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Friday
Sep172010

Don't Build Your Business; Know How to Build One!

 

“Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.”

~ Thomas Huxley


Have you ever played a sport like tennis, golf or soccer? Do you engage at all in recreational sports like skiing, biking or rock climbing? Did you ever play a board game like Monopoly, Game of Life or even Chutes and Ladders?


Since I was a little kid, I wanted to play tennis. One Friday evening a few years ago, a burst of inspiration hit me. So I went to the local bookstore and bought a book called Learn How to Play Tennis in a Weekend. I read the book cover to cover over the weekend. I called my friend, Craig, Monday morning and asked him if he wanted to play a game of tennis with me. “Sure,” he said, “but I didn’t know you played tennis.” “I do now!” - came a confident reply from me.


A little bit about Craig here. He is no Wimbledon Champion by any means, but he had won many tournaments in his days of college and had stayed reasonably fit after graduation. So when we got to the tennis court, it took him exactly 10 minutes to get me to the point where I had to be picked up off of the floor of the tennis court. We remained friends afterwards, but I never picked up the racket again. And I still don’t play tennis.

 

“Truth comes out of error more readily than confusion.”

~ Francis Bacon


I jumped into starting my first business in pretty much the same way. I struggled a lot in the first year of business. Luckily, I was able to make some changes in the second year that allowed me to do much better for the next five years reaching 2.5 million in revenues in 1999. I ended up selling the company. Then I started an internet startup, raised some venture capital and ended up folding it in 2001. I have had some ups and downs in my life. So I have some stories to tell. These ups and down forced me to do some deep soul searching around the years 2001 and 2002. What I found out was that my real passion was helping others build their businesses. And I was good at it.  My current business is my third one that I formulated in 2002 and have been building since.


Back to business. I am sure you have heard the statistics: something like 95% of the businesses fail in the first five years. What you may not have heard is the other statistic which says that about 80% of those who do stay in business, 4 out of the 5 of the 100, never achieve the kind of success they thought they would achieve when they started the business. Which means that only 1 out of 100 business builders actually end up building the fabled business of their dreams. And these statistics are from before the great recession of 2008-2009. The post-recession statistics might be much worse. 

 

“We are generally the better persuaded by the reasons we discover ourselves than by those given to us by others.”


~ Blaise Pascal


Do you remember the time before you started your business? May be there was a time you were thinking about starting your business and you asked around for some advice. There is a pretty good chance that you heard two kinds of advice.

One was some version of “Don’t Do It”. These words most likely came from family and friends. They obviously were not being very helpful and encouraging. In fact, after you started your business, there is a pretty good chance that these “naysayers” around you became a pretty big liability for you as you went about building your business.

But the other advice you may have heard, in my opinion, might be much more damaging and, in fact, dangerous. This advice is: “Just Do It.”

I know. I got that advice, too. And I took it. Now I cringe every time I hear it. Why? Think of it this way. If you don’t know how to box and get in the ring with Muhammad Ali, how long does it take before the knockout? About 10 seconds? If you’re lucky! That’s what many of us do with starting our businesses.
You see, the reason why so many of us fail at building a successful business is very simple: We Don’t Know How to Play the Game - the Game of Business-Building.

 

“Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities.”

~ Maria Montessori


The school and the college, and yes, our MBA degree, didn’t prepare us to be business owners. They prepared us to be employees: nurses, doctors, engineers, lawyers and even vice presidents, CFO’s and CEO’s. Nothing wrong with that, except that if we expect the traditional educational system to teach us the skill of business-building, we are very likely to be disappointed.

Here’s what I mean. Learning a skill, like business-building, is a journey from the head, to heart, to gut and then to actions. You see, building a business is not really an intellectual exercise. It’s also not just a physical or even an emotional exercise. It’s a combination of it all. It’s a skill. It’s an art-form.

The reason why small businesses are failing is because most business owners who start their businesses are entering the business arena at the novice level while other businesses - their competitors - are playing the same game at the expert level. They are entering the tennis court without having ever hit a ball across the net and their competitors are tournament champions and trophy winners. They are entering the Karate competition at the white-belt level while their competitors are 4th degree black-belts. They have never been into a boxing match before and yet they enter the ring to fight with a heavy-weight champion.

 

“Don’t just do it. Know what you are doing.”

~ Bhavesh Naik


Now, I am a realist. In my experience in helping more than a 100 business owners develop their businesses, I know that most people who are about to start their businesses will still jump into it prematurely, regardless of what statistics say. Entrepreneurs are notoriously hard-headed. And to an extent, that’s a positive quality. They will need that sense of supreme self-confidence to hack it in the world.

My message is really meant for those business owners who have been at the game of business-building for a while. They are the ones who really “get” what I am talking about here. They have experienced the trials and tribulations of building a business. That’s why, they are more open to my message.
But they have a serious dilemma. Many, if not most business owners accept and recognize that they need to continue to develop their skills in business-building. But they don’t have the luxury of taking two years off and disappearing onto a college campus. Even if they did, it would not help much because the world of academics is far removed from the real world.

