Pursuing Work That Has No End

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Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

I heard a fantastic interview of an entrepreneur that adopted this motto in his ventures by Avot de Rabbi Natan,

“Do not be afraid of work that has no end”

I like closure and results. The kind of thinking that creates big movements, such as ensuring every human being has clean water, is daunting, to say the least. It’s the kind of commitment that stirs the soul to action, if we can find such a cause.

The hard part is to get above the noise of all the demands we have already committed to. I do think it’s good to periodically look up from our work and ask what direction we are headed.

We may find that we have emotionally shifted and that our priorities are misaligned.

Do I still care about this work?

Is there a new reality and opportunity to pursue?

Am I making an impact?

I think modern work moves at a dizzying pace, and it’s hard to get above the fray. Purpose, meaning and vision take deep thought, and that can be challenging, especially in the grind. However, I do often sense I am likely off course most of the time when it comes to work I have committed to. It’s that hunch I feel in the back of my mind while I maintain productivity around my commitments.

So, I try to keep some simple disciplines to keep thinking broader:

  • Morning routines. With coffee in hand, I like to be silent and let my mind and heart think and align on what is going on and where I am headed.
  • Constant questioning. I always ask myself and use conversations with others to evaluate my choices. Is there something better? I’m looking for better.
  • Perspective. I ask myself frequently, “Knowing what I know now further down the journey, would I have started this project?”

I think at a core level, we are deeply inspired with work that has no end and provides impact and meaning. It beats year after year of subsistence thinking.

Is there bigger work you should consider?

Give Them What They Want

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Photo by ELEVATE on Pexels.com

If you spend most of your time trying to convince people of what they need, you may be in for a highly expensive and wasteful lesson from the marketplace. I get it. When you have an idea that you love, you think others should love it as well. But, we have to take heed of what William Faulkner said, “you must kill all your darlings.”

Your darlings may be the idea of special native plants in your ingredients or how you believe people should socialize. In your mind, this may be the most beautiful, reality-changing screenplay to yet become a part of our everyday lives. But going broke pursuing it is not smart business.

Giving people what they want takes observing, listening and detachment. You observe how people react to your offering and integrate the feedback to refine it further.

You listen when they tell you they like something or dislike something. You read the Google Reviews or Yelp. The painful ones have insight.

You detach from your own idea of what is good for everyone, and simply serve people where they are at.

Even if you are right, you may be creating psychic pain by insisting on something people don’t want or are not ready for.

I think people forget there are another 300M+ people in this country. We get in our own heads wanting to be special or stand out. That’s not likely with that many people and with the ridiculous amount of options. And guess what? We are all connected. A hit quickly gains a ripple effect.

There may be a few people brilliant enough to get people to understand something they did not know they needed and now want. But that stardom, though highly celebrated, is what movies are made of, not necessarily what entrepreneurship and business rewards.

It’s a jungle out there. One of your best senses to develop is paying close attention to what people’s emotions, feelings and expressions are saying about what they want and like. Your job is to give it to them in the easiest or most exquisite way.

I Like the Boring Business

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When it comes to business building, I like boring. I like creating outputs from inputs. I like throughput. Drama, inconsistencies, high stress and heroics are fantastic for movie plots. But they don’t contribute positively to profit and loss in a business. Boring helps cash flow. Cash flow makes customers, vendors, employees, and owners happy.

I am not sure why a certain level of craziness persists for so many operations. Here are my guesses:

A business owner thinks a bit of chaos is normal.

Employees have completely different incentives. Chaos and disorder might reward them with a sense of relevance (and dependency).

Growing so fast with headcount and lacking a solid culture has newcomers confused.

The business owner only cares about money and doesn’t realize the importance of strategy to get money long-term.

There’s not enough drama going on in people’s personal lives.

When I see a boring business that has cash flow working like a machine, someone prioritized making the business work and keeping first things first. They simplified as they grew. New systems, processes and people create complexity. And they were intentional to inject strategies, culture and execution to overcome the complexity. It was more than a money grab.

With the ridiculous amount of competition out there, the last thing you need is chaos and drama when it comes to operations and selling. Making customers happy requires alignment internally on all fronts. Perhaps certain niches can hide for a bit. But, someone is going to eat your lunch that comes along and builds that boring business that reliably executes day in and day out.

Are you operating on systems or charisma?

Do you have consistency or failure points that keep showing up?

Are customers leaving you regularly?

Are employees leaving you disgruntled?

Do you think chaos is normal?

The marketplace is moving so fast and commoditizing every sector. Focus on building the boring business so you can be agile enough to react. It’s hard enough out there.

Don’t Limit Yourself

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Too often we are mired in the circumstance we chose thinking we are limited. This is not necessarily so. You can always choose differently, and that is the opportunity to grow and become bigger than your circumstance.

