion. But Mr. Smith was a regular customer and his impression of the restaurant was driven by an accumulation of experiences.

We can keep The Cumulative Effect of Little Things from causing our customers to quit. How? There are two ways. First, we must be sticklers for the small details. With the right systems, processes and team member training, we can eliminate the small mistakes that seemingly happen every day and yet are excused as too minor to matter. Second, we must be joined at the hip with our customers. It’s crucial that we know what they are experiencing at all times. Continuing with the restaurant example, when the owner or general manager shows up at my table at some point during the meal; chats briefly with me and asks (genuinely) what can be done to make my dining experience better, then I know I’m dealing with someone who really cares about me as a customer. I generally don’t ever encounter problems in those restaurants.

Customers leave more often than not as a result of The Cumulative Effect of Little Things rather than a major malfunction. Caring about the little details AND the customer will go a long way to creating a loyal following.

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.

Armor Plated

Question: I have worked for years with a particular client and he never shows me one single sign of appreciation. The results I have produced for this client have been terrific by any standard. Why won’t he recognize my efforts?

Answer: I’ve certainly experienced the same thing over the course of my career. And I’ve learned several things that may be helpful in understanding this sort of situation. First, some people are just not wired to show appreciation to others. Second, there may be the belief that we are being paid for the services we provide and that is enough of a demonstration of appreciation. Third, if the business arrangement is recurring and requires the renewal of a contract the client may feel that the continuation of the relationship is sufficient proof of appreciation. Fourth, some people may believe that showing appreciation is reserved for personal relationships and not business situations. And finally, it’s possible that a client doesn’t express appreciation because he isn’t satisfied with the product or service being provided.

I’ve come to realize that none of these reasons is necessarily right or wrong. What’s more important is how we feel and react. We have no control over how others act but we do make a choice as to how we respond. Do we allow ourselves to feel hurt and victimized? Do we choose to become resentful and irritated?

Feeling unappreciated can actually be turned into a positive experience. We can make the choice not to allow how we are treated by others to affect the way we see ourselves. This is akin to developing a suit of armor that enables us not to even give a second thought to what may be perceived or real sleights on the part of others. But the bigger win is to observe what we consider to be the less desirable traits and tendencies of others and do just the opposite. If someone is not showing appreciation, rather than allowing this to upset us we can make an extra effort to show appreciation to others.

Life is full of opportunity. Almost every situation that we might consider negative has a positive side. The choices we make will determine whether or not we live a happy and vibrant life. How others act toward us need not have any bearing on this truth.

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.