There Is No Right Way To Build Your Business

One of the most destructive myths about entrepreneurship is the idea that there is some kind of formula or method for building a business.

If there’s one thing I’ve consistently seen in my years of working with entrepreneurs, it’s this: every entrepreneur must travel their own path when it comes to developing their business.

There’s plenty to learn from others, of course, but when it comes down to it, entrepreneurship is like learning a musical instrument.

Read and listen to others all you want.  At the end of the day, you learn by playing. And the more you focus on your own playing with care and patience, the more progress you make.

The quicker and deeper entrepreneurs get this, the more they slow down and trust themselves through the ups and downs of the process. And that abiding self-trust is what makes the difference.

Years ago, I spent tthousands of dollars on coaching about how to “scale” my business, for example. The content was great but the coaching was worthless, and actually harmful. Why? Because scaling happens from focusing on customers – not from focusing on scaling.

When your business is ready to scale, you will know it, because you’ll already be doing it. It’s that simple.

Things improved significantly in my business when I stopped caring about how it should look and just showed up and doing the work, every day.  I did what was required to serve clients and improve the firm, bit by bit.

And behold, the work built on itself over time and led to consistent growth. Clients loved the attention and stayed with us. New clients joined us.

And that’s how it is. We build something. The world responds. We improve and adapt. We get new ideas and try those out. We build the next thing. As we do this, we develop skills, build relationships, sharpen our vision.

We add team members, and their success too depends on the same focus, that same depth of presence with what’s next to be done.

This is how businesses are built.

Simple. But there’s no formula to it, besides showing up. Hence this well-known graphic:

One quibble: that squiggly line on the right is not so much what it success looks like as what it feels if we expect our path to be a straight line.

We can have the experience on the left. It just means abandoning expectations and attachment to outcomes and doing the work in front of us, as best we can, with diligence, care, presence and attention.

Ultimately, there is no other way to build a business. And that is very good news.

Listening When It’s Hard

When we are arguing with another person (or with life for that matter), odds are we aren’t listening well. We are too busy defending our point of view. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be arguing.

Now, I’m not here to say don’t argue.  Sometimes we can’t help ourselves. But I do want share some insights that have helped me turn arguments into helpful experiences.

In my heated exchanges with my wife, for example, I have found (often reluctantly, mind you) there is always some validity and truth in her complaints. Yes, always. As in 100% of the time.

Difficult as it is to accept, when I have looked at my behavior through her eyes, and dropped my own righteousness enough to listen, I’ve always seen is ways I can grow as a husband, father and human being.

And often, that seeing has made me want to change and improve myself.

What I experience here is no accident, and it’s not particular to my wife.  All human beings have powerful intelligence, including the natural capacity for penetrating wisdom and sharp perception.

Our partners, friends, family members, business colleagues – all of them have powerful penetrating intelligence.

If one of them is sharing their views with you, there is, by definition, intelligence and wisdom in what the other person is saying. And if they are sharing it loudly and urgently, it is a good guess there is an important message in what they’re saying.

 

Now, does this mean taking all of what our spouses or partners say as gospel? Of course not; that would be relinquishing our own intelligence. What I’m pointing to is the value of listening and being open to learning from and considering what your partner is saying.

What I’m pointing to is the value of listening and being open to learning from and considering what your partner is saying.

Doing that transforms arguments into avenues for our growth. It’s aligning with the basic truth that life is always working for us, even (especially) when we’re kicking and screaming against it.

Doing this requires that we let go of being right and open ourselves up to seeing things in new and different ways — about ourselves, our partners, and life in general.

It means recognizing our perspective is always  subjective and incomplete – and always subject to improvement, updating and revision, whether we like it or not.

It means approaching life with humility, with an orientation that invites answers to questions like: What am I not seeing? What am I doing that is creating this conflict? What can I learn? How can I improve?

The problem with arguments is can be hard to set aside our pride and righteousness to look for the truth and value in what our partner is sharing.  Which is why I am not suggesting that arguments are a good idea in and of themselves. There are more helpful ways to communicate if we can manage it. It’s just sometimes we can’t.