Perhaps you hate your job, your life or even a bad deal you are currently in. The stress of it has you in a vortex of emotions. It can be overwhelming.

But, one of the best strategies is to start moving. Create more options. Become a person that creates again, rather than resigns to what you have. If you hate your job, move to action and find three more gigs that could be more promising.

If you want a more fun life, start looking at new locations.

Creating more options and continuing to move forward is something that is in your control. You are not limited by anything but your choices. Choose differently and make yourself better.

What Gets Measured Gets Done

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Perfectionism can be the antithesis of good business. That fixation of doing things right, rather than doing the right things, can move us away from the goals that matter.

I think there’s a lot of talk on KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators), but it’s hard for many people to slow down, think, and identify the core things that matter. It’s even harder to quantify what does matter. We tend to talk in qualitative terms:

That’s a nice person.

I like their work.

We are making progress.

How nice?

Did the work produce a return on investment?

What percentage of progress?

If you can step back and think about numbers that matter so you can hit your goals, then there’s an accountability, focus and output that keeps the focus where it needs to be without ambiguity. What gets measured gets done. And those metrics have to be thoughtfully created, tested and transparent so everyone knows whether the right things are being done.

There are many attributes our intuition can take into account, but good measurement focuses the bottom line around what truly matters to you.

Want more revenue? How much? What actions consistently done contribute to that goal?

Want a better reputation in the marketplace? How about setting the goal front and center of getting four star plus ratings on Google and Yelp? Let your customers score you and keep the current score front and center to see how you are doing today. If you’re low, it forces you to make adjustments based on feedback.

Yes, we can bury ourselves in the many things we want to consider. But it’s hard enough to get any goal when everything is working against you. But you can get one or a few that truly matter and put all your energy into closing the gap.

Pick a goal. Design the way to measure progress towards the goal. Then work relentlessly to stay honest with yourself and others that contribute towards that metric.

Value is Perishable

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J. Money’s Work History from BudgetsAreSexy.com

I keep up with a lot of blogs in my reader and I came across this article from a fun, candid article at Budgets Are Sexy. I like reading articles from bloggers that put the raw truth of their journey out there. It’s bold and courageous of them. This article was a reflection and a great reminder that value is perishable.

We are not working in an economy where we will be doing the same thing in five years. Here’s a guy that lists 36 jobs in his journey and how he rounded back to his core, but he was always exploring new options and opportunities.

It’s a strange thing when we run across friends 10 or 20 years later. They are usually doing something totally different.

And often, we have been doing something far from the path we were once on as well.

What you consider value today does tend to have a half-life. Automation, competition and efficiencies change the value equation all the time. You might have charged a premium before, but then the world gets smarter and everyone can do what you are doing. That’s when you have to change course or reinvent yourself.

I think there’s sectors where you can hide out for sure. It’s one strategy to combat innovation. I’m not sure it’s that safe or secure. It’s simply defense and fear.

If you simply operate with the security that today is a snapshot of what you may be doing or offering, you can stay relevant, fresh and engaged. You can keep observing and pushing into new areas where your value can be recognized and compensated for.

I don’t think there’s this job out there that will make you feel secure. Nor is there a product that will be a hit for the next 10 years guaranteed.

I do think you are a living, breathing person that can be continually valuable. You are only perishable if you bank on some kind of false staying power rather than increasing your abilities over time. Keep moving and embrace that journey of doing many other things yet to come.

Leveling Up

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Nothing lasts forever. And today, that’s especially true. It can be unsettling to always be on the move when the temptation is to rest on your laurels.

Noone cares about you more than you. And it’s important to take complete ownership of your own personal growth, development and opportunities. You have to continually be leveling up.

When you look at nature, stasis is not natural. It is highly unnatural. A house left alone will be overgrown by forests, vines and plants. Living and dying is part of the cycle of life.

We want things to be the same and maintain some level of security, sanity and comfort. But, I would say that real security is trusting in yourself. That happens when you do hard things are choose to level up continually.

What are some ways to do this?

  • Pursue and make friends that make you better. In the same vein, shed those that hold you back.
  • Try your hand at a new upswing industry related to what you are doing. Perhaps maintain what you are doing while pushing yourself in what is new.
  • Make yourself do hard things. See if you can overcome the fear and get more comfortable with exposing yourself to new endeavors and audiences.
  • Remove your dependencies and habits that don’t make sense any more. Free yourself up. See what space you create.
  • Forgive and move on. See what space you create.
  • Take action on something you keep talking about and not doing.

You are giving yourself a promotion when you choose to level up your standards, choices and commitments. We are not here forever and you don’t want to get caught without a seat when the music stops in what you are doing.

Yes, things you did used to work. But if that is what you are continually banking on and secretly hoping will continue, well, that story tends to have the same predictable tragic outcome. Better to get a fitting mindset for the times and keep leveling up.

