Reinvention – a crucial mindset for getting out of a rut

10/08/2015

You must accept that you have far greater control over your life than you realise – who you are, what you want and what think. Your mental outlook on life, the dreams for your business, as well as your character, and personality remain under your own leadership and guidance.

When things don’t go to plan or you feel that you are stalling in your business, career or personal life, then its time for doing some different. Successful people recognise the need for constant change. When the results don’t come through a period of reinvention is invariably needed because what you are doing is not working. We can’t excel if we are not aligned to what we want out of life. If you are fed up with your career, your business is not growing or not getting the new job or promotion after constantly trying then you must change. Successful people that go the extra mile understand the need to adapt.

The process of reinvention means that you need to critically appraise the status quo – look at your business, life or career from different angles.

Where is the stale you? Why are things not working or going to plan? Are you feeling fulfilled and happy with what you have and what you are achieving? Ask others for feedback on you and your performance. Open up your surroundings. Has the passion gone for what you do?

Where do you want the new you to be? – Get back to reviewing your goals, are they clear and precise or are they lacking definition and clarity. Everything flows from ‘intention’ it’s what all visions are built upon. Without intent you will just bounce about feeling frustrated and fed up with your lot.

List the key transition points? Define what specific things need to change. Draw up an action list. Detail the new partnerships and relationships that are needed to move things. Draw up the new tactics and work out the vital things that will deliver a different result.

Have you tried experiments? – try to experiment with different ideas and projects, kick the ones into touch that don’t feel right. Experimenting is a very powerful personal development tool. No great discovery was ever made without work in the laboratory – trial and error.

Act out the changes – make a conscious effort to implement the changes that you need to make the transition to what you want to become. Without action nothing will happen.

Albert Einstein’s famous quote on insanity is one we should keep close to our heart when looking to reinvent and do something different –

“insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”


The power of escape time – the key to better decision-making

18/05/2015

Growing a business involves continuously making decisions about staff, customers, finance, suppliers, recruitment…the list is never ending. In the early days of growth, the founders have to be all things to the business; the necessity to think quickly and act fast becomes a hard-wired behavior, one that is very hard to shake off.

Start up businesses are characterised by their founders putting in long shifts – working on the tools during the day and ensuring the admin and paperwork is in order at night. Very little time to think about the strategic growth and direction, the ‘doing’ becomes an all-encompassing characteristic of being self employed. Working ‘in the business’ rather than ‘on the business’ becomes the norm. Here lies the dilemma for the ambitious individual who wants to take their business to the next level – how do I find time to think?

My experience shows that those entrepreneurs who make time to get rid of the interference of the day to day and tune into what really matters are the ones who make better decisions and ultimately build better businesses. The challenge is not feeling guilty about taking time to:

  • Step back and think things through
  • Consult with a mentor or adviser to work through a particular challenge
  • Recharge the brains battery
  • Operate at arms length from the business for a short while (energy management)

More often than not entrepreneurs are guilt-ridden if they take any time to pause for thought. That compelling feeling to be first in and last out of the office leaves a massive void in the need for strategic clarity. Neither time nor energy management benefit from such an approach to growing a business. The years of needing to be hands on creates the illusion of being productive and the macho image of the 24/7 life makes us feel good – this firefighting approach to the daily grind often delivers no strategic added value whatsoever.

As your company gets bigger so does the complexity of the decision-making. You cant run a growing business with the exact same mindset of that of a start up. Whilst the need to be innovative and nimble should never leave the culture of a business, escape time becomes the critical success factor for high quality decision-making. A winning business needs the leaders to get the right mix of thinking and doing. Escape time (whatever that means to you) becomes such an important part of the entrepreneur’s personal growth. Without it you become a busy fool – don’t be surprised if you can’t see the wood for the trees. Breakthroughs and inspired new ideas only come during periods of calm, and calm only happens during times of escape.

winning-pitch.co.uk


Entrepreneurial mindset in changing environments

19/02/2015

The journey to reaching your vision will involve a number of stages or interim goals – the key milestones that will be your targets along the way, providing a route to your dream. Each stage will represent a progression either personally or professionally – or both, depending on your vision. As your goals move on, so will the circumstances you find yourself in and the challenges you’ll face. It’s likely that decisions you have to make will become more demanding and the risks more acute. To handle this changing environment, you’ll need to progress personally, shifting your mindset to a new level at each stage.

