The Rabbit Trail Entrepreneur

I’ve had many conversations over the years with bright energetic entrepreneurs. In each instance, they had a burning desire to build their business. And in all cases, they were filled with ideas, but implementation was a challenge – after all, the day-to-day aspects of running their businesses needed constant attention. It’s easy to see what often happens next. I call it rabbit trails. We become enamored with one idea and rush to put it into action. Then another idea emerges and yet another. Meanwhile every time a “rabbit” pops up we are ready to chase it down its hole. This is an exhausting process! And we never seem to get where we want to go.

There is a cure for rabbit trails. Very simply, we need to know what it looks like when we get there. In other words – what’s our vision? Think about it this way. The weather is miserable outside – we want to relax in the warm sunshine. We know that it’s sunny and warm in Florida, so that’s where we head. Our vision is relaxing in the warm sunshine. We plot a course via air or car to get there. Now, here’s the rabbit trail approach. The weather outside is miserable. We jump in the car and start driving to get away. On off ramp appears ahead and we take it thinking maybe the weather will be better where it leads. As we drive along the frontage road, we see a sign directing us to yet another destination and we make the turn. Eventually after multiple detours . . . we run out of gas. The analogy is similar to what it’s like when we run our business without a vision.

My advice to my entrepreneur friends was the same in every case. Start with the end in sight. Spend the time necessary to truly understand what it looks like when you get there. Think big and even bigger. Decide upon a timeframe. Are you looking out three years, five years or even longer? Avoiding rabbit trails is critical. Having clarity about where we’re going is the solution.

Now it’s time to work backwards. By understanding where we’re going, we can identify the course that we’ll need to take to get there in the prescribed timeframe. This course may appear to be precise, but we all know that there may be a need for corrections along the way. By “reverse engineering” our vision we can determine our strategy for achieving it as well as the individual tactics that will support the strategy. A big vision may require big resources and this process will help us identify the level of human and capital resources. All of this will help us assess how realistic our vision is and guide us to make the necessary adjustments.

There is another aspect to avoiding rabbit trails. I’ve written several times before about the notion of “why” we do what we do. Our organizations also need a “why.” In Corporate America today a CEO can tell us what his company does. He can tell us how it’s done. But when asked “why” his company does what it does, he may struggle with this question. Often the answer may be, “we do what we do to produce a return on investment for our shareholders.” But that’s not really a “why.” There are nine “whys” that include: 1) Doing things the right way; 2) Doing things a better way (innovation); 3) Making sense of complexity; 4) Making a difference; 5) Creating trust and building relationships; 6) Simplifying things; 7) Mastering things; 8) Challenging the status quo and thinking differently, and 9) Creating clarity. Often the “why” of an organization mirrors the “why” of its founder/leader.

Understanding our personal “why” and the “why” of our organization will enable us to develop a vision that is congruent with that “why.” Thus, it is critical that the “why” and a vision be developed in concert. We will struggle to implement a vision that isn’t aligned with our “why.”

Rabbit trails can be all consuming. Determining our “why” and defining a clear picture of what it looks like when we get there will help keep us on the path to success.

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 No-Replays-Allowed Entrepreneur

Recently I was speaking with a man who was miserable in his job. He was feeling very stifled and unappreciated. He told me about several decisions his boss had made that proved costly to the company and impacted his bonus on a personal level. He was particularly incensed that the boss shielded his superiors from the rest of the troops – and thus the higher-ups in the organization were unaware of the screw-ups and incompetence that were evident. Going over the boss’ head would be suicide. Have you ever heard this before? Perhaps you’ve even experienced it yourself.

We might be tempted to simply dismiss this as a classic case of job dissatisfaction, which it is – but . . . For 20 minutes this person went over and over the issues with which he had been dealing. He was intense. He was angry. This individual had a passion for what he had been doing and felt as though this passion had been stolen from him. Without a doubt he was grieving over what was obviously a loss for him. And to make matters worse, he felt powerless to do anything about it.

