The Inner Game of Business, Part I

 Italian Renaissance sculptor and painter, Michelangelo, may have best captured the essence of owning a small business with his quote, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

If I’ve learned nothing else over more than a half-century of owning businesses and more than three decades as an advisor to other small business owners, it’s that business is not about the money we make, or the products and services we sell. At its core, business is a continual journey of personal growth, self-discovery, and fulfillment. As Michelangelo suggests in his quote, it’s about finding the work of art within the stone.

As a smug, twenty-one-year-old, neophyte business owner there was no way I would have understood this. And I’m not sure I would have believed it even if I had. As it is, I’m embarrassed to admit how long it’s taken for this concept to seep into my adult consciousness.

But after decades of working with hundreds of small business owners and their teams, studying heaps of research conducted by brilliant scholars, and by candidly addressing the guy I see in the mirror every morning, the evidence is undeniable—success in business is an inside game! Overwhelmingly, our business success has more to do with how we grow as business leaders than it does with the quality of our products, the markets we serve, or the state of the economy.

In learning this concept, one of the things I observed was the presence of underlying principles that, when applied, allow business owners to achieve success in business much more easily, with more meaning, and have a more fulfilling life in the process.

These principles are timeless and universal. Many of them have been passed down through the ages by philosophers and spiritual teachings. Some of them apply to life as well as to business. I didn’t invent them. I simply observed them playing out in many of the companies I’ve worked with over the years. The principles I’ll highlight in this series are:

  • Business is a game
  • Our universal currencies are time and trust
  • Numbers follow
  • Our ego is our biggest competitor
  • Shadowboxing depletes energy
  • Fundamentals never disappoint
  • Business is better with purpose
  • All things are connected

None of these principles are meant to replace the obvious importance of the leader having the drive, motivation, technical competence, and IQ to successfully run a business. Those are the table stakes just to get in the game.

The principles also do not dismiss the importance of having documented systems, procedures, and policies. Nor do they overlook the need to have the right equipment, sufficient capital, or the right people. Instead, the principles discussed here will either increase or restrict an owner’s ability to leverage these things in their business.

I am by no means the sculptor of anybody’s business but my own. At best I am an acolyte who carries a toolbox full of chisels and hammers for other sculptors to use. My hope is that the principles I outline will help you uncover and sculpt the masterpiece that lies within.

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