Build Your Business Around Tools, Not Talent

Getting off the treadmill

Many business owners get their first taste of success simply be being talented; they’ve got the goods. But the ones that go on to build highly successful companies will not do it on their talent, or even the talent of others.

Too many business owners are involved in talent shows – building their businesses on being center stage and showing their customers how they good they are. Why shouldn’t they? It’s those unique abilities that first allowed them to get ahead. But talent is not a good thing to build a business around.

Tools, Not Talent
In 1977, Ms. Fields’ first venture was a tiny little shop in Palo Alto, CA where she made the cookies by herself. She attracted customers because of what she personally could do. But early on she did something very strategic and simple to build a great company, that all of us should do, whether we want a billion dollar corporation or just a great local cookie shop; she started building her business around tools instead of around her talent.

Rather than rely on her on ability to make cookies, she wrote the recipe down so that others could replicate her genius. Her talent went out of her head (talent), through her heart (passion) and out her hands (process) on to a piece of paper, freeing her to build a great company. The simple tool she created with that recipe gave her a business that could make money without her being there. In ten years the company grew to over $100 million sales and a staggering 18% ($18 million) profit.

Our Secret Sauce
Too many business owners keep themselves deeply inserted into the process, unwilling to divulge the secret sauce that is behind their talent. In many cases, they’re just too busy being successful to even figure out how to pull that secret sauce out through their hands on to a piece of paper. And sadly, many are sure that simply no one else could do what they do; their talent is unique and cannot be transferred to the hands of someone else.

Others Can Paint Your Mona Lisa
There are painters who, if given the proper tools and training, are able to produce such perfect replicas of the most cherished paintings on earth that only a few experts can discern they aren’t the originals, and then only after studying them closely. Even the greatest of talent can be replicated.

It was your talent that designed your Mona Lisa, and maybe that initial “design” talent is not replicable. But the ongoing delivery of that Mona Lisa is easily replicated if you are willing to write your recipe down, turn your talent into a tool or process, and train others to use it. You just have to get over yourself and the idea that no one else could deliver on the unique process you’ve devised.

Be Your Creative Self – Let Others Make the Cookies
Go ahead, be a wildly talented, creative genius. Come up with amazing things or transformational services that make people come running. Then get your ego and yourself out of the way and take the time to figure out how to train others to do it.

In 10 years, Ms. Fields was able to expand from one cookie recipe to 14, and from one store to a few hundred, because she was no longer making the cookies. But she had to get over herself and believe somebody else could do it.

Build your business around tools, not talent. Write down your recipe. Train others to make the cookies, and instead of making the cookies, use your creative genius to develop more recipes and expand your business.

Only One Type of Bankruptcy Is Fatal

And it’s not financial

Tons of people have gone bankrupt and succeeded anyway. It’s because they avoided the one type of bankruptcy that would have ended it all. And it has nothing to do with money.

The following Presidents all went bankrupt financially:
Abraham Lincoln A bunch of really bad general stores
Ulysses Grant After he was President
Thomas Jefferson Multiple times before and after being President
William McKinley Just three years before becoming President.

A very few business people who went bankrupt and were still successful:
Henry Ford His Detroit Automobile Company went bankrupt in 1899. Henry Ford Company was failing when he left in 1903 to start Ford Motor Company.
Walt Disney Bankrupt in 1922, created Mickey Mouse in 1928, and in the 60’s had to go to 302 banks before the 303rd would give him money for his insane idea to start an “amusement” park called Disneyland.
Milton Hershey Went bankrupt twice trying make candy, then hit it big with Hershey’s Chocolate.
H.J. Heinz In 1875 his horseradish company went bankrupt. The next year he started a ketchup company that does $10 billion a year now.
P.T Barnum Bankrupt in 1855. Then in 1871 at age 61 he started a circus. a stupid idea no bank would support, especially with a guy who had been bankrupt. It raked in over $10 million in today’s dollars the first year.

Commitment Bankruptcy
I personally know a number of people who went bankrupt financially, but they all share the same trait as those above; they never went bankrupt personally.

I don’t mean personal financial bankruptcy, I mean “commitment bankruptcy”, which would have destroyed their personal vision, personal motivation, personal willingness to pick themselves up and do it again, and as a result, their personal commitment to keep going.

