20th Anniversary Issue, Part II

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up, Part II

One of the main reasons small businesses stop growing is because the owner himself stops growing. In the past I have referred to this as Arrested Professional Growth. Peter Pan behavior is one of the forms this takes: we don’t want to grow up so we stop learning and our businesses stop growing. All Peter Pan behavior isn’t as brash as the badboy behavior I wrote about in Part I of this series. Sometimes it’s more subtle.

When we run our businesses with a freewheeling, liveforthemoment, don’tworryabouttomorrow attitude, it’s only natural that we would attract a staff of others who are drawn to that behavior. It’s easy to overlook the unintended consequences of employing people like this until it is too late. After all, who doesn’t want to surround themselves with funloving people?

But there is a huge difference between someone who is funloving and someone who is unable to shoulder responsibility, and we must be careful not to confuse the two. When we find our companies growing and we need to hand the frontline work off to someone else, or we just want to take time away from the business to go on vacation, we may realize that those we are surrounded by—who were attracted to our childlike behavior—aren’t capable of stepping up or aren’t interested in doing so. If this happens, it will leave us with a tough choice: to engage in the lengthy process of attracting the kind of people we need to grow our businesses or resigning ourselves to being content with where we are.

Just as carefree behavior stops businesses from growing, so does failing to embrace newer, more efficient technology. Continuing to rely on older, less effective ways of running our businesses because “they worked in the past” does not make good business sense. Horses and buggies worked in the past, too, as did mimeograph machines, but I wouldn’t want to rely on them to keep my company competitive in today’s market. Anyone who knows me knows I am the last person to cast stones in this regard. At some point in my life I must have had a “technology bypass,” and I continue to struggle with technology to this day—much to the amusement of the people in my organization. Fortunately for me, I have some very technically savvy people around me who do a good job of keeping VMA relevant.

Failure to embrace new technology comes at a steep cost, both competitively and intellectually. Companies who embrace new technology easily gain a competitive advantage over companies that don’t. Business owners who fail to embrace new technologies end up clinging to a past that, for the most part, never really existed and deny themselves the psychological and emotional rewards that come with learning new things and growing intellectually.

Peter Pan is a wonderful fairytale that takes many of us back to our childhoods. But as we learn by the end of the story, there comes a time when we have to grow up and accept the responsibilities of adulthood. When our businesses, our families, and our employees’ families depend on our ability to do so, it’s easy to see why we’re better off making that transition sooner rather than later.

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