And even then, even in the midst of righteousness and anger, there is an opportunity to listen, to open ourselves up to hearing new things.

This sliver of humility makes all the difference. It makes space for wisdom to show up.  And that wisdom is the gateway to a better experience of our relationships and our life.

 

The Virtues of Doing Nothing

We’ve all had the experience of writing an irate and righteous email, or going on an irate and righteous tirade, only to reflect later on our remarks — and cringe. Did I really say that? What seemed justified yesterday now looks petty, reactive, and beneath our dignity.

There’s a broader principle at work here.

When we’re experiencing intense personal reactions, our perspective is skewed and limited.  In fact, the intensity of those feelings is itself an indicator of how narrowed our perspective has become. Our focus has become intensely personal, largely to the exclusion of the bigger picture.

Now, because our psyche has a natural tendency to restore itself to balance, this intensity will ultimately dissipate on its own and our aperture will widen again.

As it does, our perspective and perceptions will shift to ones that are more bigger-picture and impersonal. We will begin to see things with a more balanced and therefore more hopeful and productive perspective.

Some people may resist that shift and hang on dearly to their intensity, especially if they believe intensity in an indicator of their own rightness rather than the fact that they’ve lost their bearings.

But left to its own devices, the psyche’s tendency is to clear these kinds of thoughts and move towards equanimity, which is a far more productive place.

There are many times in my business, for example, when I feel besieged by insecurity and discouragement. In those moments, my business looks bleak and terrible.

Now, I understand that the intensity of my feelings in these moments are merely indicators of a temporarily skewed perspective. Without my doing anything, those intense feelings and disturbing perceptions will dissipate and  be replaced with better feels and a more productive perspective.

When the anxiousness fades, what arises is renewed inspiration, renewed commitment, hope, or a sense of appreciation and pride.

Things are just not as bad as they look in our dark moments of anger, fear or insecurity. Indeed, any experience of stress at all is nothing more than an indicator that we have lost our bearings. We have forgotten that what we are seeing and experiencing is a product of our own thoughts.

Months ago, I felt disturbed and offended by a friend’s actions. I drafted an irate email, but didn’t send it. Later, the friend apologized and we had a nice afternoon together. I am not naive to what he did, but I recognize he was under stress and lost his bearings. He may not be my best friend, but he is not an enemy to me and I get to live in a more balanced enjoyable place with him. I did not have to deal with the drama of a conflictual, broken relationship.

In my marriage, this basic understanding helps me continually. My mood drops, and all looks stressful and bleak. But I have learned I don’t have to do anything about this. I don’t have to unload my grievances into my relationship. I can wait for the feelings to lift and a better perspective to come in.

Human beings are prone to lose perspective on a regular basis, but we have emotional indicators that tell us when we have done so. Recognizing the indicators and letting the psyche reset itself is a simple way to avoid over-reacting before you’ve considered all the angles.

And all we need to do is wait for that to happen. Because it will.

We’re not always able to do this, but even when we don’t, understanding how this works enables us look back on the situation with compassion and understanding — and that too is helpful.

Forget Your Weaknesses (And Strengths) – Just Do The Work

There’s a lot of advice in the business world trying to get us to manage ourselves to become more productive or effective. A good example is the ubiquitous advice to focus on our strengths, delegate our weaknesses, and optimize time spent doing things we’re best at.

The advice makes logical sense, of course, and over the years, I’ve bent myself into pretzels trying to implement it. And none of it amounted to a thing.

At the end of the day, the only thing that worked for me was showing up fully in my business and doing whatever needed doing. That’s what got my business to a place where delegating worked.

And now that I have a team, what’s best delegated is part of the daily flow of judgment calls, one of many decisions I make as part of my work. My common sense and best judgment tell me where to direct my energy and that of my team. An internal sense of my strengths and weakness is built into those judgments by default.

People are at their best when they live and work with a clear open mind and without over-thinking. It’s not helpful to fill our mind with strategies for self-management, which then have us self-monitoring, self-evaluating and, ultimately, self-doubting. All that clutter interferes with our natural responsive intelligence.

