As an entrepreneur, I have started five businesses. I love the thrill of getting an idea up and running. The first customer meeting, the first town hall, and the first big celebration are moments that stoke the fire in your belly and push you on to win again.
I learned that endless meeting and problem-solving sessions replace the excitement of the early days as I worked even harder to keep my creations alive and healthy.
When I was in my thirties, I believed that I had endless energy and that my role was to be in the thick of it all.
What would I say to my younger self now?
1st: Step back and look at the patterns in the problems, what do they tell you about the company and the team? Patterns tell stories, they allow you to detect underlying issues in products, people and markets.
What do the patterns I see tell me? Share what you see with others and ask the same question. Note to the wise, don’t ask your business partner or co-founder first, wait until you have some diverse perspectives so that you don’t become trapped by the “Emporer’s new clothes” syndrome.
2nd: If this was not your business, how would you make it better? What secret cows would you remove, what changes need to be made to improve performance, and how would you implement these changes?
Ideas cost you nothing to entertain and compare. Put them on a whiteboard and look for the good in your designs. Ask stretching questions when you get stuck, such as; what would the customers pay for if we gave them the main-event for free? This type of stretch question will help you clarify the value your company brings. Other questions include:
- What if we outsourced the core labour components?
- What if we automated the entire process?
- What if we integrated our teams inside our customers’ business?
- What could a good competitor do to kill our business?
- What could we do that would quadruple our value to our customers?
3rd. Take the best ideas from the whiteboard and have teams work up a plan to implement them. Cross-functional teams build solutions that are better than anything you can think up on your own, no matter how gifted you are.
4th. As you implement and move your company forward, change yourself. You created some of the problems that brought you to the place that required you to step back. The question is, what do you need to change to ensure you are still relevant and valued next time?
It takes courage to change yourself; there is doubt about this fact. The past is filled with actions and behaviours that have made you the success you are today. Sifting through this to find the diamonds to keep and, the rocks to discard is challenging, but ultimately needed to allow you to grow and be more successful in the future.
I tell myself, just because I have been an ass, doesn’t mean I am condemned to always being an ass;
the choice is mine, I can do and say new things and be a great leader.