I recounted to him what he had told me and followed up with this statement, “So, it sounds like you’re done, right?” After a brief pause, he said, “Yeah, I guess so.” And then he repeated it a bit more emphatically. He was so mired in misery that he hadn’t really come to grips with the fact that he had already made up his mind to make a change. At this point I redirected the conversation and began to ask a series of questions intended to stimulate his vision for the future and what he’d like to do. Yet, he continued to re-hash what he was encountering in his present position. Finally, I asked his permission and then offered him the following advice, “You’ve already walked through the gate. Close it; don’t look back and move on.”

I realize that this advice may sound trite and overly simplistic. But if you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you’ll understand how easy it is to become trapped in a vicious cycle of “replays.” This is where we replay blow-by-blow how we’ve been wronged. Somehow, we’re transformed from savvy entrepreneurs into finger-pointing victims. What to do?

Intuitively we know that the replays must stop, and we must move on. It’s also true that we may not necessarily have someone around who will shake us out of our funk. It’s a fact that the negative energy expended with the replays has never solved the problem for anyone. So, we have a choice to make, and there’s only one choice. Remaining locked into the status quo isn’t an option. And we’ll assume that there’s nothing we can do to improve the status quo.

I recommend taking the following steps. First, we affirm that we are ready to move on. The best affirmation is to quit whatever situation is no longer tenable. But that might not be immediately possible. If it’s a job or a partnership, it may be necessary to map out an alternative before making a move. But emphatically making the decision is vital. Second, we set a timetable for moving on, especially if it’s going to take a while to plot our course. Third – and this one is important – we create a vision of our future. If there were no obstacles in our way, what would we be doing five years from now? I always suggest painting the grandest picture possible and then work backwards to the present. This can be an exhilarating exercise and helps create a positive mindset for moving forward to make our vision a reality. Putting this vision in writing is critical along with identifying the process we will undertake to get from here to there.

Being stuck in replay mode when we’re mired in a hopeless situation does nothing more than make us miserable. Affirming that we’re done with the negative circumstances; committing to a timetable and creating a vision for our future are the steps needed to move forward.

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 Storytelling Entrepreneur

If you strive to be a successful entrepreneur it’s incumbent upon you to be able to persuade others to buy from you whether it’s a product, a service, and idea or whatever. The same goes for you even if you aren’t an entrepreneur. Somewhere along the line you must convince someone else to say “yes” to you. With that as the backdrop, consider the following pitches for the same product.

Scenario #1: The Jimmy Styks Apex Hybrid 114 Stand-Up Paddle Board is one of the best paddle boards on the market today. This paddle board is 11’4” in length, 32” in width and amazingly light at 33 pounds with a thickness of only 4.8”. The 5” nose rocker and the 3” tail rocker offer tremendous stability for this sleek wave runner. And its rugged design will accommodate an NFL-sized bruiser of up to 260-pounds. Real bamboo inlays provide superior strength, and utility tie-downs keep your gear in place while you paddle. The board is camera mount ready, and a carry handle is included for easy transport to and from the water. This is a top-of-the-line model and will give you years of pleasure on the water.

Scenario #2: I went on a journey the other day. But it wasn’t the kind of journey with which you might be familiar. The ocean was like glass and I could see to the bottom 40 feet below. Fish were swimming everywhere and I saw a baby octopus poke out from between two rocks. My Jimmy Styks Stand-Up Paddle Board was my constant companion as I glided effortlessly across the surface. After about 20 minutes something glistening caught my eye. The sun was bright overhead and I stopped to look. There it was again! Something was definitely on the bottom and was shining in such a way as though it was beckoning to me. I dove to the bottom and gently brushed back the sand. Yes! It was a Spanish gold doubloon. I brought it to the surface for closer inspection and found it to be in perfect condition with a mint stamp of 1798. Wow! I dove back to the same spot and there, waiting for me, were five more doubloons – a truly amazing find. Thankfully my Jimmy Styks comes equipped with a carrying case into which I stashed my treasure and utilized the built-in gear tie-downs.