Am I focusing on a strength? Is it in my zone of genius? Should do more of this or less of that? We are just not designed to live that way. What’s more, it’s unnecessary and counter-productive.

As human beings, we are at the height of our capacities when we immerse ourselves in what we’re doing with a mind unfettered by pre-conception and strategies, through which thought and experience flow without clutter.

In that state, we bring crackling living intelligence to our work, an intelligence that is responsive to events, that learns and adapts, that makes connections and generates fresh ideas, that brings us what we need to respond to what’s at hand.

For most of my career, I didn’t understand this and read hoards of advice providing techniques and behaviors that supposedly lead to success in business. It all made logical sense. And it was all distracting, stressful and counter-productive.

It was when I just showed up and did what needed doing, as best as I could manage, that things started happening. And it was a hell of a lot more fun.

I still constantly get stuck in my head, question what I’m doing and fall into periods of rumination, but I understand these are moments of distraction, where I’ve just forgotten I’m better off immersing myself in the work in front on me. I know now that doing, not analyzing, will provide the answers I need.

Success may look in retrospect like it comes through the application of techniques. In reality, it comes from doing the work, whatever it looks like, guided by our own intelligence. Growth may follow trends and patterns, but you can’t reverse engineer it. You have to live it from the inside-out.

Of course, we will step back and reflect and seek out teachers and mentors; there is much we can and should learn from others. But the driving intelligence behind what we do must be our own. Informed by research and advice, we still must live and lead from our own wisdom, best judgment and intelligence.

The degree to which we do this is the degree to we grow in effectiveness and emerge as visionary purposeful leaders, dedicated to bringing all that we have to our business and our world.

Notes on Productivity and Wild Goose Chases

Take a room full of people and ask how many have productive and not-so-productive days, around 100% will raise their hands.

Take the same room and ask how many wish they were more productive, the same 100% will raise their hands.

Do you see what is going on here?

It’s so obvious it’s easy to miss: we all have productive and unproductive periods.

It’s our penchant to turn this harmless universal fact into a problem that often stands in the way of our enjoying our work and just getting things done.

Let me expand on that.

As with all things in nature, there is an rhythm to our energy and mental life. Our minds ebb and flow from clarity and decisiveness to reflectiveness and uncertainty, from energy and exertion to rest and renewal.

There are period when we know what to do and we move rather effortlessly into action. We instinctively prioritize what’s on our plate and tackle our next tasks and projects.

At other times, we may linger on things, or our attention may drift to unrelated matters, or we may move into general planning or reflecting, or feel unfocused or out of sorts.

It’s in these natural ebbs that we grow insecure about our productivity, question our level of self-discipline or commitment, and seek solutions to our so-called “procrastination.”

In a search to override our rhythms, we shop around for a book or app or method that will eradicate our natural “unproductive” periods once and for all.

We shift our focus from living and working – to diagnosing our imagined productivity problem and finding a solution for it.

In doing so, in adding systems and techniques to our workload, or in convincing ourselves we are flawed or self-sabotaging, we clutter rather than liberate our mind — and unwittingly put simply doing things that much farther from reach.

We’ve created a multi-billion dollar market for productivity tools and trainings, all to help us escape a harmless – and inescapable – fact of the human experience, while adding to the mental clutter that interferes with simple joyful creative action.

I myself have tried many such tools over the years, each time beginning with hope and promise, only to find them gathering dust on bookshelves a short while later, wasted byproducts of my misunderstanding.

Some might say it’s a lack of discipline that leads us to drop these systems so readily. I couldn’t disagree more. It is our common sense that leads us to do so.

Most of us understand at a deep level that obsessive self-management is no way to live or work.

What’s worse is when we resist the natural cycles of productivity, we not only struggle needlessly, we may miss the deeper intelligence behind them, an intelligence that is working for us whether or not it’s satisfying our rational notions of efficiency.

I finished last year with a burst of activity completing a demanding client project. Early January came around and my mind unexpectedly became reflective, unfocused and curious. What’s next, it seems to be asking, as I started tinkering around with ideas.

