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.

Lovin’ It – Part 2

Question: In your previous installment you wrote about how you eventually became able to live your passion. I want to know how to find mine.

Answer: Let’s quickly review what I previously said. To live our passion we must find balance in our lives in all respects – profession, physical health, relationships, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. And I said that when we become more multi-dimensional in these areas, the cumulative effect is passion. But there’s a very important element that still must be added to the mix. Without this ingredient we can be well-rounded and multi-dimensional but there’s simply no spark to start the fires of passion.

The ignition source which I refer is our WHY. I’ve written before about the WHY – a concept that is eloquently discussed by Simon Sinek in his magnificent book, Start With Why, and which has been explained to me in much greater detail by my friend and Sinek collaborator, Ridgely Goldsborough. Most people can tell you WHAT they do and HOW they do it. But when asked WHY they do what they do the answer becomes fuzzier. According to Sinek and Goldsborough there are nine WHYs. While we may identify with several, each of us has a predominant WHY. The nine WHYs are:

  1. Do things the right way.
  2. Do things a better way.
  3. Make sense of complexity.
  4. Make a contribution or a difference.
  5. Create trust and build relationships.
  6. Simplify things.
  7. Master things.
  8. Challenge the status quo or think differently.
  9. Create clarity.

To live our passion we must understand our WHY. And to find our WHY we need to ask ourselves a series of questions. Think of something at work that we did that was a success. How did we feel about that success? Why is that important to us? Then ask the same questions about something positive that happened outside of work. We may need to repeat this several times before our answers create a discernible pattern that leads us to our WHY from the list of nine.

What is it about understanding our WHY that is so important in our quest to find our passion? Because to the greatest extent possible we need to align the various elements of our life with our WHY. Think about it – if our profession, physical health, relationships, emotions, intellect and spirituality track with our WHY, won’t we be in a better position to love everything we’re doing?

When we find our WHY we can then discover our passion. The alignment of WHY with the balance of the basic elements in our lives then enables us to live our passion every single day.

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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Why?

Question: I was asked recently to explain why my company does what it does. The answer I gave was somewhat superficial but got me to thinking about this question. How would you answer if asked, “why?”

Answer: A friend of mine loaned me a terrific book by Simon Sinek called Start With Why. Sinek’s premise is that the leaders of too many companies don’t have a real clear idea why their companies exist. Of course they’ll say that the WHY is to provide outstanding customer service or to deliver great value to their shareholders. But how inspiring is that? He cites companies like Apple and Southwest Airlines that built their business around the WHY.

Customers can be inspired to buy a product. Employees can be inspired to work for a company. In both cases the source of this inspiration is a genuine understanding of WHY. Many companies stress the WHAT or even the HOW, but not the WHY. An excellent example of a company that epitomizes the WHY is TOMS Shoes. TOMS is a phenomenal success story about Blake Mycoskie, a young entrepreneur who visited Argentina and liked the simple shoes he saw so much that he made a deal with local craftsmen to make a supply of them in a variety of colors and styles. Then he brought them to the United States and sold them. Sounds good, right? But the most important part of the story is the WHY. Mycoskie’s business plan from the start in 2006 was to donate a pair of shoes to a poor child in another country for every pair of shoes that was sold. Through 2012, TOMS has given away more than one million pairs of shoes.

People who buy shoes from TOMS like the design, simplicity and the reasonable cost. But there are many shoe companies that sell shoes that are attractively designed, simple and reasonably priced. The difference-maker for TOMS’ customers is the WHY – the fact that a for-profit company is actually willing to give away its product to children in need, and at the same ratio as what it sells.

Whether you own your own business, or are an aspiring entrepreneur working for someone else, see if you can answer the WHY question. Sinek says that the WHY is just a belief. The HOW is the action you take to realize that belief. And the WHAT is the result of those actions – everything you say and do; your products, services, marketing, PR, culture and whom you hire.

When we are able to answer the WHY question about our businesses and even ourselves; our customers, employees and everyone with whom we associate will be more inspired to become enthusiastic advocates for us.

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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