I try and read a good crop of the current recommended business books and articles. In a small business you need to keep your window to the world open. That, along with a forum of 7 fellow CEOs with whom I meet monthly, ensures we can keep current with the changing world.
Looking back, it seems strange being spoilt for resources at a big company. If something didn’t turn on, there was always someone there to fix it. When you had a problem, there was usually a resource you could tap into to find a potential resolution.
One of the hardest things in starting your own business is the loss of those resources and moving to a more entrepreneurial mindset. This means seeking mentors and advisors, but always challenging advice and the processes in your business model. The interesting thing is that as you listen more closely to your clients, and less to the noise around you, you can find clarity. In fact, one of the lessons you learn is to back your judgment and follow your instincts.
It may seem contradictory to be saying on one hand that you need to follow your instincts and at the same time being an advocate for information from networks and business texts. I am a huge advocate of the value of peer advice and I have also found invaluable insight when reading the latest books and articles on trends in management, marketing and leadership.
It is what I would call informed decision making. Yes, you have to make a call. The buck stops with you. Some of the best calls you will make are based on following your instincts. In making critical business decisions it is extremely valuable to be informed, by knowing what is happening around you, and the latest trends in your markets and in other business markets. I find the best way to do that is through a forum of peers that meet regularly and also through reading business texts. In addition, this year and next year I will be attending a short course on business growth issues at London Business School. So I am still studying and learning.
I find decision making at a small business is based on two premises – the first, being informed and educated on the issues driving yours and other businesses. Second, having the confidence to back your own judgment.
In our first employee manual we had a quote that went along the lines of ‘all great truths begin as blasphemies’. (George Bernard Shaw I think). The reality is when you are in a small business you sometimes see the bleeding obvious and it is considered to be heresy. And you know what I discovered? That most times the bleeding obvious is the truth. In some respects, it requires the confidence of business success to make the leap, and then after that, the next leap of faith won’t seem so far.
In some respects businesses like ours survive – and we hope continue to prosper – because we are, to coin a phrase from one of my favourite business books from Malcolm Gladwell, ‘Outliers’. While we are slightly removed from the industry we are in, we are an accident of timing and dedication to our craft that makes us – hopefully – successful. Learning and growing is a massive part of that. According to Gladwell it takes 10,000 hours of pursuing your craft to establish something approaching mastery….which is 5 years of solid work. On top of that, success is also often an accident of timing – the right idea at the right time. But you still need to be successful, and being informed is a huge part of that. We never take success for granted – there are too many examples of failure in the world for us to take anything for granted. We need to maintain a fanatic discipline to ensure we remain a business with an important place in the world.