Thursday, October 15, 2015

Work Paradox (Tradecraft)

For years, I've believed the key job of a small business owner is to create policies and procedures, methods for others to work in your business. This is called working on your business rather than in your business. You can improve indefinitely, but eventually you get diminishing returns, and worse, much worse, you get bored. Boredom leads to less innovation, and less innovation leads to stagnant sales and stagnant sales, assuming you're still profitable in your bored state, leads to stupid decisions.

Stupid decisions are what drive a lot of large, stagnant corporations as well. This is when you tend to see mergers and acquisitions, which experts are finding are almost always more destructive than value creating. In small business, this leads to adding additional locations, moving to a larger location, messing with speculative product lines, or diversifying in various ways, mostly, and few will admit this, because it's challenging and entertaining. Stupid decisions based on stagnant growth are the Peter Principle of business, when every company rises to the level of their incompetence.

So what to do? There is no answer here. Those who can be successful in business, large and small, are driven. When they read The Four Hour Work Week, they have no desire to implement process and procedure so they can sit on a beach, they do it so they can implement process and procedure on the Next Thing. I've talked with my business owner friends about this, and we're in similar situations. Quite done with business number one. Not ready (or able) to retire. Not sure what to do next. It's the best of problems you want to have.

Most people work and (hopefully) save for retirement all their lives and eventually they get to the point where it's rather obvious they're done. They've saved enough. They've hit social security age. Their peers are doing the same. In small business, there is no perceptible stopping point. There is nobody there to say you're done. In large business, shareholders want to see value creation, which adds additional perverse incentives to take something that's already working and muck about with it.

But what about Zen, you ask?

Nobody ever asks that.

You could take a more wholesome approach to work. You could divest yourself a bit of your ego. You could work for the sake of work. Wax on, wax off. You could vacuum more floors, talk with more customers, and find the joy in the work again and stop striving to be successful. You could re-integrate yourself into the business that you've worked so hard to internally outsource. You could be content as the ultimate expression of the community business you set out to build.

But honestly, if you haven't had that outlook from the beginning, you're not likely to put down your war metaphors, your tools of battle, and simply relax. You've learned the wolf is always scratching at the door. Whistling a happy tune will not make it go away. Regardless, you might need to give it a try.

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