Since that first journey I’ve taken many others to the same spot. Fortunately, my Jimmy Styks can hold a lot of weight, up to 260-pounds. I only weigh 180 so I was able to haul a lot more treasure from that spot with each visit. I mounted a GoPro camera on the board to record my recovery effort and was gratified that my bamboo-constructed Jimmy Styks was so stable, even with the weight of shifting gold, diamonds, and emeralds. Yes – I also found exquisite baubles on the ocean floor as well – a real pirate’s treasure. In all, there was 100 pounds of the stuff. And I was able to quit my job and now live the life of leisure thanks to my Jimmy Styks Apex Hybrid 114 Stand-Up Paddle Board.

Far too often we try to persuade others with facts and figures. While important, facts and figures don’t tell the whole story. And that’s just the point. Storytelling is a much more powerful method to help someone buy something. I don’t know about you, but I would be much more inclined to have an interest in purchasing a Jimmy Styks Stand Up Paddle Board after listening to the story in Scenario #2. The recitation of facts in Scenario #1 was fine, but I wasn’t particularly inspired. Customers are more likely persuaded to buy from us when we inspire them in some fashion.

Storytelling is an effective way for us to help others buy from us. Painting a picture that someone can envision is more inspiring than simply pointing out facts and features.

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 “Disneyland” Entrepreneur

We’ve explored the concept of Vision in this blog before. But I’d like to share a technique that has worked for me – perhaps you’ll find it valuable too. Simply put, vision is “what it looks like when we get there.” Remember when we were young and a family vacation to Disneyland was being planned? What was the focus? It wasn’t so much on the long journey to get there. Instead, we could see ourselves riding in the Tomorrowland Jets (long gone now) or in a Matterhorn Bobsled. We could taste the cotton candy and hear the whistle on the Mark Twain Riverboat. In other words, we had a vision in our minds-eye of what we were going to experience.

As entrepreneurs we have that same vision. The problem for most of us is that it remains trapped inside our heads. We struggle to articulate it to others. And so, our team members punch the clock every day with no clear idea of “what it looks like when we get there.” It seems clear to us, but they don’t have a clue.

I struggled to communicate my vision for many years. I often launched initiatives and undertook projects that all made sense within the framework of my vision – but to others it seemed like a helter-skelter approach to something that was undefined. At times, members of our team expressed frustration with the process and begged for a clearer picture. I had tried reducing my vision to writing, but a few bullet points later even I was uninspired.

At the urging of a friend and former colleague I took another stab at it a few years ago. But instead of trying to put it on paper in a concise one or two paragraph manner I went a different direction. I decided to tell a story. I mocked up a Wall Street Journal masthead and put myself in the shoes of a WSJ reporter writing a profile of my company – ten years in the future. I picked the name of a real reporter and the date on the masthead was really ten years out. And then I told the story in considerable detail. What unfolded were several aspirations; explanations of how the aspirations were to be achieved and ensuing measures of success. I quoted real people. I talked about how our customers were going to feel. Our culture was highlighted, and several strategies were outlined. One thousand seven hundred and seventy words later a clear picture emerged representing “what it looks like when we get there.”

For the past two years I’ve been explaining the vision story to everyone in the company. My vision needs to become a shared vision and I’m eager and willing to tweak it so that it is inspiring to as many members of the team as possible. We’re beginning to work backwards from what it looks like ten years in the future, to identify the various strategies that will be needed to reach the vision. Clearly there’s a lot of work to be done – but finally; for the first time in 50 years, everyone has a clear picture of where we’re going.

If you’ve been having a tough time articulating your vision, I encourage you to write your own story. And if writing isn’t really your thing, sit down with someone who has the gift of prose and tell him or her the story from your heart. This person can serve as your translator and put on paper the story that you will share with your team. You’ll have several re-writes. You’ll add, delete, clarify, expand, and fine tune. Just remember that the final product should be inspirational. It should be as big and bold as you desire. And anyone reading it should come away without any doubt about “what it looks like when we get there.”

We all have a Disneyland image of some sort for the organization to which we have committed so much of our lives. We can share it with others through a storytelling process that creates clarity and a call to action.