Looking at the example of these people’s lives, financial bankruptcy is clearly never fatal. But if you lose your vision, stop believing you can do it, or just get tired and quit, you’ve suffered the only bankruptcy that is permanent – Commitment Bankruptcy.

Gradually, Then Suddenly
Stay in the habit of getting back on the horse regularly. If you quit the small things, it will create a habit of quitting that can lead you to quitting the big things. We suffer Commitment Bankruptcy the same way we suffer financial bankruptcy – gradually; then suddenly.

Financial bankruptcy is temporary. Commitment bankruptcy is fatal.

Get back on the horse today and ride.

Industrialists Are Not Capitalists

but they’re all over the place, even today.

People love to throw stones at Capitalists, but it’s the Industrialists who are the problem. And they are a very different animal. I’m a fire-breathing Capitalist, and I don’t relate to these guys. Let’s throw stones in the right direction.

I’ve been working on and blogging about my next book on the Industrial Age for 18 months. The production area of the modern company has changed radically, having left the Industrial Age forty+ years ago. It’s full of clean suits and nano-technology. But the front office is still dragging its knuckles through practices developed in the 1800s for the Industrial Age.

Dilbert still reigns in the front office. And it’s largely because old-fashioned Industrialists are still in charge of the businesses.

Following is a chart from one of the chapters in the upcoming book showing the stark difference between true Capitalists, who are regularly doing great stuff, and Industrialists, who are more often up to no good. I can only find one thing they do in common (take risks), and even that is driven by entirely different motivations.

Do you work for the Industrialist on the left, or the Capitalist on the right?

If you want to work with the guy on the right, but you’re working for one on the left, get moving. Start aggressively looking for the company on the right, because they’re looking just as hard for you. They’re out there – don’t settle for less!

Live Longer – Don’t Retire.

Golf is bad for your future.

A 90-year study of 1,528 Americans called The Longevity Project shoots holes in the retirement dream. Turns out goofing off for the last thirty years of our lives is a really bad idea.

The idea that work is leading you to an early grave is a myth. This massive study proved what we’ve been saying for years now.

Know where you’re going.
People with the most focused long-term paths in the study were the least likely to die young. Looking at the participants in the study who were in their 70s, those that had not retired were looking at much longer lives than their golfing counterparts: “The continually productive men and women lived much longer than their laid-back comrades.”

Also, those who moved from job to job without a clear progression were less likely to have long lives than those who went deep and long in a focused direction with their business lives. We call this a commitment to the long term, “conation”.

Conate, You’ll Live Longer.
Conation is the most important business word you’ve never heard, but is central to a long life. We define conation as, “Committed Movement in a Purposeful Direction.”

“It wasn’t the happiest or the most relaxed older participants who lived the longest,” the authors write. “It was those who were most engaged in pursuing their goals.”

Knowing where you’re going, and being committed and focused to get there (conation), is going to make you live longer.

Conation – Committed Movement in a Purposeful Direction.

Live With Purpose, Not Just to Play.
This study doesn’t mean you need to go to work for 90 years. It means you need to rethink going out to pasture at 65 to play golf. Amusement isn’t the goal. Think of the Latin roots of that word – “a” means “without”, and “muse” means “to think”

Amusement – something you do without your brain.

Make Meaning
A commitment to a life of retirement leisure is a great way to die sooner. You don’t have to go to work; you just need to figure out how to continue to Make Meaning even if you’re done making money.

Retirement is a bankrupt Industrial Age idea. Live a life of significance your whole life, not just the first 2/3rds of it.

Conate. You’ll live longer.


Why Studying Exceptional People Doesn’t Help Us

Process vs Result

We all have a desire to be significant. Yet few of us feel we are creating the rules that will get us there. So we study “exceptional people” to find rules for success. But we almost always miss the one rule that makes them successful; struggle.

While we idolize our hero, too often we lose sight of what got them there. With very few exceptions, it wasn’t talent, but struggle. Is it possible that deep commitment to the effort it takes to get to your Big Why is what actually creates meaning, joy and success?