The critical steps in growing a business or embarking on a challenging new project will place pressure on the way you think – it will push you into new areas and possibly further than you have gone before. It’s likely to stretch your abilities to the limit. So it’s important to adapt your way of thinking to be able to cope with the new risks and challenges each new situation brings. Otherwise you will find yourself frozen like a rabbit in the headlights, unable to make the necessary decisions to take you forward.

Successful entrepreneurs, for example, will tell you that growing their companies tested their capabilities to the breaking point. How comfortable will you feel if you need to give a personal guarantee to secure bank funding, or learn new skills to support the growth of your business or personal project?

To prepare yourself for the climb ahead, it pays to work out the different challenges you’ll face as you move from achieving one goal to embarking onto the next, so that you can be mentally ready to deal with them. Viewing each goal as a step towards your vision will help you to define the mindset that you need to develop to negotiate each stage successfully, allowing you to move forward with focus and clarity of thought.


Spinouts – Scaling Up

26/01/2015

This blog was written for Spinouts UK Quarterly Journal 2015. You can join their distribution list by emailing research@ycf.co.uk

Most spinout companies from universities have the ambition to be companies of scale. If they are to win significant investment at an early stage, they will need to demonstrate that they have a ‘road map’ to enable them to establish a strong position in their chosen market.

However, this ‘road map’ passes through different stages, each of which places different demands on the company founders. Initially, the spinout founders will be immensely relieved to have completed the spinout process itself, with the knotty issues of IP ownership, and the relationship of the academic founders with the university. The next stage is generally one of spending (on prototypes, clinical trials, and other proofs of technology) rather than selling. As a very broad generalisation, academics in spinout companies are more comfortable with the ongoing research and development (which is in many ways similar to their academic work) than in market analysis, recruitment and team building, or the management of premises, financial records, and all the other administrative tasks which are essential to get a startup company on its feet.

The next stage is growth. For all young companies, whether spinouts or not, there are natural barriers to growth. Winning Pitch identifies the most important of these as the emotional cost and the financial cost.

The emotional cost to the individuals involved is usually manifested in self imposed pressure, and in the uncertainty that demands resilience and mental toughness to keep going when the inevitable road blocks are presented.

A scale up company is defined as one that grows its employee or turnover at a rate of 20 per cent per annum over a three-year period, and the financial costs of doing this can rack up very quickly – the cost of recruiting new talent, and of raising finance, professional fees, new premises, IT infrastructure and administrative costs can shoot through the roof. Costs must be controlled and the execution of a growth plan needs to be effectively choreographed – clear roles need to be defined, people need to be accountable for delivering on their tasks. Very rarely can growth be achieved without impacting on profitability.

This is why the majority of the 500,000 of last year’s new startups will never go on to employ one person never mind 10, and also why over 99% of UK firms employ fewer than 50 people. Very often it’s the financial cost of growth that holds individuals back.

What does this mean for academics spinning out a new company from a university?

The main point to recognise is that no one entrepreneur can build a business alone – it takes a team, combining the different skills needed to grow the business. The second point to recognise is that as the team grows, different leadership challenges emerge as the culture of the business evolves. At Winning Pitch we refer to the ‘growth staircase’, with different challenges as the number of staff increases. When the company reaches 7-12 people, the entrepreneur has become an ‘entrepreneurial social worker’. At 25 or more people, the business culture becomes ‘the team vs. the mob’. With 50 or more staff, the business needs to evolve towards a corporate culture, where processes need to be standardised and continually improved, with less scope for individual innovation. Individuals who can take a company through all these stages are rare indeed, and academic entrepreneurs do well to realise that at some stage in the company’s development, the business will be best served if the reins are handed over to others with practical experience of running a large and growing company.


10 Ways to prepare your mind for high performance

18/12/2014

“So how do leaders shift from lower states of mind to higher states of mind and improve their effectiveness and performance?” This was a question posed on Harvard Business Review forum I contribute to; here were my thoughts and contributions to the debate

Its simple. It all starts with what you think about. We must listen very carefully to the internal conversations we have with ourselves. The key to moving from ‘downbeat’ to ‘upbeat’ is:

1. Be aware of the internal negative conversation – address it

2. Create space to think ‘fresh positive thoughts’

3. Speak to positive people who lift your spirits

4. Tune in to the things that lift your soul – sport, music, hobbies, personal passions

5. Write down your thoughts and combat negativity with a ‘+ve to do list’

6. Keep away from negative people at all costs

7. Connect with nature – walk the dog, go for a run

8. Remember most of the things we worry about don’t actually happen

9. Think in the present and get on with it, keep experimenting!

10. Die a happy death. Morbid thought, but a powerful motivator to take action now!

The way you think governs the way you behave and act. Beware of what you are thinking about.