It Used to Work and Now It Doesn’t

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If you haven’t read business biographies like Derek Sivers of CD Baby or Elon Musk of PayPal fame, it’s well worth the time. There’s a bit of nostalgia as I think back to the 90’s and early 2000’s and what life was like just a short time ago. We didn’t have a world of iPhones, apps, Wi-fi, video streaming, or social networks. The ecosystems were being built into what we see today.

Going back in time and hearing the backstories of entrepreneurial success messes with my mind as I get to take advantage of all these wonderful tools without any thought to how I move in and out of workflow, systems, entertainment and transportation. Life is so much easier in a connected world.

And over the years, I remember so many types of projects and work that used to have demand and people paid a lot of money for. Websites were hard and expensive to build and now they’re easy and cheap. Payment systems were custom and expensive also, but now they’re integrated features.

There are so many things that used to work as a business model and now they don’t. And it is always so tempting to sit on a pipeline of demand when things are flowing. What you may miss is that you are enjoying the cash flow from an innovation that has yet to be commoditized. Someone will eventually build a platform and make what is difficult easy. It happens too often that it should be part of the conscience forefront of your business planning.

Expect that disruption will come.

Expect prices will come down and efficiency and automation will prevail.

Expect competition to push on your position.

Expect things will end.

Expect that you will have to reinvent yourself.

You see a lot of entrepreneurs that hit that one success. They built credibility and started leveraging other people’s money with their credentials. However, seeing repeat successes is less common.

A lot of the play is about getting lucky or having an instinct for timing. That’s part of the requirement for good entrepreneurship.

When we look at history, it’s important to heed that lesson we see repeatedly; know you are within a phase. What you are offering is valuable but will decline in value as the world gets more efficient. Know where you are in the lifecycle and think about what you will do when what you enjoyed profitably doesn’t work as well as it used to anymore.

Obsolescence can be painful if you haven’t planned for it.

 

The Goal of Your System

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If you are sitting comfortably, there’s not much incentive to improve your systems. However, disruptors such as technology, competition and atrophy (i.e., Groupon), may force your hand to get your systems more efficient.

I’ve been sharing out various books around the area of business growth and efficiency lately. A classic I would recommend if you are serious about getting your business systems working optimally is The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. You get an insightful and packed story that illuminates the complexities, sensitivities and systemic relationships of complex systems.

You also learn about what the goal of a system is: throughput. Your challenge is to drive throughput in the midst of dealing with natural forces including statistical fluctuations, dependencies, inventory, operational expense and bottlenecks.

It’s tricky business, and if you are not careful, you can damage your systems in the pursuit of efficiencies and make throughput worse, not better.

If you get myopic around local maximums, for example, you can cause your system’s throughput to suffer overall.

Systems with their dependencies and obedience to natural laws have to be respected, analyzed and refined carefully to avoid unintended consequences.

I have seen so many businesses with good intentions that violate the principles of The Goal and see negative impacts on their cash flow. It’s not pretty, and sometimes it’s hard to understand.

There are undoubtedly higher efficiencies that would make life easier, make customers happier and put more money in your pocket.

What if you could increase your throughput and your cash by 50%? Does it appeal to you to move the needle? All that lost opportunity and money could be a fantastic motivator to keep growing so you are not vulnerable when change comes to force your hand.

Get ahead of that inevitable decrease and drive the throughput. That is the goal of your system.

Be Careful How You Grow in 2018

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New Years always feels so fresh with anticipation. We close the books for the previous year and reconnected with friends and family over the holidays. Then there is this new outlook of opportunities. Exciting.

I am thinking about a lot of different fronts for growth, as are many people I know. Growing revenue. Growing teams. Growing myself. Growing my family.

It’s all pushing, striving and creating. However, growth is not free. There’s always cost. And I take heed before I push. Maybe it’s from experiences over the years. Perhaps my energy is not what it used to be. I suspect I’ve learned some efficiencies, and I understand how reality has trade-offs.

For example,

You may double your revenue but lower your profit. They say, “Revenue is vanity. Profit is sanity,” for good reason.

You could spend so much time on your home life that your business suffers. You may spend too much time on your business that you lose your family.

You may invest heavily in friendships that wear out their welcome or luster. Or you could be neglecting much more worthy friends by spreading your loyalty around too thin.

You could give yourself to a new project only to find it’s a dead end after months of sweat and tears.

I’m not sure we can simply choose to turn off our ambitions and desire to grow. That instinct gets us out of bed to battle the world and make life better.

But, I do think that we can always consider the costs and outcomes of our pursuits. Is it worth it necessarily? It may well be what we need to do to move us off center in some area that has been boring, unproductive or unprofitable.

I do think there are things that are better than what we have now. A little thought about what we will give ourselves to is worthwhile. I want to come out of any growth with much more upside than unintended consequences that are costly. Cheers to a New Year.