Work On The Business, Not In The Business

There’s a saying among entrepreneurs that a person should work on the business, not in the business. Let that distinction sink in for a moment. It’s certainly true that managers should work on the business as their scope and span of control and influence increases. Meddling in details when you have managers reporting to you is a sure sign of someone managing the wrong problems. When we do this, we dilute our power, and we fail to capitalize the biggest opportunities.

Here Is The Problem

When we have a complex or stressful problem, it’s easy to get caught up in it and keep hacking at tree branches. Instead, we need to step back and get a view of the entire forest. Often, we’re so immersed in the specifics of a situation, we can’t see it objectively. This is all just another way of saying the oft-repeated advice to “see it from another point of view”. Unfortunately, sometimes we become so attached to the first issue or evidence we find, we can’t or won’t step away to see the entire situation. If you think this isn’t true, think about the most vexing problem you’ve ever had. How much did it “have” you emotionally, at some point before you finally solved it?

Focusing on the first symptom we see is the equivalent of bailing water when there’s a hole in the boat. When this kind of behavior becomes cultural, the people and systems around us have become so attached to the observed problem (water in the boat) they refuse to calm down and focus long enough to see the forces at play that are causing the visible symptoms (the hole in the hull). In cultural systems like this, it’s almost a certainty that this behavior  in policy and procedure, is encouraged, and even rewarded. It’s a good thing some of us are in really high margin industries!

Here Is The Opportunity

Experience has shown repeatedly that often the first identified problem is just a symptom of another problem. Six sigma practitioners will be familiar with the idea of asking “Why?” five times, to get to the root of a problem. How often do we do this in life, or even in business, where we often pride ourselves on our scientific management approach? In my experience, the management “flavor of the week” or even entire “strategic initiatives” are too often just one-off attempts to address a symptom.

Here are two examples of failure to address the real problem:

Here’s an example of someone who successfully worked “on” his business, and saw great results!

I will assert that the probability of an initiative succeeding is directly related to its relationship to the cause of the problem. People eventually get wise and cynical to the cosmetic solutions repeatedly applied to existential problems. You can fool some of the people all the time, and you can fool all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time. Eventually they start getting wise. Others just won’t get on board with a “solution” that doesn’t address the real problem. Address the root of the problem and you’ll seize on the real opportunities!

Consider And Act

  • Share a time when you’ve seen people in organizations address symptoms (work in the business), overlooking the root cause of the opportunity.
  • Consider a time when you’ve seen people address symptoms in their personal lives, overlooking the root cause of the opportunity.
  • Share a time when you saw people effectively work on the business, and the results they achieved.
  • Share a time when you were able to successfully work on the business, and the results you achieved.
  • Consider a time when you saw people effectively work on the root cause of the problem in their personal lives, and the results they achieved.
  • Share a time when you were able to successfully work on the root cause of the problem in your personal life, and the results you achieved.

For More Information

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, by Michael E. Gerber

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Hi, I’m Dylan Cornelius.
I was passed over for promotions four times in three years, every time passed over by a peer. My marriage was a wreck. I was obese and my doctor threatened to medicate me if I didn’t lose weight.
When I calculated the per-hour value of my overtime at work, the additional money in my bonus didn’t justify the costs to my health, relationships, and personal satisfaction.
After five years of hearing me complain, my brother told me to stop complaining or do something about it. I was stunned that it had been so long.
After a long and expensive search, I realized the quality of my relationships was poor and I wasn’t taking care of other people or myself.
When I committed to creating fantastic relationships and high-performing teams in every area of my life that mattered, my life transformed.
I was promoted. Now I’m picked to lead teams and frequently thanked for my contribution.
While my marriage didn’t survive, I met an amazing woman who trained me for my first two marathons, and now I do triathlons for fun. I lost 50 pounds and controlled my diet, allergies, and autoimmunity.
Now my “Honey Bunny” and I tour for weeks at a time on a tandem bike. Soon, we’ll cross countries and continents.
I created a Team Acceleration Blueprint based on my personal development journey and decades of education and experience building and leading teams at some of the best universities and companies on the planet.
I believe the world can work for everyone. It starts with clarity of purpose, fantastic relationships, and high-performing teams. I intend to help 10,000 people create an unfair advantage and achieve results they didn’t believe were possible too.

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