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, odds are we aren’t listening well. We are usually dealing with our intense personal feelings and defending our point of view.

But listening to what’s been said to us can actually be quite helpful.

In my heated exchanges with my wife, for example, I find (often reluctantly, mind you) there is always some validity to her complaints.

If I’m arguing, it is usually because I prefer to focus on the validity of my complaints. But if I’m being honest, I need to accept responsibility for my side of the street.

This is actual good news. When I have looked at my behavior through my wife’s eyes, I’ve always seen is ways I can grow as a husband, father and human being. And that really has resulted in a great deal of fulfilling (and humbling) personal growth.

Our partners, friends, family members, business colleagues – all of them have powerful penetrating wisdom and intelligence. All human beings without exception are powered by this intelligence.

If someone 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 what they say as gospel? Of course not; that would be relinquishing our own intelligence. Their perspective is necessarily limited and subjective, just the same as all of us.

What I’m pointing to is the value of listening and being open to considering what your partner is saying. Doing that transforms arguments into avenues for our growth.

Doing this requires that we let go of being right and open ourselves up to seeing things in new and different ways. It means recognizing our perspective is always subjective and incomplete.

The problem with arguments is can be hard to set aside our personal feelings 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.

That sliver of humility makes space for wisdom to show up.  And that wisdom is the gateway to fresh insight and a better experience.

Notes on

We’ve all had the experience of getting offended and then writing an irate email, or launching into a righteous tirade, only to regret it later, after we’ve settled down.

What felt justified in the heat of the moment now seems petty, unwise and beneath our dignity.

Why is this? What is the broader principle at work here?

Intense personal emotions, like anger or indignation, are in-the-moment signs that our perspective has become narrow and constrained. Our focus has become intensely personal, largely to the exclusion of the bigger picture. As a result, any response taken from that state-of-mind is also likely to be imbalanced.

Now, since our mind has a natural tendency to correct itself, left alone, our personal reactivity will tend to dissipate and a more impersonal and balanced perspective will come in.  We’ll reconsider the righteous tirade in favor of a more balanced response (or non-response) that considers things from a more inclusive, impersonal standpoint.

Some people may resist this shift and hang on to their personal reactivity, especially if they believe it is an indicator of rightness rather than imbalance. This root misunderstanding is one of the reasons the world remains rife with intractable conflict.

But the hopeful message is this:  left to its own devices, our mind’s natural tendency is to clear away vituperative thoughts and replace them with equanimity, which is a far more productive place from which to act.

In a negotiation, for example, when I’m besieged with insecurity or righteous indignation towards my adversary, I understand my perspective is not entirely balanced and trustworthy, so I do not act from that place. I carry on setting aside those thoughts as best I can, knowing the mind will tend to produce more balanced insights along the way.

Months ago, I was highly offended by a friend’s actions. I drafted an irate email, but I didn’t send it. A few weeks later, the friend apologized and we had a genuinely nice afternoon together. I am not naive to what he did, but I recognize he was under a great deal of stress at the time and lost his bearings. It happens to me all the time.

What I’m writing about here is not a doing or technique but just an understanding. We are all 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 our minds reset is a simple way to avoid counter-productive over-reactions before we’ve considered all the angles.

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 understanding — and that too is helpful.

Forget Productivity Hacks – Just Do The Work

The self-help world is filled with ‘hacks’ to optimise our personal effectiveness. All of them rest of the dubious notion that we should override our in-the-moment judgment in favor of deliberate strategies or techniques.

To the common advice that we should focus on high-leveraged tasks that play to our strengths, while delegating those that don’t.

The idea makes logical sense, but implementing it is a different story.

In the early years of my business, for example, I bent myself into pretzels to delegate tasks to assistants and contractors, but since my business too young, I did not have a good sense of what or how to delegate. It felt forced and stressful, so I ended up retrenching and starting from scratch.

Eventually, I abandoned all concepts and started just doing needed doing, as best as I could manage. And that is what took my business to a place where hiring and delegating began to make sense.

From a performance standpoint, all of us are at our best when we immerse ourselves with a mind that’s relatively free of clutter and over-thinking. In that state, we bring a powerful instinctive living intelligence to our work.

That intelligence is responsive to the needs of the moment, it learns and adapts, it makes connections and generates fresh ideas, it brings us what we need to respond to what’s at hand. And it’s all automatic and built in.

Self-management strategies interfere with that intelligence. They fill our mind with clutter, blunt our instincts and reduce our effectiveness.

Am I focusing on a strength? Is this in my zone of genius? Should do more of this or less of that? No. We are not designed to live that way. What’s worse, it’s counter-productive.

Now that I have a team, what I delegate is part of the flow of judgment calls I make all day long. An instinctive sense of my own strengths and weaknesses and where to focus my time is built into those judgments by default, without any extra analysis on my part.

Strategies have us fumbling with self-management, instead of immersing ourselves in the work.  And it’s the work that makes the difference.

Of course, we all get stuck in our heads and experience doubt and uncertainty. We got through periods of being unsure how to proceed. We linger over decisions or question our own judgments.

That’s all perfectly normal and part of the process. So long as we stay in the game, our intelligence will help steer us through the rough patches.

Success may look in retrospect like it comes from applying formulas or techniques. That idea gets reinforced by well-meaning people who reflect on their accomplishments and offer some kind of roadmap to ease our path.

But in truth, our roadmap can only come from within, through personal engagement in our work. Progress may follow trends and patterns, but we can’t reverse engineer it. We have to live it from the inside-out.

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?

We all have productive and unproductive streaks. Some days we’re clear and focused, others less so.

Rather than roll with the cycles, we tend to turn it into a problem and a project. We focus on improving our “productivity” and that focus ends up being a huge obstacle to enjoying our work and, ironically, to 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.

Sometimes 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, or we may move into general planning or reflecting, or feel unfocused or out of sorts.

Unless we understand the natural ebb and flow of thought, we may grow insecure about shifts in our productivity, question our level of self-discipline or commitment, and seek solutions to so-called “procrastination.”

Rather than just do the work as best we can, we go out and buy a book or app that will eradicate our natural “unproductive” periods, and implementing that becomes part of the to-do list (subject, of course, to the same ebbs and flows in thought).

Now, in adding systems and techniques to our workload, we further clutter our mind — unwittingly putting decisive action that much farther from reach.

The upshot is we’ve create 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 our natural instincts to get things done.

Personally, I’ve tried many productivity tools over the years, each time starting off with hope and promise, only to find them gathering dust a short while later.

Some might say it’s a lack of discipline – that’s what I thought for a long time. Now I know better.  Now I know it is common sense that leads us to drop these complex productivity systems in favor of just showing up and doing the best we can.

Most of us understand at a deep level that obsessive self-management is no way to live or work. We know that there is only one way to focus on the work, and that is to focus on the work. In doing that, our instinctive intelligence tells us how best to organize things to get things done.

There’s a deeper issue as well: When impose outside systems on ourselves, we not only struggle needlessly, we may miss the deeper intelligence behind the rhythms of thought, 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 business with a more strategic perspective.

This period lasted about 3 weeks before I had a burst of insight into a new direction for my firm. By the end of it, I  felt literally like a different person.

Our slower periods are invitations to reflection and reevaluation, or our psyche taking the time to digest information. 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 productivity, we move into an easier and more consistent relationship with doing.

We don’t waste time on trying to productivity problems that don’t exist. We trust our slower periods and embrace our productive periods. We show up as best we can and do what’s next.

And quite surprisingly, a whole more gets 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