The Reactionary Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is all about innovation and being on the cutting edge. It’s about dreaming, creating and doing things our own way. Sound about right to you? Then what would you say if I told you that another aspect of entrepreneurship is being a reactionary? Actually I’m taking liberties with the term. When I was reaching adulthood in the late sixties and early seventies, a reactionary was usually associated with a person who was protesting the Vietnam War, and might use extreme measures to do so. To be sure, I’m not referring to entrepreneurs as this kind of reactionary. Entrepreneurs are reactionary in the sense that we are often reactive. What we react to can be make or break for our enterprise. Let’s look at two different aspects of being reactive.

Many entrepreneurs react to their competition. This is evident every day as we watch companies raise or lower prices based upon what they see their competitors doing. But there are many other examples of how this is being done. Company A produces a wearable device that measures the steps taken by a consumer. Company B produces a similar device that measures steps, but it also measures sleep patterns. Executives at Company A become concerned that it will lose market share, so they order the  production of an upgraded device that measures, steps, sleep and calories consumed. This is the additional “bells and whistles” approach. This arms race continues unabated – we’ve all seen it over and over.

While it’s important to know what our competition is doing, there’s something even more important to which we must react. Smart entrepreneurs react to their customers. Just because Company B produced a wearable device that measures steps, sleep, calories, plays music, allows the viewing of text messages AND counts the number of black cats that cross our path, it doesn’t mean that their customers actually want such features. Rather than participate in the aforementioned arms race with his/her competition, the smart entrepreneur drills down to understand what customers want and need, and then focuses on producing a product that responds accordingly.

Normally we say that we want to be proactive. We tend to think that being reactive is somehow “behind the curve.” In many areas of entrepreneurship this way of thinking is absolutely correct. We may equate being reactive to being unprepared, slow to respond or being a step or two behind. As entrepreneurs we need to be proactive when it comes to our production methods, marketing and sales ideas, and in all areas of human resources. But, being reactive to our customers is just plain good business.

Let’s break this down further. If we are totally and continuously connected to our customers, we are going to know immediately when they perceive issues with our products and services, giving us the opportunity to make the necessary adjustments. For example, maybe we make a thing-a-ma-jig that is blue. But we learn from some of our customers that they really want it to be red. We react and begin making a red version. This is good. Suppose that our delivery time used to be one week and now is two. Our customers begin telling us that two weeks is too long. So we react and tighten our delivery schedule. This is not good. Why? Because we should know that customers don’t want to wait two weeks for anything – everyone wants everything yesterday. We should have been proactive in this instance and never let the delivery schedule push out to two weeks. Instead, we should have been proactively trying to figure out how to shorten the timeframe from one week to a couple of days.

The entrepreneur who is constantly reacting to his/her competitors is the one who is behind the curve. Always trying to one-up the competition is a dangerous game to play unless it is done in concert with understanding the needs and wants of the customer. And then, the focus actually shifts from the competition to the customer. In the end, this may result in besting the other competitor in the space – but that wasn’t the primary objective.

Being an entrepreneurial reactionary makes sense when we are reacting to what we can do better for our customers. Then we can be proactive in all other aspects of our enterprise.

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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.

Knock-Knock . . .

Knock-knock. Who’s there? Problem. Problem who? This childhood riddle is emblematic of a common perspective that many of our daily encounters present problems for us. But are they really problems? I’m sure that an argument can be made that anything a bit perplexing or where a less-than-favorable outcome is realized, could be considered a problem. But why do we choose to believe this so often? Some of us by nature are problem-solvers (I’ve been known to fall in this category) and so we may see situations as problems to be solved. But I submit that there is a different way to look at this.

For the last many years, I’ve become more and more inclined to be an “opportunity-seeker.” And what a difference it makes to see things as less problematic and more opportunistic. Obviously this is a subtle shift in mindset – does it really matter what we call it? I believe that it does because of how we tend to react internally to problems versus opportunities. Some of our natural feelings when facing a problem may be dread, fear, surprise, fatigue, victimization, overload, resignation, procrastination and apathy. All of these feelings are cloaked in negativity. Of course there are positive ways to view problems and many of us may do so; but I’ll bet that the natural tendency is to focus more on the negative perspective.

On the other hand, becoming an “opportunity-seeker” is a proactive and positive manner in which to move through challenging situations. Notice my language here. I didn’t talk about “facing” a problem. I didn’t talk about a “resolution.” Instead I used the words “move through challenging situations.” This sounds effortless but it’s not. However, the process of “moving through challenging situations” does not have to be filled with our own emotional downside drama. And there’s one component to being an “opportunity-seeker” that makes it all worthwhile in my view. We get to unleash our creativity.

Creativity is one of the most positive energies that we can experience. It’s much more expansive than just figuring out how to fix something. Metaphorically speaking, creativity enables us to make things bigger and better. I’m sure you’ve felt the frustration of trying to put together a puzzle where you simply can’t find the right piece. We just want to “fix” the situation by finding the missing piece and moving on – right? Contrast this with taking a pile of Lego® pieces and building an object right out of our minds-eye. That’s the difference between being a problem-solver and an opportunity seeker. Some situations will always require finding the right piece to the puzzle no matter how creative we want to be. But we can find a way to harness our creativity in every situation. In the literal case of the puzzle, perhaps we can become more imaginative in the way we sift through the pieces to find the right one. Or maybe we make a game out of it.

When we choose to stop seeing challenging situations as problems we cease limiting ourselves to being only problem-solvers. Moving through challenging situations by looking for opportunities to be creative opens the way for feelings of joy, accomplishment, euphoria, happiness and satisfaction. Knock-knock. Who’s there? Opportunity!

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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