Don’t Be Original

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The romantic idea of creating something innovative and new can get us sidetracked quickly in entrepreneurship. There are 28 million small businesses in the United States as of this writing. You are competing with all those businesses, minds and offerings. The likelihood of being original is difficult against such staggering numbers!

Think about how you buy. You likely buy the same groceries and try one here and there for kicks. You spend money at a lot of the same places – restaurants, gyms, haircuts, etc.

Heck, we largely have the same phones in our pockets. Could you invent a new phone the masses would buy?

Instead of seeking to be original, give people what they want. Be valuable. Be understood. Allow your message to be clear. Take what people want already and compete on being “cheap, fast or good.

You can build on viability and find where the innovations are while actually working hard to meet known expectations and needs.

There is definitely a place for inventors and pioneers. We need dreamers and challengers. But, you want to be around and be relevant. And that takes empathizing, observing and being industrious. Meeting people’s needs and building the conditions for doing business together are no small feat.

Giving people what they want places you in the game. Being good at giving people what they want is hard enough. Trying to invent or find people to want what you offer can be a relentless slog. Perhaps you can innovate, dream and be original in an art form. Do your business by meeting needs and being valuable in business. If you must act on your originality and dreaming, build a non-profit, perform art or give away your ideas in a whole other context. That might be the better mix for underwriting your ambitions.

How to Drive Clarity

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Are you doing what you are supposed to be doing? Is the work you have been doing for many years as relevant today, or are you having to unlearn and reinvent?

I think that effort and working hard are relatively natural for many driven and successful people that I know. The hard part is the paradox of success. Once you have  achieved success, there are new, ambiguous horizons to pursue. It is unending, and in a sense, overwhelming.

What do you do to get clarity?

Well, one thing for sure is to heed Marie Forleo’s insight, “Clarity comes from engagement not thought.”

You can’t get clear by sitting and thinking. You have to engage the world around you. You have to be fully present in the moment, and listen to your intuition and heart about what you desire and align with.

The world provides feedback continually, and when you tune into how you respond – what you like, dislike or are attracted to – you gain clues on where to put your energy towards next endeavors.

Perhaps you have hit a jackpot. Or you may have finished a giant project. The temptation is to rest and enjoy downtime. But, a void comes quickly where inaction, apathy or clouded thinking can lull you into passivity. This is happening while the world is moving swiftly by.

If you can’t find motivation, bide your time by working in new gigs and projects. Explore. Engage. Be with people and keep solving problems. If you don’t like what you are doing, pivot to something else. The key is to keep moving.

Then, pay attention to the feedback you are getting in the world through engagement. If you are continually growing by learning new skills and helping as many people as you can, the clarity comes. You start to see patterns about what you want next.

Then you can rally and put all that passion, energy and time into what you have discovered.

You have to seek clarity continuously as a life process if you want to keep growing, performing and getting results. There is no resting on your laurels. Movement is life.

The Lucky Fool and Reality

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“It manifests itself in the shape of the lucky fool, defined as a person who benefited from a disproportionate share of luck but attributes his success to some other, generally very precise, reason.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness

If you haven’t read Taleb’s book, he does a masterful job of pointing out how our perceptions fool us, especially from the rare, high impact events we experience. We have biases that are hard to overcome. In the case of the lucky fool, we lean towards taking credit for the good luck that happens to us, and we blame outside forces and people for the bad things that happen. Tragically, our human nature distorts our perception of reality.

The Simple Dollar wrote a great essay on tips for increasing your good luck and decreasing your bad luck. It’s practical advice assuming you can overcome your own bias towards the luck that flows through your life. As the essay states, “We are all the lucky fool.”

There are opportunities galore that are there for the taking for those that are ready for luck. You have to be prepared, optimistic, open and competent to see and act on deals that are timely. Here are some weekly and daily practices to make luck bend your way and protect your downside from bad luck:

  • Treat all people with kindness and respect. Noone has to deal with you otherwise. And you need people to deal with you for luck to happen.
  • Be a person of value. Observe needs and work to help people.
  • Increase your value every day by what you know and who you know.
  • Make a daily habit of doing mindful self-care for your mental, spiritual, physical and emotional self. Pick something in each category and do it every day – read, work out, pray, and enjoy good people, for example.
  • Sow and reap. What you want, give more of. It’s the law of attraction you put to work.
  • Be a funnel of good ideas. You have to be learning, capturing and sharing. Connect your ideas or things you find helpful with the people you care about in specific, helpful ways. You need a good system for this.

I try to practice these habits to keep my probabilities of good flow high and reduce the probability of downside things happening in my life. I want luck, but not be the lucky fool as life and opportunities happen each day.

How do you increase your luck?

Reduce the Handoffs to Increase Efficiency

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Every handoff in your business is a failure point. When one person is handling information and moving execution to the next step, often you can get things done without many mistakes or delays.

When you have to hand off a lead, support call, requirements, or project task, it’s risk. What if the information is not correct? Is there nuance and clarity that have to be transferred?

Many projects need teams to deliver. But often, when we are growing businesses, we simply get fat and waste can build up. There are often unnecessary handoffs where it can be faster with less errors by cutting out steps, people or information.

With this season of downtime, what if you took inventory and got rid of handoffs that no longer make sense?

Look at when a customer starts their engagement with your company. How much work do they have to do before they get contacted? Can you automate the first touches?