Joy in the Journey
Are we too focused on the result achieved by “exceptional people” to understand how they got there? Why do athletes, music heroes, and business people who are already at the top of their field and financially secure keep going? Why don’t they retire as soon as they get there? Is the result their focus?

I believe it is because they have found the secret (such an over used term) of success. They understand that meaning and joy are not found in the destination but in the journey, and that love of the process of persistent struggle is the key to joy.

Love the Persistent Process
How did your star athlete get to the level they are at? By persistent struggle on the weight machines, on the track, and daily work at perfecting their craft. Relentless, consistent, persistent struggle. And a deep love for that process. Yo Yo Ma, world famous cellist, once told my daughter “The key to becoming a world class musician is to learn to love to practice; to practice every day as if you’re sitting on stage at Carnegie Hall for your debut concert.”

Do you love the Persistent Process, or are you focused on the result? Measure the result, but focus on the process and building your mental muscles through it. Learn to love the process and the ongoing development of both your craft and your business.

You will find the most meaning and joy in having made it through the tough times and having created success by loving the Persistent Process of getting there.

Your heroes didn’t get there by talent. They got there by learning to love the process of getting there. Take the things you learn from them with you into the real world, get beat up, fall down, get back up a little stronger, and do it again. Build your mental muscles one at a time, but relentlessly. Unfailing commitment to the process of getting there is the only thing that will get you there.

No Exceptional People, Just Exceptional Commitment
We get what we intend, not what we hope for. Intend to embrace the process in order to get the result. Don’t read books marveling at people who have achieved great things. Don’t study their result. Marvel instead at the fact that these otherwise very common people were dedicated and sold out to the long process of getting there, no matter their circumstances.

Circumstances don’t make me who I am. How I respond to them does. Respond with tenacity and commitment to the long view. That will get you there! Do what it takes to build a business and a life of significance!

Joy is not found in the destination, but in the journey. Love the journey, the Persistent Process, and success will follow.

Why Our Favorite Questions Keep Us On The Treadmill

The Four Short-term Q’s

There are six basic questions we ask in business, but we only love the first four. We ask those four all the time. We’re consumed with them:

What – What do we sell?
Who – Who do we sell it to? (or for English majors – to whom do we sell it?)
How – How do we market it?
Where – Where do we sell it?
…or other versions of the four.

We use those four questions to create, innovate, clarify, repeat the same activity every day, stall and do nothing, pay the mortgage, and in general, to run our business.

The Four Treadmill Questions
But there is something inherently wrong with these four questions – they will never get us off the treadmill. Why? Because they are most often used to help us make money right now, and anything that focuses us on making money NOW is likely to keep us on the treadmill and make it harder to build a business down the road that makes money when we’re not around. These four questions help us a lot in the short-term, but very little or not at all in the long-term.

Why, “Why”? And When, “When”?
There are two other questions that we don’t like so much, but are a lot more helpful to growing a business in the long term:

When – The Second Least Asked, Second Most Important Question in Business
When should be asked every time you asked the first four – “When” will you… →figure out “what” to sell, “who” you sell it to, “how” you will market it, “where” you will sell it?, etc. We don’t like “when” because it holds us accountable, creates metrics that demonstrate clearly how we’re doing, and makes us work when we feel like goofing off (“sorry, got a deadline, need to keep going”).

Why – The Least Asked, Most Important Question in Business
We don’t like why at all. We don’t know how to ask it, it’s too fuzzy, it takes a lot of energy to answer, but most importantly, it doesn’t seem to make us much money right NOW. But “why” is the question that is most likely to build a business LATER that makes money when we’re not around. And the best way to build a business LATER is to ask “Why” NOW with every one of the other five questions, including “When”. (When will I do it? Why then?)

Three Whys to Every Other Question
Want to get off the treadmill? Any time you ask what, who, how, where and even when, ask why. The best habit would be to ask at least two to three “whys” to every other question. (What do I sell? Why do I sell it? Why not sell x instead?)

If you only ask the first four questions, you are likely to only make enough money to pay your mortgage. If you ask the last two, “when” and “why”, every time you ask the others, you are likely to build a business a real that makes money when you’re not around.

Get off the treadmill. Ask when and why all the time.