He loved his innovation and knew it would make office workers more productive. Much more productive! His exciting idea had become a start-up and the first feedback from friends and acquaintances provided feedback for improvement and, more importantly, feedback validating his excitement. He wasn’t much of a salesman but he found a partner who was and who saw the potential of the office product innovation. For two and half years there had a rapid cycle of challenge, change and carry-on-charge repeated more times than he could count. Now, three years after his innovation, he was dizzy with excitement, fatigue and uncertainty about the business direction. It was time to bring the topic to his life coach.
The life coach suggested that he consider what kind of business he wanted.
A business that focuses on fixing problems.
A business that aspires to fulfill a vision.
A business that is going out of business.
He had picked the easiest of these kinds of business first. He wasn’t interested in being part of a business going out of business, until he considered selling the business. His action plan developed quickly from this reframing of the life coach’s suggestion. When he reflected on a business that focuses on fixing problems, he appreciated anew the joy he found in diagnosing, setting goals, developing strategies and changing problems into positive production. The one additional kind of business to consider in order to complete his life coach’s suggestion was, “What about a business that aspires to fulfill a vision?”
This question rolled around in his head for days. The words made a sentence yet, had no meaning to him. His frustration grew passed the point of not wanting to be reminded of his commitment to consider the question. The day before he was to meet with his life coach the frustration was great enough that he blurted to his partner, “No one in their right mind would want a business that aspires to fulfill a vision. That’s why churches have collection plates and still can’t meet their expenses let alone make a profit!”
The look on his partner’s face immediately told him he’d blundered badly. The partner’s eyes were wide and the color in his face became more like chalk by the second. When the head tilted and the eyebrow began to lift, the business owner felt a great urge to apologize. And he would have, but he had no idea what to apologize for. So he asked, gently, “What did I say?”
His partner began slowly. “Well,” he sighed “it’s your vision that got me to join this company.” The partner swallowed, hard, and continued “If you don’t know that vision, what am I doing here?” “I mean, you came up with this office product innovation but you sold me on the difference to be made for the people who work every day doing the little things that make a company big money. That’s what I sell and what I’m training our sales force to sell: The difference it makes for little people who do bigger things because they have our product. When the CEO says yes to us, he feels like he’s improved his company because he’s improved productivity by making each office worker’s life richer!”
“Maybe, I’m out of line, here, but you allowed me to join you on a mission and you’ve never treated me like a sub-ordinate. It’s you and me making life better for office workers. And, boy, have we done that! Each month for several years more and more workers have less drudgery and more value because we’ve lightened their load and added purpose. Our resale is high because the buyers wouldn’t dare face their office staff without our product on their desk. So, if there’s another reason for this company, I’ve been way out of line.”
The owner was stunned. Stunned by the words. Stupefied by his partner’s intensity. He managed a mumbled apology and retreated to his office on the pretense of an important telephone call. He’d smacked face first into the problem – he was the problem. He had spent so much time and energy in that great strength of his, problem solving, that not only had he lost sight of the forest, he no longer recognized the tree for the bark in which his nose was buried. After a few minutes, he knew exactly the kind of business that he would tell his life coach that he wanted:
His business would provide a means by which customers could serve others so well, with such great efficiency and effectiveness that he would be constantly entertaining suitors who wanted to buy him out.