Here are some other ideas to drive throughput by eliminating or reducing handoffs:

  1. Where does a request get bottlenecked? Consolidate the work with one person or automate the task using software.
  2. Set the expected response time for team tasks. Track this for 30 days. If you get a 3 day average response for something that should take 1 day, get the responsible parties involved and set up a new incentive to meet the customer expectation.
  3. Map out your steps. See if you can cut out steps that do not add value.
  4. For work that needs to be highly responsive, hire a support vendor or get a virtual assistant. It will force you to define what has to be done and you can manage accountability.
  5. Cut out any middlemen and replace it with direct service or engagement.

Handoffs usually develop because we hope to get some kind of efficiency, but we don’t revisit whether we have failure in speed or unnecessary mistakes. Take it back to simplicity, and care about your customer by removing the waste that simply happens because of unexamined workflow.

As the New Year is commencing, you can tighten your workflow up by looking at all those handoffs which create problems and bottlenecks.

Where are you finding handoff issues?

Don’t Get Fooled By Heroics

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We humans tend to live by emotion more than logic. It’s why politicians, business leaders and religious authorities can sway the masses too often.

You may have heard that famous saying, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” It’s an opportunity for heroics to come into play. And those affected by a crisis are vulnerable.

Never mind asking, “How did we get here in the first place?” or “Could we have avoided this crisis?”

It’s the blind spot we are prey to. We like heroics. Those that fix things can get praise without much scrutiny.

Maybe we accept that there are inefficiencies, waste and bubbles as part of the natural cycle of life. After all, we tend to accept mediocrity in people’s actions and work. It’s easier to overlook the fault of others because of compassion or to avoid the pain of dealing truthfully. We don’t want to appear as a bad person.

So, we get buildups of problems and crises and enjoy praising heroics. After all, who actually says, “Look what I prevented,” and gets praised for this? Better to say, “Look what I did.”

If you can see ahead, it can create internal conflicts. Do you take the job, money or relationship on because you have the opportunity to perform heroics when your incentive is to shine and be a savior after a crisis? Building robust and preventive strategies, processes and systems doesn’t pay off as well. It’s too abstract.

Security companies, IT managed services and insurance firms get paid for prevention and just-in-case. It’s an inverted emotional incentive because the threat is large and can be imagined readily.

It gets tricky trying to be preventive, wise and prudent in environments that reward heroics. You can show up envious coworkers or burn a lot of energy trying to get a decision maker to value what hasn’t impacted the immediate.

There are certainly no shortage of problems to solve and bring your value towards. How we package and ensure the value we bring is recognized is often determined by context, timing and mindsets.

I would rather avoid disasters than spend all my time and energy playing savior, regardless of the arguable misplaced perceptions others may have.

What do you do when you see something coming?

Give Them What They Want

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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.

Learn to Unlearn

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“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ” ~ Alvin Toffler

I often think about that phrase, “What got you here won’t get you there.” It’s a powerful reminder that you can’t rest on your accomplishments for long. Someone out there wants to eat your lunch, or the world around you at large is relentlessly making your achievement meaningless every day.

One strategy if you don’t want to have to keep innovating is to find a commoditized required industry and camp out. Society needs trash removal, utilities, cleaning, bookkeeping and bandages. Cash flows continuously in and out of those boring businesses and the entrenched players don’t have to pivot too much. That is as long as there is not someone reimagining how to lower costs and increase conveniences for customers.

There are things I was an expert in previously that are simply foregone memories now. There’s too many areas where the world has become more efficient that has forced me to have to “learn, unlearn, and relearn.” And that’s fair. Everyone is subject to the requirement to being relevant and valuable. You have to keep proving your place and worth in this world of endless options.

One way to measure ongoing staying power is to think about how much you are personally growing.

How many books per month have you read?

How many people have you met in the last week?

What new ideas are you sharing?

You have to keep learning, testing and sharing. In this mode, you have to think of value as something to apply and discard when the game has changed.

The last thing you want to be is illiterate among so many that are taking initiative every day to become better and offer something timely and powerful. That’s the game today for value creators.

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.

Doing What You Want to Do

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There’s a big consequence for winging it. If you allow your days to be dictated by the demands of others or the urgencies that days tend to push on us, it is difficult, if not impossible, to do the things that you want or matter to you.

Furthermore, your own energy levels and resistance to work on the important parts of your life take a backseat.

Living intentionally with conviction takes focus because everything is working against you. Your brain and emotions are looking for the path of least resistance. And days can bleed into weeks, then into months and then into years without much being accomplished towards your goals.

If you want to do what you want to do, then you must gain conviction. You know what you want. You want it badly.

This can come from setting up a few strategies for yourself:

  • Routines. I have a morning routine. It’s been said, “Routines set you free.” It sets the stage for me to focus on the day ahead and align myself mentally, physically emotionally and spiritually. This is critical to win the day.
  • Ritual. You may know things because you heard them or discussed them. You may know that it’s important to read every day or show gratitude. But the ritual of reviewing why you think this is true pushes it deeper into your convictions. I use Google Keep to collect quotes, articles, rules and important thoughts. Your brain can’t remember everything. But if you have it, keep a list of notes that you review every day. This ritual will help the thoughts you collect become a part of you.
  • Reflection. Think often and regularly about what has been happening around you. Is it what you want? What are the obstacles? What are the opportunities? Taking long walks, sitting quietly in the dark and writing in a journal are different ways I like to reflect. Your brain is a problem solving machine and having time and space to connect the dots furthers your clarity and convictions on what you want and what you are doing in contrast.

Routines, rituals and reflection are powerful tools that work with our natures. If we want to change ourselves and how we approach the craziness of life and the world, these become our anchors for doing what we want to do despite all the forces working against us in a day, externally and internally. It’s how conviction is built.