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.

Keep the Line Moving

In November 2014, I wrote a blog about the Kansas City Royals major league baseball team and its losing effort in the World Series. A year later I’m pleased to once again write about the Kansas City Royals and the World Series . . . but this time the outcome is different because the Royals won the Series in five games. There’s a real symmetry with the parallels between how the Royals won and how entrepreneurs can win.

The 2015 Kansas City Royals was not a team of superstars. They were not a team of power hitters swinging for the fences and hitting the ball out of the park. In fact, Kansas City only hit two home runs during the World Series, and one was inside-the-park. The Royals won for a combination of reasons. First, all of the players bought into the culture and the plan that was conceived during spring training to win the championship. The players were aggressive at the plate and simply aspired to hit the ball and put it in play. They were intentional about trying to make contact with the ball and send it through the gaps. Once a player was on base the mantra became “keep the line moving.” In other words, the key to producing runs was to generate singles, doubles, walks – whatever it took for the next player to get on base and advance runners across home plate.

Kansas City players and coaches spent considerable time doing research on their opponents. But it didn’t stop there. They also analyzed data on the umpires to understand how strike zones were being maintained. They watched how certain infielders threw the ball to first base; how quickly outfielders got the ball back into the infield and the tendencies of pitchers with their windup motions. The Royals used this information to decide when to stretch singles into doubles – or when Eric Hosmer decided to make a mad dash from third base to home on a ball hit to the third baseman in Game 5. This was a team that hustled. This was a team where it was obvious that all of the players were having fun and enjoyed playing the game. Probably the most amazing trait of the Kansas City Royals was their ability to come back from being behind in the later innings of a game and win. Seven times in the postseason they came from multiple runs behind to win, and outscored their opponents 55 – 11 after the sixth inning. Every player believed that no matter what the odds, they would win and they literally willed it so.

Each of our entrepreneurial endeavors would be well served to use the 2015 Royals as a model. Do we have superstars in our midst who require the feeding of big egos? Do they sulk or create drama when things don’t go their way? Are we focused on hitting the big time, or do we work hard to apply the basics and fundamentals that produce the singles (and sometimes a double) in our everyday business lives? Have we developed a winning culture within our organization that values the contribution of every team member? Christian Colón, a Royals backup infielder, hadn’t played a single game in the post season. And yet he was asked to bat in the 12th inning of the final Game 5 against the Mets. Down in the count with two strikes he proceeded to hit the go-ahead run that led to the championship. Manager Ned Yost trusted Colón to bat as a backup just as he trusted every starting player on the team.

Are we sticklers for diving in and digging up data, then translating it into the myriad of ways that will help us win? Is our team all about hustle and having fun? Do our team members have resilience and a comeback mindset? When the chips are down do they give up or do they truly believe that they can cobble together whatever it takes to put a W on the scoreboard? Sports often offer a plethora of wonderful metaphors that correlate with the business world. But the winning ways of the 2015 Kansas City Royals may be the ultimate example in this respect.

“Keep the line moving” is both an aspirational and an inspirational business concept. It certainly worked for the Royals and is a winning notion for us as entrepreneurs.

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.

Royals World Series