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 Opportunity-Juggling Entrepreneur

Are you a juggler? Or do you like to focus on one thing at a time? This is the classic conundrum for an entrepreneur. True confession. My personality is such that I could become easily bored if forced to focus on only one thing. I flourish when I am juggling 67 balls and trying to keep every single one of them in the air. There are times when juggling is not only useful but necessary. And there are times when intense focus is mandatory. Mind you, I can focus like a laser when I absolutely must. But I do not really like to do this day-in and day-out.

In the start-up world, venture capitalists often advise entrepreneurial founders to focus on a single product or service. This is generally sound advice. Too often, founders “flit” all over the place with a million ideas and are masters of none. I understand this. At the earliest stages of the corporate lifecycle, we are searching to find the right product; the right features; and the right market. As a result, we may tend to cast a wide net over many products, many features, and many markets, looking for the right combination in the process. And so, the juggling act begins.

There is a fine line between juggling to fine-tune a product or service and juggling a panoply of unrelated ideas that we think are opportunities. One of our business units is focused on acquiring market-rate apartment properties across the country. This product set has been painstakingly refined and our team is very disciplined within the parameters that have been established. This strategy calls for purchasing properties of 200 to 600-units, built in the 1980s to 2000s, and located in larger markets in the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest. I am very supportive of this approach. A couple years ago I suggested that we purchase some smaller properties in the same markets for a different group of investors wishing to write smaller equity checks. Fortunately, our team knows my proclivities and accommodated my suggestion. I think they would prefer to maintain their focus on the larger properties. But they understand that this second product set provides some diversification as well as some operating efficiencies. Needless to say, this additional strategy has caused a certain amount of juggling to accomplish.

Many of the great companies have started with a single product. Amazon sold only books in the early days. One could order hard copy books and eventually digital books that could be read on Amazon’s e-reader, the Kindle. It was years before Amazon began juggling in the sale of other products. Apple did the same thing with a personal computer. Again, it was years before they started selling MP3 players, phones, and other electronic devices. Somewhere along the line these companies had to begin juggling in a more robust manner. What was the inflection point? If you are an entrepreneur, have you found the inflection point where juggling more opportunities is appropriate and perhaps even necessary?

Working within a team structure is critical to discovering the right time to begin juggling more and more opportunities. Debating and discussing a multitude of ideas is healthy and will lead to the right decision. One thing I appreciate about our team is the fact that while willing to juggle, they will say “no” to opportunities they do not believe are productive. They test each idea and opportunity against our corporate vision and mission. This is the most important factor of all. Earlier in my career I grabbed at everything. That was before our vision and mission was clear. It is much easier now to juggle while still remaining focused when understanding which opportunities are truly a fit.

As entrepreneurs we are destined to juggle. But we must know when to be singularly focused and when to look at many ideas and opportunities. Using a team approach to make these decisions and testing each idea and opportunity against the corporate vision and mission is the ticket to success.

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 Visionary Entrepreneur

Here is a fundamental question for all entrepreneurs. Are you a visionary? Being a visionary and having a corporate vision are two different things, so take care not to confuse the two. For a company, a non-profit or any other organization to thrive and succeed over a long period of time, visionary leadership is paramount. And unfortunately, many companies stagnate and die when the visionary leader moves on for whatever reason. That is why it is crucial for a company to continuously develop visionaries across generations that will help to sustain the organization in the future.

It is not hard to think about individuals who exemplify the term “visionary.” Steve Jobs comes to my mind before anyone else. He was a rebel and an unconventional thinker who was not afraid to take risks. Similarly, Bill Gates was a visionary who became the richest man in the world because of his ability to understand and shape the future. What comes to mind when you hear these names – Henry Ford, Wilbur and Orville Wright, John D.  Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Sam Walton, Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg? Each was a phenomenal innovator. Each had an uncanny sense of where the world was going. Each had dreams but was also a doer.