They need to learn how to build their business while they are engaged in the process of building it. They need the intellectual help - the best practices and principles of successful businesses. But that’s only 25% of the way to mastering the sport of business building. They also need help in internalizing that knowledge by engaging with it emotionally, making it a part of their gut system and taking meaningful actions. As I like to say, they need to take the knowledge from the head to the heart, from the heart to the gut and form the gut to the actions.


“The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”

~ Albert Einstein


What business-builders need is a change in the mindset, a shift in thinking. If they went from merely building a business to learning how to build one, the actual building of their business will happen almost as a by-product.

One of the sports I love is Martial Arts or Karate. Karate has intricately woven both the Art and the Science of the sport together in a system that could be taught and learned, step-by-step, incrementally and by practicing it. In other words, Karate is more about how to fight, rather than actually fighting.

Business-builders can take their inspiration from this model. They can treat their business not just as the means to achieve their dreams – which, of course, it is - but also as a way to learn how to build a business, by building it. When they do this, they can easily detach themselves from the act of building a business and see it as a sport they enjoy, a sport they look forward to playing every Monday morning.

 

“I am not a teacher; only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead–ahead of myself as well as of you.” 

~ George Bernard Shaw

 

Want to experience business habits in action? Join us at our next 360 Business Club “business workout session” where you get to practice business-building with like-minded business leaders.

Tuesday
Aug172010

Don't Just Do It!

I recently spoke to a group of folks who were in the process of starting their own businesses. As I was listening to the audio, I realized that many of the lessons apply to those of us who have been in business for quite some time. In fact, I think the business owners who have been in business for some time will appreciate this message much more than those who have never experienced the trials and tribulations of owning, building and operating a business of their own.

This audio is about 12 minutes long - you can listen to it by clicking below. Let me know by email at bhavesh@ambica.net if you have any reactions to it!


Thursday
Jul012010

Getting Certified is Not (Necessarily) Getting Trained

If you have tried some training in your business, especially the soft skills training such as communication, teamwork and personal development, you already know that it does not “work.” Here’s my compilation of the most severe training mistakes businesses make in applying business training, either to themselves or their people.

7. Expecting a “Graduation Date” for Your Training Efforts: Certificate Mentality Versus Learning Mentality

Most certifications are intellectually driven. Meaning that they are designed to get you to the point where you can “pass the test.” Nothing wrong with that. The only problem, though, is that you have gone only one-fourth of the way to mastering what you are learning. True learning takes you from head to heart, from heart to gut and from gut to actions.

The certification training works great in the academic world. Unfortunately, academics by itself can’t change your behavior or the behavior of the people in your business. If behavior does not change, your results won’t change.

In fact, I believe that the mastery of a new level of behavior and new level of results does not happen during training. It happens after the training, in the real world, applying the stuff that was taught in the class. A test is logical, step-by-step and ideological. There a “right” or a “wrong” answer; there is pass or fail. Real world is not so pretty. Real world is often messy, unpredictable and inconsistent.

That’s why, mastery requires that we not only cognitively understand the material but can also apply it artfully and skillfully in the real world. That’s why, real training and learning require life-time commitment. And that’s why there is no graduation in real learning.

8. Putting All Your Money in Technical or Skills Training Versus Human Side of Training

Have you ever been annoyed by an overly confident computer guy? Have you ever been irritated by a know-it-all engineer? Have you ever been in presence of a techie who made you feel dumb because he was so smart? If you did, you most likely experienced the results of over-training of technical skills.

It’s a very strange phenomenon. The more technically competent a person becomes, the worse communicator, leader and a team player she becomes. There are psychological reasons behind this phenomenon that we don’t have the time to get into just yet. But we don’t have to understand psychology to know when we are dealing with a poor leader, communicator or team-player.

When we send our folks to technical training, we gain more technical competence, certainly. But more often than not, we also get a less competent leader, a poorer communicator and a worse team-player. It appears like a trade-off. We trade technical skills and competence for human skills.

To temper such a tendency, we must “balance” every technical training with some soft-skills training, such as communication, customer service, self-management, time management, interpersonal communication and so on. The rule of thump is that for every hour your folks spend getting technically trained, they should be spending another hour on the softer side of things, improving their human side of skills.

Here’s the full list of training mistakes, those that we covered in the past and those that we will soon cover.

1. Failure to Commit to a Single Philosophy or Methodology.


2. Thinking “Training is for My People, Not for Me.” Or “I am ‘Above’ Training; It’s for My People.”

3. View the Trainer as Subservient to You.

4. Training is Conducted to Fix Hiring Mistakes.

5. Wrong Training is Delivered to Wrong People.

6. Putting an Underperformer in Training and Hoping that She will Outperform Your Top Producer.

7. Expecting a “Graduation Date” for Your Training Efforts: Certificate Mentality Versus Learning Mentality.

8. Putting All Your Money in Technical or Skills Training Versus Human Side of Training.

9. Ignoring Doing a Return On Analysis on the Training Program You Invest In.

10. Viewing Training as a Commodity.

11. Expecting Training to be Easy and Comfortable

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