The Australian Small Business Blog

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Getting of Business Wisdom

Everyone wants to know the secret of business success. In fact there are many 'experts' out there pedaling their version of the secret to business success, but I am going to give the game away. There are no secrets, just stuff you don't know yet. The real issue for you is whether you have reached the point where you know what you don’t know. If you have, you are ready.

It reminds me when I first went skiing. I was about 20 years old and travelled to the snow with my mates. Most knew how to ski, and one even advised I should get lessons. One other of my mates had been up just once before and said you don't need lessons and he would come down the beginners slope with me for the first time. Talk about the blind leading the blind!

When we got to the top of the slope, I looked around and there were little kids whizzing around on skis, and being a young guy, I knew then, I didn’t need lessons. After all, all I needed to do, was point the skis downhill, wiggle my backside a bit, and I would look like those Olympic skiers whizzing through the flags. In fact I was embarrassed even to be on the beginners’ slopes where there were speed restrictions which were sure to cramp my style. I figured, I will just get to the bottom in five minutes, and then be up with the rest of my mates in a half hour or so.

Then I pointed my skis downhill. I hardly moved at first as it was so flat, but the speed started to pick up. Then I learnt the first thing I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to stop! I started to panic as I headed towards another skier, getting faster all the time. Then I figured out the second thing I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to turn.

So I tried twisting my skis with my body, and had my first fall. Then I worked out the next thing I didn’t know, which was how to get up with one ski off, and my other ski pointing up my nose. All this in about 60 seconds. At this stage the only thing damaged was my dignity.

I was determined to make it down the slope, so with a bit of advice and help from passersby, I was able to get to my feet and after about five minutes get my other ski back on to continue the descent. The next hour or so was spent repeating the experience again and again, 20 meters at a time, re-enforcing in my mind, all the things I didn’t know, but by now the falls were starting to hurt.

Each time I got up, I saw my 'more experienced' mate a little further down the slope picking himself up. I realized, although within shouting distance, I really didn’t want his advice!

By the time I got down the slope, I knew what I didn't know and had the bruises to show for it.

I decided to pay for a lesson. Even that was somewhat humiliating. At 20, I was the oldest in the class. The next oldest was about 10! And don’t get me started about the attitude of the sneering French ski instructor about the same age as me. However, I was committed to this. I decided, this was something I wanted to be good at and I was going to do it properly, rather than stumble around like my mate, who was trying to save money (we were students), and like all young men, too proud to ask for assistance.

The difference it made was remarkable. I learnt that there was an easier way, which was not obvious to a beginner. You could watch the experts all day. They made it look so simple, but until someone actually broke what they did into little steps, they might as well have been flying.

After the first lesson, I was better than my mate. Then I did more lessons, and very soon I was really enjoying the experience and become pretty confident. My mate, on the other hand, who still hadn't taken any lessons, having seen how well I was doing, started asking me for advice.

My advice was to take lessons!

The same applies in business. We all spend too far too long absorbing the bruises, and assume that the next time we do what we did before, the result will somehow be different.

We do try new things, and sometimes they work, but we don’t know why they work, or how to improve them some more.

You know there are answers as you see others doing well. Did you know, anyone doing well has received advice and assistance at some point? They may have had a mentor. They may have done a course, or even hired a coach.

Have you ever heard of a swimmer making it to the Olympics without a coach? Natural ability is not enough.

Yes I know education has a cost, but it is a whole lot cheaper than the school of trial and error. How many bruises are you prepared to take?

If you have been in business a while, you know what you don’t know. Here’s what you should do.

1. Write down the 3 biggest issues you face.

2. Work out how much this is costing you. Have a look at a similar, but more successful business. If you could wave a magic wand, and these problems were fixed, would you be able to make more money? Would you be able to take off more time? How much is that worth to you?

3. Work out how much would you be prepared to invest in time (and yes money- there is no such thing as a free lunch) to fix these problems. Note, if you are not prepared to invest any effort in fixing these problems, it must mean you are happy the way things are, or else why would you tolerate these problems?

4. Work out when you are going to do something about it.

When I go down that same beginners’ slope today, it now just takes me a few minutes, but I could be quicker, if I didn’t have to spend time trying to avoid the erratic movements of beginner skiers too proud or cheap to take lessons.

The definition of insanity is:

Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting something different to happen.

May Your Business Be – As You Plan It!

Dr Greg Chapman

Over to You. What do You Think? Post Your Comments Below.

Dr Greg Chapman is the Director of Empower Business Solutions and The Australian Business Coaching Club and is Australia's Leading Advisor on Emerging Businesses and provides Coaching and Consulting advice to Australian Small Business Owners in Marketing & Business Strategies Planning & Systems. He is also the author of The Five Pillars of Guaranteed Business Success.

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Dr. Greg Chapman is also the author of
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