Being a visionary is partially innate and partially learned. So, what can we do to develop our visionary leadership skills? How curious are you? Do you read everything you can get your hands on? Visionaries are expansive readers and are curious about everything. Curiosity stimulates the imagination and helps bring forth new ideas manifesting in a high degree of creativity. How persevering are you? The next time you are ready to throw in the towel remember that visionaries have a stick-to-it attitude. They are highly resilient and believe they can solve any problem. Visionaries love discussion and debate. Some may see this as confrontational, but it really is not. Instead, a visionary listens to differing points of view even when it gets a bit lively.

What other ways can we model visionary behavior? Do you embrace change or are you more comfortable living with doing things the same way? Visionaries are change agents. They like to teach and are focused on doing the right thing. Integrity ranks high on their list of values. Do you have high expectations for your team? Sometimes the line between high vs. unreasonable expectations can blur a bit. But do not expect a visionary to set a low bar. Visionaries tend to be eternal optimists and cannot see a glass half empty – it is always half full or even more. And visionaries are some of the most passionate people you will ever meet. Finally, visionaries do not live in the details – they are quintessential delegators.

A visionary has a knack for looking at a collection of data and telling the future. He or she sees things that others do not and is not the least bit concerned if his or her ideas are pooh-poohed. In fact, visionaries will work hard to persuade others to buy into what they believe because they have a supreme degree of self-confidence.

By emulating their behaviors, traits, and tendencies, we too can become visionaries. Our value to our organization increases exponentially when we provide visionary leadership.

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 “On It” Entrepreneur

I have the good fortune to regularly mentor several amazing entrepreneurs. One question I frequently ask is, “how much time do you spend working on your business versus in your business?” A similar question is, “how much time do you spend working on strategy vs. tactics?” Usually the answer to both questions is, “not much.” The problem is easy to identify. Entrepreneurs find themselves sucked into the daily grind of firefighting and there is no time left to do much else.

So how do we focus on strategy and vision when the bullets are flying, and we are hunkered down in our foxholes? For starters, we need to examine exactly what it is that we are doing. As part of my mentoring process I inquire on specifically what an entrepreneur is spending his or her time. It is interesting to listen to the responses which often reflect the fact that entrepreneurs are handling things that really should not be their responsibility. Mostly this includes performing tasks for which others should be held accountable. And it is not just about the failure to delegate. Some entrepreneurs take the position that “if I want it done right, I need to do it myself.” Or “I really don’t have the time to show someone else how to do it – it’s more efficient for me to bang it out.”

To solve this, we need to understand what prevents us from delegating that which should be handled by others. Do we have the right people on the bus? Do we have enough people? Are the right people properly trained? Are we too high control? When I have experienced problems with delegation in the past it is usually been the result of not having the right people to whom I can delegate. Getting to the root cause of our inability to delegate is crucial. If we do not have the right people, what is more important than solving this problem? One of the nice things about having the right people on the team is the fact that they may not need as much training – bright, right people figure out a lot of things on their own.

How is an entrepreneur who has a very small team able to delegate effectively? In other words, he or she is a player/coach and is on the field for every single play. This is where blocking out specific amounts of time to plan and strategize can be invaluable. Perhaps this occurs every morning from 8:00 to 9:00 without fail. During that timeframe, the entrepreneur takes no phone calls or any other interruptions and refines the strategy for the enterprise, reviews key performance indicators and determines if the business is on track with respect to vision and mission. Then the entrepreneur suits up and runs out on the field with the rest of the team to face another day. I cannot emphasize enough how absolutely nothing can be allowed to disrupt this daily routine.

We can ill afford to procrastinate when it comes to working on our business because we are too busy working in our business. The more this happens the more likely it is that we will get caught on the hamster wheel. Around and around we go as fast as our legs will churn – but we are not making any headway. Why exert so much energy (and money) to end up right back where we started?

Learning how to delegate and hold others accountable will allow us to strategize and envision the future for our enterprise. And sequestering ourselves for a specified period of time every single day will enable that planning and visioning to happen.

