A while back, I was talking with Jim, a friend of mine who had just finished writing his second book. He shared that this one had been completed in a fraction of the time it had taken to write his first book—one that had been difficult for him to write.
He recalled a conversation he had with a friend of his as he was struggling with his writing. His friend told him, “Jim, it isn’t that you don’t know how to write. It’s that you don’t know how to think.” Jim said that after his bruised feelings had healed, he realized his friend was right.
Whether we’re writing a book or growing a business, if we can’t articulate what we’re trying to accomplish, we’re going to have a hard time getting people to buy into helping us accomplish it or even find meaning in it. In the case of a book, this involves a publisher and the people who buy and read the book. In the case of a business, it involves the workers and customers.
In business, we can get so caught up in the act of “doing” that we overlook what we’re trying to accomplish. As a result, we end up running around in circles, chasing our tails, and not making any meaningful progress toward our goals. Too often, in our struggle to collect cash, meet payrolls, or just keep our business right-side up, we don’t take the time to think deeply or long term about our business. The irony is that these are exactly the times when we should be thinking down the road and asking ourselves some pertinent questions.
If the business went away tomorrow, would anybody notice? Would anything be left behind? If so, what would they notice, and how would the business be remembered?
Maybe your business provides employment to people, and those people are raising families on the income they earn. They might be starting a family, or helping their kids through school, or walking them down the aisle on their wedding day. To them, a steady paycheck and the gainful employment they enjoy go well beyond a number on a pay stub or income statement. There are personal stories behind these numbers.
In service businesses, it’s common for customers to view our companies as more than just what they buy from us. Over the years we become their trusted advisors in our specific areas of expertise. They get to know us beyond the services we provide, and we get to know them beyond the total of their most recent work order.
As my friend, Jim, learned, a book that’s written without any thought behind it is just words on a page. A business is similar. And once Jim realized this, writing his second book came a whole lot easier and faster.
It’s easy to think of our business in terms of numbers, market share, the science involved in our services, the way we deliver our services, or our struggles to make a profit or to meet a payroll. All of these are important issues that need to be addressed or nothing else is going to matter much. At the same time, they can feel pretty meaningless if they’re the only things that matter. By changing our perspective, we’re more apt to find a happy medium in our lives and our businesses.