Other work began to pile up (I occasionally berated myself for this), but I found myself placing it on the back-burner while my mind considered new initiatives and approaches to my business.

I was still working, mind you, keeping the business running, just not focused in the same way. You might even say I was procrastinating.

Inwardly, however, I knew there was some kind of reordering happening. Somehow, I was being called to consider my work from a different perspective or at a deeper level.

This strange period lasted about 3 weeks before I had a burst of insight into a new strategic direction for my firm. By the end of it, I  felt literally like a different person, with a new level of clarity and understanding around business.

Often our slower periods are invitations to reflection and reevaluation at deeper levels. Slowing down, it turns out, can be one of the most powerful productivity tools around.

The good news here is while don’t control the rhythms of our productive life, what does ultimately control it is an intelligence greater than what’s available through mere rational thought.

As we come to recognize and rely on that natural intelligence, as we learn to trust in its wisdom and continual presence, as we learn to relax around this whole subject of productive, we move into a more graceful and consistent relationship with doing.

We don’t waste time on wild goose chases for fixes to problems that don’t exist. We trust our fallow periods and embrace our productive periods. We just do what’s next to do.

And quite surprisingly, a whole lot of things get done.

The Issue With “Issues”

Imagine you’re strolling on a clear, bright path through a beautiful open field when suddenly, a well-meaning stranger cries out, “Watch out for the poison ivy on the side of the path!  It’s the plant with bright green leaves!”

“Oh yes, I see it,” you reply. “Thanks for pointing it out.”

“No, really,” the stranger insists.  “It’s not enough to recognize it. You need to study it closely! Poison ivy is toxic.  You need to understand how it works to be sure it doesn’t hurt you!”

“Oh!” you respond, now concerned.

So you wonder off the path and cautiously approach the plant and begin to study it.  You examine the features of its stem, the color of its leaves, how it grows and spreads itself, how it survives in difficult conditions.

You become fascinated by its toxic qualities and how it infects those that touch it. You begin acquiring techniques, lotions and medicines to alleviate its symptoms and ward off its effects.  You begin preaching about its dangers to all who will listen.

So fascinated are you by this toxic plant, you somehow forget the path you left behind. You forget you can just get up and move on with your life.

And so it is with contemporary self-help and its well-meaning but misguided fixation on “issues.”

At the core of every human being is a well-spring of psychological well-being. Untarnished and unbroken.  From that source, fresh wisdom emerges in each moment, laying for us a clear healthy path through the wide open field of life.

From that spiritual source, our internal life arises and is refracted through ever-shifting prisms of personal thought, shaping how we see and experience the world. To be sure, it helps to recognize certain patterns and how they influence our behavior and experience of life.

But what really helps, and what really matters,  is knowing that wisdom and well-being are behind it all and always available, an ever-emergent intelligence that transcends all thoughts, patterns or behaviors.

In writing this, I do not mean to discount or dismiss the very real psychological suffering human beings experience every day (myself included).

But to label certain thoughts and experiences as “issues” and then study and focus on them doesn’t help matters.  It discounts the human potential for continual self-renewal and turns us away from the very source of our healing and well-being.

When we set aside thought, new fresh thought follows, always, presenting an endless opportunities for new understanding, new ways of being, new possibility.

Focusing on an issue is like weeping over a muddied cup of water in our hand, even though we are sitting by a roaring mountain stream of fresh water, in the midst of nature’s majesty. Just drop the cup into the stream and let the fresh water rush in.

Far better to understand and to remember:  the fresh roaring stream is always inside of us, the path is open and clear.  Look in that direction.  Rise and move forward, knowing wisdom and well-being are at the core of our nature and will see us through.

We can count on it.

Getting Over Arguments Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

There’s a prevailing myth that it is hard for people to “get over” things like insults, arguments, or past injuries.  This myth keeps us stuck in struggle and conflict far beyond what is necessary.

The truth is human beings can get over things quickly, even instantly.  And knowing can be enormously helpful.

When my wife and I argue, for example, it is a relief to know when the argument ends, the warm feelings will return and there is no such thing as emotional residue.