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 “Paladin” Entrepreneur

I grew up in an age where the hero of the day was a cowboy or someone like Superman. I think my favorite was a character named Paladin played by Richard Boone in Have Gun Will Travel TV western series that ran from 1957 to 1963. Paladin wore a black hat, but he was definitely a good guy. He took care of the bad guys with his cunning and his fast gun. He wore a stoic expression and generally solved the problems he faced by himself. You never saw him flinch. There were no high fives; no fist bumps; no complaints, and he was always the gentleman. Many of us grew up idolizing macho heroes of this sort.

Paladin is a wonderful metaphor for today’s entrepreneur. How many of us take the “never let ‘em see you sweat” approach and soldier on to the finish line regardless of the obstacles we encounter? I know that I certainly have felt responsibility for the hundreds of employees and their families that are integral to the success of our companies. And as a result, there have been times when I have sacrificed mightily to make certain that my colleagues are safe and secure. After all, isn’t that what a leader is supposed to do?

We entrepreneurs often spend more time working in rather than on our businesses. I will stand at the head of the line to admit that in the past I handled things that others could have been doing because I a) wanted to set a good example, b) figured that I could get it done more quickly than showing someone else how to do it, or c) wanted it done properly. After a while I began to wonder why everyone stepped back and let me do these things not realizing that the example I was setting was encouraging people to believe that I would handle it! I suppose at the time that there was a feeling of indispensability on my part. I needed to be in the middle of things to pave the way to victory.

So, what did I learn following this path? I learned that no one saw me as “the hero.” They became reliant upon me and they also felt that I did not have confidence in them. Apathy became a real problem. The quality of work slipped because the “Lee will fix it – he fixes everything” syndrome was in full swing. I was burning out and not having as much fun as I had in the past.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that if I really care about my team members and their families – and I really do – the most important thing I can do for them is to create a sustainable organization. Companies where the founder or key principal micromanages everything and strangles everyone are doomed to die when the leader retires or dies. I cannot bear the thought of that happening to the people I have worked with for decades. My solution has been to develop a culture of empowerment and coaching. I now spend time helping my teammates learn how to fish as opposed to doing the fishing for them. It is my responsibility to hold the vision for our companies, but that has become a shared vision rather than just my vision. Delegation is a key element to sustainability and all team members now have clearly defined roles and accountabilities with training and resources devoted to helping them succeed.

Heroes come from the battlefield or burning buildings and not from the boardroom. Sharing responsibility is the best way to create a sustainable organization.

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 Adaptable Entrepreneur

Major league baseball pitchers throw some amazing pitches. Their repertoire includes the breaking ball, changeup, forkball, screwball, slider, curveball, knuckleball, four-seam fastball, split-finger fastball, cutter, sinker, two-seam fastball and probably some other customized versions of all the above. These pitches range in speed from 70+ to over 100 miles-per-hour. How a batter can even see a pitch that is screaming in at speeds above 90 and dancing all over the place is an incredible feat. And the fact that such pitches can be hit for home runs is even more stupefying. How do they do it?

Major league batters expect to adapt. They know that they are going to see a wide array of pitches that are surgically placed in different locations in the general area of home plate. Thus, every at-bat requires them to adapt to a host of variables. Top-flight big leaguers have an uncanny knack for successfully adapting their vision and their swing to hit the ball and get on base. They go to the plate knowing with absolute certainty that they must be able to adapt, or they will strike out, fly out or ground out.

As entrepreneurs we would be well-served to study successful major league baseball players and observe how they adapt. Sometimes they shorten their swing. At other times they become supremely patient. They may try and push the ball to the opposite field; they may bunt, and they might also time their swing in order to pull the ball. All of this happens within a split second.

We entrepreneurs often work hard to create elaborate strategies and back-fill with a host of tactics. We plan and we create extensive systems and processes. All are absolutely necessary to succeed. But sometimes we forget that we must expect to adapt. There is nothing negative about holding this expectation. The game plan provides a road map for us to follow, but it doesn’t account for every possible instance where we may need to be flexible.

