It’s amazing how often something is obvious to one person and not another. Granted, in some cases it’s because nothing is actually that obvious, the issue at hand is murky and no one really knows what they’re doing. That happens more than we’d like to admit.
But in a lot of cases there are reasons behind one person’s ability to see something or get something that’s “obvious” when another person doesn’t. When you run a company, and especially a startup, you are often blinded to a whole lot of “obvious” things. Why? There are a few reasons:
- you’re too busy just running the business, you can’t focus on anything else
- you have industry expertise and that’s what you pay attention to, the rest of the business is fuzzy at best
- you don’t want to know, or you’re scared to look at what’s going on
For many of us, running a company is truly like being the proverbial chicken with its head cut off.
When someone looks at a company from the outside-in they can often – with a fresh pair of eyes and an unfettered brain – see obvious issues and solutions. Having an outsider poke around in your business from a different perspective can be very helpful. Often they’ll tell you what you already know, but often that’s exactly what you need to hear. It’s amazing how many times I’ve suggested things to people and they say, “I know, I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, but just couldn’t wrap my head around it.”
Perspective and the right focus are so important.
Startup founders and business owners work their asses off. It’s almost a universal truth. But logging 200-hour workweeks is meaningless without honest perspective and the right focus.
So what can you do? If you feel you’re drowning, running around without a head, panicking in cold sweats on a daily basis or something equally unpleasant, you need to pull back, stop and breathe. Then you need to look at how you can increase the amount of outside perspective you can bring to the table. Here are some ideas:
- Customer Development. Let’s beat a dead horse and keep the silly analogies going, OK? Customer development – the act of going out and talking to customers in a systematic way with hypotheses in-hand and learning – can absolutely help you find perspective and the right focus. And this isn’t a 1-time endeavor; you should be doing this throughout the existence of your organization.
- Advisory Boards. An advisory board can help. Find the smartest, most experienced people you can, within your industry or otherwise. You want genuine mentors that will invest enough time in you and your business to give you honest, meaningful feedback.
- Read Stuff. Rob Walling has a great post titled Why Startup Founders Should Stop Reading Business Books. And his point is an important one. In the context of my post though I like the idea of just going off, reading some things, re-inspiring yourself, or even just taking a break. When it comes to blog writing, I know that one of the best ways to trigger a post idea is to read other people’s blogs.
- Peer Mentoring. I’m a big believer in peer mentoring. If you’re comfortable airing your problems to others who are all in a similar position as you (e.g. CEOs of tech startups), a lot of value can come out of that.
- Write Things Down. Things are more tangible when they’re written on paper. If there’s a problem, something nagging at you, put it on a piece of paper and have a look.
- Get Outside Help. Recognize your weaknesses and how they’re impacting the business. Take that and hire outside help, or recruit people in to focus on key areas that you’re lacking.
Keeping a business pointed in the right direction at all times is nearly impossible. Without perspective and the right focus you’ll find yourself working hard but making less meaningful and consistent progress. Looking outside for help and guidance isn’t an indicator of failure, so don’t be afraid to do it.