The ability to master the mind is what differentiates ‘winners’ from ‘runners up’. The real entrepreneurial stars are the ones who manage to consistently switch into their higher state when needed – I would describe this state as being one were individuals view both opportunity and challenge within a positive and courageous mental framework.


Global Entrepreneurship Week – more companies of scale

21/11/2014

Its fantastic that this week see’s a whole raft of activity being rolled out to celebrate and promote starting and growing a business as a series career option. As one graduate said to me the other week –

“I couldn’t find a job so I created my own”

a fantastic mindset that hopefully will continue to build the UK as the start up capital of Europe. With record numbers of start up’s this year, we should be turning our attention to creating long term sustainable businesses which have the capability, capacity and ambition to scale. These are the job creators of tomorrow. Scaling up a company is a massive challenge for any entrepreneur – its takes business acumen, courage, and lots of emotional intelligence – not forgetting energy. Scaling up a business to employ in my experience requires:

  • A mindset that is far greater than merely self-employment. There has to be an underpinning ambition to create a business model that involves a team of people fulfilling different roles. All too often people who set up in business merely want to ‘eat what they kill’. The pain of employing others is commonplace – not everyone wants the hassle that goes with creating jobs.

  • A clear picture of what the next 3-5 years is going to look like, supported by a clear plan of what resources are going to be needed – finance, office space, people skills, IT and supporting functions.

  • Understand the available funding options and use of trusted advice which ensures both the business case and model can withstand scrutiny from a third party debt or equity funder.

  • Strong leadership and an ability of the founder to develop both his/herself as well as the team on the top table. Recruiting and retaining high calibre staff is probably one of the most frustrating challenges for any ambitious founder.

  • Strongly connected networks of trusted advisers who can help the entrepreneur make the transitions points of growth. This usually involves funders, legal, IT, recruitment, strategic and tactical finance people, marketing etc. NED’s play an important role in opening up ‘connected network’.

  • Great housekeeping comes with growth, this means strong governance, great management information, KPI’s – all coming together and reported on a regular board meetings. So many businesses fail to see the benefit of board meetings – as you grow ignore them and you are destined to lose the grip on business performance.

Setting up a business is not for everyone, those not willing to embrace a life of uncertainty should go and get a salaried job. Growing a business is equally not everyone’s cup of tea – hopefully, Global Entrepreneurship Week will get many to give it a second thought.


Hard wired ambition is the key to growth

13/11/2014

People often ask what are the essential ingredients to growing a successful business. Cliché’s such as ‘Think Big’, ‘Anything is Possible’ and ‘Dare to Dream’ often roll off the tongue of young entrepreneurs and aspiring new business start up’s. Regularly found in self-help and motivational books, these terms offer a great source of encouragement to the next generation of business men and women – they have a critical place in the growth journey. As a great believer that mindset is critical to success, what underpins real growth of both a business and individuals is deep-rooted ambition.

Successful businesses, communities and ultimately – economies are built on individuals who have this hard-wired ambition. One of my frustrations is that I visit many truly outstanding businesses with growth potential, but what’s holding them back is very often the lack of ambition. In equal amounts I hear the rhetoric of entrepreneurs who talk a good game about what they are going to achieve but consistently fail to deliver on any of the things they commit to do. They talk about what they are going to do rather than what they have done. Ambition needs an engine, it needs action, it requires mental toughness and when failure presents itself – successful ambitious individuals get back on their bike and pedal that bit harder.

When I coach entrepreneurs, I am constantly looking for ambition evidence. Have they done what they said they would do? Did they achieve that target they set themselves? Was that investment made? Did they hit the financial targets they said they would? A consistent stream of excuses of why things have not been done or failure to execute the actions agreed are tell tale signs that the ambition is not for real. What comes along with hard wired ambition is courage and an ability to extend comfort zones and manage risk.