Consider this brief anatomy of an argument.

Our own internal pressure builds or our mood drops, and the mind attaches outside circumstances to our bad feelings. Since our partner is always around, it seems he or she is the cause of our discontent, so we blame them.

Some days, for instance, a messy house is fine with me. Other days, my mood is low and the mess gets under my skin, and I make a sharp comment about it.

If my wife is in a good place, she’ll ignore the remark or understand I’m in a mood.  If she is not, though, she will defend herself, and off we go.

So you see, the argument is not caused by a messy house. It’s just a reflection of our state-of-mind in the moment.  And this is always the case.

Now here’s the key.

At some point, our psyche will naturally want to reset itself, clear itself of excess thinking and restore itself to a more balanced place.  It may take time, but in due course, our psyche moves us back towards balance and connectedness, in the same way the immune system restores the body to 98.6 degrees.

In fact, an argument can be thought of as a mental fever, where the “heated feelings” reflects psyche’s immune system hard at work fighting off infected thinking.

This healing process can be subtle, but if you pay attention, you will notice it.  You may be driving in the car, or walking about, when a warm, loving or remorseful feeling breaks through.  We get a glimpse into our partners’ struggles or motivation, we get a surge of humility about our part in things, we see things from a different or broader perspective.

This is not something that we do, like a technique.  It just happens. It is how we work as human beings.  Like a pendulum returning to rest at center, we too naturally return to rest at center, which for us means a more balanced, connected place.

When arguments arise, it helps to know what is going on.  It helps to know that beneath the tumult of our mental fever lies a warm, loving and connected place awaiting our return. It may take a while, but this internal reset is always in the cards.

We just need to trust it and go with it when it happens. When we do, we still may not necessarily agree with our partner, but perhaps we understand them more, or see our own part more clearly, or recognize that arguing is not necessarily a helpful way to address differences. We see that “problems” are not problems at all, they are just the ordinary stuff of life.

Where I think many of us stumble is in believing arguments are caused by our partners’ behavior rather than our states of mind. And when we don’t remember this, it is easy to perpetuate conflict.

We replay the perceived slight in our mind, evaluate the meaning and significance of arguments, hold on to blame and grievances, stand on pride and self-righteousness. In a sense, we recycle a misunderstanding, blaming our partners for internal agitation that is solely our own. All when the internal pressure is screaming to be released, so we may enjoy a more centered experience.

Does all of this mean persisting in unhealthy relationships or allowing ourselves to be a doormat for mistreatment? Of course not. Acting from our own good sense and well-being, we may communicate our preferences or end unhealthy relationships.  And our psyche will keep moving us back towards balance and understanding, healing and reconciliation, which is an internal experience.

When it does, we will see things from a broader perspective and recognize that fighting, while utterly human, is not necessarily all that productive.  Because there’s another option available to us, which is wait for the internal pressure to clear, for the heated feelings to dissolve, or our mood to lift, perhaps before engaging.

The deeper blessing I am pointing to here lies in knowing arguments or injuries don’t have to mean anything, except that we’ve just lost our bearings in the moment.

Knowing when they’re done, they’re done, knowing we don’t have to work to “get over” them since the psyche does that on its own, knowing it’s in our nature to be restored to a more balanced place — knowing these things has been a continual help in my relationships.  I hope it helps you as well.

Webinar: Reflections on Love, Dating and Relationship

In relationship, love can seem fragile and elusive.  One day we feel warmth and connection with our partner. The next, anger and distance.

But love, I’ve come to understand, idoesn’t come and go. It is not fragile or elusive.Love is a constant, binding, ever-present force that, like gravity, draws our psyche continually towards deeper connection, intimacy, joy and understanding.

Love is a constant and ever-present. What does fluctuates — and boy, does it — is our experience of love.

Our state of mind ebbs and flows.  Critical or dissatisfied or insecure thought gather within us, shrouding what we see and feel. In these moments, our partner seems flawed, our relationship doomed.

Unless we understand what has happened, all can seem lost.

