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The Problem With Business Tips
Providing business tips is my main hobby. I tell people pretty openly about all our wins, stupid mistakes and all the bits between.
There’s a syndrome I’ve noticed where I’ll do a conference presentation, drawing on decades of painful business lessons and hard-won knowledge, tested by burning piles of our own money and finding out what really works.
Afterwards someone always comes up and says something like:
“Good presentation! I mean I knew all those things, they’re just common sense. But it’s helpful to be reminded of them.”
You knew all those things, did you?
Well why the fuck aren’t you doing them, Mister Just-Common-Sense?
Why are you still in the same grey cubicle you were in five years ago?
It seems so obvious, yet so many people are oblivious to the Grand Canyon gap between the knowing and doing sides of their business life.
Ignoring Information Worth Tens Of Millions
One of the nicest guys in our industry, a Canadian named Harald, used to run an annual three-day course on how to run your company better.
It was part of the global audiovisual industry conference, and he told people all they needed to know. His business was a global leader in our field, in about 20 cities with hundreds of staff, maybe thousands.
An ex-lawyer, he was all over the details, and he served them out like a generous maitre’ d.
Every problem a smaller company could face, he had already solved years ago, and had a process to fix it. We smashed into his IP like possums into an over-filled wheelie bin.
It still makes us money to this day.
Over beers in the evening, we asked him why he put so much generous energy into teaching his competitors.
He told us he loved the industry and wanted to contribute. But also:
“Every year I tell them all I know. They get all excited, and fly home determined to transform their business. They put their course notes on the shelf, while they deal with the backlog of quotes from being away. And they get busy, and they never open that folder again. Nothing changes.”
All that common sense, entombed in the Ring Binder Of Forgotten Dreams.
Harald eventually sold his business for a stupendous amount of money. Buyers like a well-organised company. He is now very happy running his organic winery.
Also I’m suddenly depressed at this reminder that it was once possible to travel overseas to have fun and learn stuff.
You Must Do Things
Business is full of success theoreticians who have not done the things.
In the same way that this week every couch dad has some common sense tips for athletes on where it all went wrong in their quest for Olympic gold.
You can have all the knowledge you like and it won’t affect your success or happiness a damn bit.
You must act.
It’s easy to postpone any kind of change. You can justify it to yourself because you’re really busy.
And because you would like 100% certainty, and that can only come from waiting for just a bit more knowledge.
Part of the Just Common Sense mindset is that if an idea sounds simple, then it’s not a prestigious business strategy.
Prestige strategies have names like McKinsey’s Seven-S Framework.
Yet simple works.
Being able to express complicated things simply is harder than it looks.
It’s an essential leadership tool.
Managers say things that sound clever because you can’t understand them.
Leaders express the same idea simply enough for people to go: Yeah! Let’s all do that!
This isn’t just about big decisions like leaving a job to set up your own business. It’s about every change you make.
How We Make Money By Doing Things
In our industry, opportunities pop up fast. There might be a chance to recoup half the value of a rental asset on one project, but it starts next week.
In most companies, buying a new asset involves a months-long saga of capex request forms, committee meetings, board documentation and so on.
By which time the opportunity to make the money is long gone.
Our business does well because we got rid of the barriers to acting now, and built a culture that encourages it. We make quite large capex decisions with a quick phone hookup and move on.
We’re no smarter than the others but we’re usually quicker.
This means we get to make the money, which gives us the cash to be able to afford to buy the next thing. It’s a positive loop that puts you in a strong position long-term.
Same with hiring people. If you find a good person, you hire them, because they’re a scarce commodity.
I know so many people at giant companies who have opportunities popping up all over the place, but they can’t hire the people. Because head office has ordered them to stick to their head count.
Profit, and fun, comes from arranging your business so you can make a quick decision and act on it.
Like the greatest slogan in marketing history: Just Do It.
And I do enjoy that that slogan came not from something Michael Jordan said before an NBA final, but from gas station stick-up murderer Gary Gilmore as he faced a Utah firing squad in 1977.
Disclaimer: I am not advising you to hold up a servo. But also: I’ll take his advice over McKinsey any day.
PS This advice is tricky to apply right now for my many event industry friends who were just seeing a glimpse of daylight after a year in our dungeon prison. And are now catapulted back to near-zero revenue until Christmas, because our industry will be among the last allowed to re-open.
Those who survived 2020 are in a precarious financial state from last time. I haven’t blogged about it. I can only think and write about that topic so often before it really gets me down.
But if you know people in events, performing arts, hospitality and areas like that, please be really nice to them. Don’t moan about your lockdown problems and don’t tell them how your work has never been busier. Trust me they do not want to hear that.
And get vaccinated. Many of our problems come from the spoiled, complacent idea we should be able to wait and choose our vaccines like it’s a fucking wine list. Do it now.
My book Undisruptable has been getting some lovely reviews. Read why you need it here:
Or just buy it here. Booktopia had sold out but they’re re-stocked this week, also on e-book and audio book.
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