One of the best definitions of ambition came from Elvis Presley – “ambition is a dream with a V8 engine”. Having a business dream is fantastic, however, without hard graft, long shifts and small nudges forward, the dream becomes a hallucination.


7 thoughts on dealing with the pressure and loneliness of running a business

30/09/2014

One of the LinkedIn groups I am a member of, asked if anyone had any tips on how to attain a good work/life balance and deal with the pressure and loneliness (at times) of being a company leader. As I got a few likes on my response, I thought I would share it on my blog.

I have always had a keen interest in the entrepreneurial mindset, in fact I have written a book on it as well. Having observed lots of successful business people over the years, it would appear that those who win, have good housekeeping embedded in their company, strong customer focus and one that often gets overlooked – mental toughness and resilience.

Growing a business is a roller coaster and you should expect the unexpected, period. The loneliness of running a business is a reoccurring comment made by individuals I meet – here are some thoughts:

  1. Many of the things we worry about are of are own making – be careful of the conversations you have with yourself, they can be extremely destructive
  2. Create space to think – success is 20% thinking and 80% doing. So many business people forget the importance of ‘time to think’ (I walk my dog for 2 hours a day over the Lancashire Moors).
  3. Have 2-3 people whose views you respect and trust – give them a call.
  4. Get involved with entrepreneurial networks – we are all worrying about the same things. Be open and share.
  5. Aim to build a great team who can share the burden.
  6. Life is short – remind yourself that a late payment is not the end of the world. Far worse things could happen.
  7. Maintain good health – without it… Say no more.

Creating space

16/09/2014

Not being able to see the wood for the trees is a common feature of life. People regularly talk about being busy and overworked – but just how much of this is self inflicted. All too often we engage in activity that brings no value to achieving our highest goals and ambitions. Without reflective time, our decision making becomes blurred and it is common to lose sight of what we want. The result is stale thought with patterns of behaviour that fail to deliver our deepest desires. Successful people have the fortunate ability to think clearly, this is helped by finding the time to take well earned breaks from being “busy”. This cleansing process provides the opportunity to de clutter the mind.

The practice of finding sanctuary helps to remove mental blockages and fosters a sense of balance between work and play. Without regular periods of reflection you will find yourself eventually in a rut – the place you don’t want to be!

You must think of Sanctuary on three levels of “time out”:

  1. Daily sanctuary to help us to prepare for the day ahead – time with family, exercise, meditation, prayer, reading. Starting each day with 10 minutes of deep reflection, provides a kick start to focused activity and just being aware
  2. Weekly sanctuary that helps divert our energies into non related activities like pursuing a hobby, sport or spending more time with family and relationships. These activities release you from the week that was – puts you in a good frame for the week ahead
  3. Sanctuary includes those activities that most people can only fit in two or three times a year. They would typically involve family holiday’s, short breaks or some form or retreat. This level gives you the opportunity to ask the big questions – what is my life all about? What needs to change? Should I go and do something else?

Dedication to the 3 Levels will open your mind to new possibilities and opportunities. Chasing success can be as destructive as it is constructive – practicing the art of Finding Sanctuary will build perspective into your life and help to differentiate between what is and what is not important, what brings fulfilment and what does not – embed these disciplines into your routine and you will experience a profound improvement in clarity of thought – you will see things more clearly, you will make better decisions and life will feel less hectic.


Satellite navigation and strategy

29/07/2014

In times of turbulent economic conditions and market uncertainty much of the strategy stuff you read in management text books just does not apply. What I see at the moment is very much a survival approach with long-term strategy not featuring on the agenda of board meetings I attend. (The strategy is actually the tactics). My own research has found that a good proportion of the entrepreneurs who come through challenging phases have faith in what they are trying to achieve and remain firmly fixed on their destination.

They operate a bit like a sat nav system in the car – when we lose our way we take a new path, different road and a detour –  a re calculation of the coordinates eventually put us back on course – we maintain faith in the software to get us there! This is probably a good way to think when things are not going to plan.

We have to deal with the short and immediate term issues without losing sight of the destination, however plotting a new course is vital. This often means putting yourself about in the market, nailing what you already have as well as keeping your eyes open to new ideas, reinvention, diversification and forging new partnerships and relationships to generate new opportunities.

Keep the strategy sat nav on!