With the disruption caused by COVID-19, our ability to adapt will be tested more than ever before. Businesses have been turned upside down along with the rest of our lives. Having a playbook is important but being able to turn on a dime and act entrepreneurially is critical to adapting to what may be the new normal. Over the years I’ve tried to muscle my way through a plan that I was convinced was the only way to go. Most of the time it led to failure or at least results that were less than stellar. I realize that I was being resistant to adaptation.

What I wish I had understood at the time is that the need to adapt can offer some incredible opportunities. And my resistance caused me to miss those opportunities. It’s easy to say, “OK, I have a plan and undoubtedly something will knock me off-course.” What goes unsaid is the thought that, “Then I’ll do whatever it takes to get back on-course.” But what if we had a mindset of expecting the need to adapt and actually turning it into a desire?” Think about all the wonderful inventions that have occurred in the past. If you’ve ever read the story of Steve Jobs, you’ll know that he was a master of adaptation. Through his flexible nature he embraced the chance to make changes to the iPhone and the result was, “WOW!” It’s well-documented that the initial vision for this technology would not have been nearly as phenomenally functional as what was eventually developed.

When we rejoice at the prospects of adapting our ideas, our creativity increases exponentially. Then we are positioned to achieve greatness in whatever we choose to do.

 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 Burned-Out Entrepreneur

Imagine a warm summer night, a meadow away from the city lights and a cloudless, moonless sky. A blanket is spread on the ground and you stretch out on your back and gaze at the heavens above. Trillions of pin dots twinkle back at you. Suddenly, as luck would have it, a streak of light crosses right in front of your eyes – a brief moment of intense action in an otherwise passive setting. Yes, a meteor is truly a sight to behold and provides a metaphorical warning to us as entrepreneurs.

The romanticism of a shooting star quickly gives way to the realization that we have just witnessed a piece of interplanetary debris burning up in the earth’s atmosphere. The operative words here are “burning up.” In entrepreneurial parlance, we’re talking about “burnout.” We all know what burnout is, so I don’t need to describe its symptoms. In fact, we’ve all probably experienced burnout in some form over the course of our careers. More important are two central questions. How do we prevent burnout in the first place? And how do we get out of burnout if it already holds us captive?

Preventing burnout in the first place is actually easier than figuring out how to get out of it once we’re in it. Consider this example. Jeff is focused on his software training business in laser-like fashion. He eats, sleeps and breathes software training and hasn’t had a vacation in six years. The business is growing in a very profitable fashion, but Jeff worries every day that if he takes his eye off the ball, his competition could easily overtake him and he’d begin losing money. He justifies his herculean efforts as the right way to provide for his family (but he’s missed eight of his son’s last ten soccer games). By contrast, Amy has a competing software training business. She is passionate about her company which is growing like Jeff’s and is also profitable. Amy has learned through time management techniques and following a carefully thought plan, how to be incredibly productive while she’s at work. She serves on a non-profit board, exercises and meditates every day, volunteers at a local homeless shelter, plays tennis and takes a ten-day vacation every six months. It’s pretty obvious which entrepreneur is a prime candidate for burnout. Because she has embraced a life balance, Amy is more creative and innovative. When Jeff finally hits the wall Amy will blow on by him because she has learned how to build a strong team to which she can delegate.

Extracting ourselves from the clutches of burnout is a real challenge. The first step is to go back to the basics and determine if our vision and mission are the same now as they were when we were filled with passion at the outset of our endeavor. Do they need to be tweaked? What made us passionate about what we started doing in the first place? Are our core values intact? Reconnecting with our passion is critical and can only happen when we become grounded in our vision, mission and values. Without this re-set we cannot know for certain if the passion is truly alive.

Next, we need to make the choice to move toward a more balanced approach to life. Nothing prevents us from adopting Amy’s M.O. Experts say that it takes three weeks to form a habit. Every day we must become intentional about identifying and implementing the different elements that will compose our newly balanced life. Getting out of ourselves and doing good things for others is one of the best ways to break out of the burnout cycle.

Finding a balance in life is the best preventive medicine for warding off burnout . . . and for getting out of it. While shooting stars are spectacular to watch there’s no need to be one.

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.