Then what?  Then, our state of mind shifts.  Our mind restores itself to balance. Our mood flows.

Somehow we are guided from within back towards love.  We have humbling insights  — “Maybe I was too harsh,”  “I could have been more helpful or understanding,” “I see where they were coming from” — and as they arise, we regain understanding towards our partner, we recognize our flaws, we are drawn closer together in loving.

The essence of wisdom lies in allowing this natural process to take its course. And to recognize when we have strayed off course and lost our bearings.

In this webinar hosted by the Three Principles Global Community, I share how understanding these truths on a personal level transformed my relationships and dating life, made my marriage possible, and fueled a deeper and more fulfilling engagement with my work and life.

I hope you find it helpful.

The Foundation of Entrepreneurial Leadership

Venture capitalist John Lilly gets pitched for funding by 400 entrepreneurs a year.  Here he is explaining how he evaluate the candidates:

You start to expand the scope of the questions to try to see two things. One is the quality of their thought process. And the other is how they interact with you. Do they become defensive? Do they become aggressive? Are they listening?  You’re trying to get a sense of whether, in a complicated situation with a lot of things going on, can they be honest and candid and still get to a productive place. Sometimes you get honest and candid, and sometimes you get antagonistic or defensive.

The qualities he describes here — clarity of thought, emotional balance, non-reactiveness — are hallmarks of what I call grounding.

Grounding is the capacity to remain centered amid complexity and challenge; to think with clarity and flexibility in the midst of flux and uncertainty; to avoid over-confidence and rigidity while remaining detached and impersonal, even when the stakes are high.

Entrepreneurship involves treading uncharted terrain and tackling challenges that haven’t been tackled before.

I have never seen an entrepreneurial path without unexpected setbacks and unforeseen obstacles.

The entrepreneurs that succeed are those manage to remain centered, balanced, thoughtful and reflective as they navigate these uncharted waters.

Grounding is what makes that possible.

So how do you develop or improve your grounding Most believe it’s an inborn trait or the product of long experience.  The truth, I think, is simpler and somewhat counter-intuitive.

Grounding arises from a good understanding of how our mind works: when our mind is clear and when it is cluttered; when to trust our thinking and when to be cautious; how to respond when we lack clarity or when insecurity or strong emotions overtake us.

Just a few key pieces of wisdom about the human mind can be transformational in deepening our grounding.  For example:

  • Understanding that we have rising and falling moods enables us to ride the emotional rollercoaster with grace and constancy and with far less exhaustion and fallout
  • Understanding our perceptions shift along with our moods (i.e., people and circumstances will look very different over time) introduces an enormously helpful degree of patience and curiosity
  • Understanding our mind continually produces new ideas and fresh insights on a continual basis frees us from obsessing or ruminating and allows for a more consistent engagement with the tasks at hand.

Leaders with grounding have an uncanny ability to keep calm and carry on, to remain relatively unswayed by the slings and arrows of circumstance, to seek and respond to feedback and take difficult conversations in stride.

They steer clear of counter-productive (inner and outer) drama. And they value the clear mind and reflectiveness that are the sine qua non of good leadership.

From a grounded place, things tend to go more smoothly. Work gets simplified. Performance hums along. Solutions arise.  And it all feels natural and ordinary: responsive, drama-free productivity.

In other words: Every investor’s dream.

White Paper: State-of-Mind and Organizational Performance

In the attached article, my co-author, Paul David Walker, and I explain the role that individual and collective states-of-mind plays in organizational performance.

State-of-mind is the prevailing feeling-state embodied in an organization.  It is the lens and filter through which leaders and teams view their organization and their work.  It is a largely-invisible variable that profoundly shapes virtually every element of organizational performance.

Leaders with a deeper understanding of this variable have greater capacity to raise the prevailing state-of-mind in their organization.  By doing so, they address problems when it matters most: before they even arise.  At the same time, they unleash new levels of vitality, creativity and goodwill that are intrinsic to high-quality states-of-mind and that fuel genuine leaps in organizational performance.

Click here to download and read:  State-of-Mind and Organizational Performance