“Most people once they graduate from the School of Hard Knocks, automatically enroll in the University of Adversity.” - John-Roger and Peter McWilliams
As our teenagers have been fully forcing their wisdom and knowledge upon their parents, we find ourselves reminiscing about the days of old when we mattered in the eyes of those little ones. Their first words. Their first steps. Their first bike ride. Asking for a story or to play. Memories, treasured and loved, as well as a glimmer of the future, give us reason to push through wanting to lock them in their rooms for a few more years.
As little ones, they were dependent upon us as parents. They learned about physical coordination – walking, eating, using the bathroom, playing, being social, talking, manners. We were their life and they were ours.
As they entered pre-school and elementary school, they learned more of academics – reading, writing, art, math, science, music, sports, history, play, social skills and more about people.
As they entered intermediate and high school they continued to learn and were able to pick some of their own interests to learn about. They developed greater friendships, developed more independence, learned the good and bad of peer pressure, and found out that life can be hard and easy at the same time. They hopefully learned about the value of hard work and gained enough confidence in themselves that they can try something hard without worrying about failing. They learned about choices and consequences. They experienced joy and sorrow. They developed good and bad habits. They learned things that are true. They learned that somethings are not true. They have had to learn and re-learn throughout their lives.
They have grown from that tiny bundle to being almost taller than you. Their growth has not only been physical but also in other ways. Growth or progress continues to a certain point in life ending somewhere between age 15 and 20, it seems, unless they take steps to continue to grow and learn.
‘Tis the season of caps and gowns and social media being filled with graduation photos and celebrations. The cap and gown for some signifies being “done.” Some say they are done earlier and others at the end of college. What makes a square hat and a robe the signal that our time for learning is over? “Commencement” signifies a beginning.
I love learning but I will be honest that I didn’t really enjoy school, especially the college years. If I could picture what I could do with the knowledge gained from the effort of learning, I loved it. If there was no vision for the purpose behind the topic, I struggled wanting to learn – it was just school.
Learning gives us the ability to do. The more we can do, the more we learn. It is through this learning and doing we continue to grow. By becoming really good at what we choose to do and increasing our learning of it brings us joy and satisfaction in life. Regardless of if we have uttered the words “I’m done” or are still learning, may we pick ourselves up from the comfy chair and get out and learn and do more often.
When I was a teenager I worked at a Boy Scout Summer Camp, Camp Steiner which is the highest elevation scout camp in the country at 10,397 feet above sea level. I taught the Wilderness Survival Merit Badge. I spent each week teaching a new set of boys about hazards they could encounter and first aid skills they might need in survival situations. We talked about priorities and what you should worry about first, ways to avoid panic, and steps to survive in different conditions. We built basic survival kits and taught about how each item could be used in multiple ways. They learned how to start fires using multiple different methods and how to signal for help. They learned where to find and treat water and to build shelters. At the end of the week I would take them on a hike to an area away from camp and they would build a shelter and spend the night in it. I still have an interest in survival skills to this day.
Survival in business is similar to a wilderness situation. You have to remain calm and not panic when something goes wrong. You need to make a plan and set priorities. You need to know what resources you have available to you and where to find them. You need to know about potential hazards you might face and how to get through them. You need to know what to do when there is no help and how to signal to get help.
Many businesses start and fail. They fail to survive for any one of numerous reasons. Most of them could be summarized as they didn’t know how to survive.
As business owners, we don’t want to just survive we want to thrive. Surviving is continuing to live or exist despite hardships. Thriving is to grow and develop well despite hardships. How do we get out of survival mode and into thriving mode? In the wilderness, the move from survival to rescue is the ability to find and get help. I think it is similar in business. I think as business owners we need to recognize when we need help and then find and get it.
Help comes in a variety of ways. Sometimes it is an encouraging word, sometimes an advisor, a coach or consultant. Other times help is studying different topics and strengthening weak areas we each have.
Richard L. Evans said, “There are some things you can give another person, and some things you cannot give him, except he is willing to reach out and take them, and pay the price of making them a part of himself. This principle applies to studying, to developing talents, to absorbing knowledge, to acquiring skills and to learning all the lessons of life.” To accept or seek help requires us to reach out and take it even if it is uncomfortable. To move from surviving to thriving requires it though.
My oldest son used to wake up at night crying in pain. He said he legs were really hurting. We would get him some pain relievers and comfort him back to sleep. Over a few months he grew about four inches. All of that fast growth caused him pain. Our businesses can experience similar growing pains.
While we may not be able to control the speed at which a teenage body grows, we do have more control over our businesses and their growth. As owners, we control a lot.
We control price. Increasing price will cause some, repeat some, customers to go elsewhere thus slowing growth. Decreasing price will generally speed up growth but can also lead customers to question your value thus creating issues in the future when you want to grow again.
We control service. We control quality. These are dangerous areas to play with but can be used to facilitate growth or slow it. The danger is that if you lower your service or your quality, you will slow your growth but you will also lose customers not only sales. Improve your service or your quality and watch growth happen.
We control marketing. Many businesses can turn on advertising or marketing campaigns when they need more business and shut it off or slow it when the pipeline is full.
We don’t control factors outside of our business but we can control everything within it.
But it hurts… Yes business growth, especially too fast can be painful. How do we know how fast we can grow? The answer is looking behind the lines.
I read some military history lately and noticed that those that advanced faster than the supply lines could support always ended up in trouble. You shouldn’t grow faster than your business “supply lines” can support. Your supply lines in business might be your employees, your systems, your time, etc. Planning your growth without planning for the supply lines will cause you growing pains. Remember the speed of growth is the speed of support.
As you create a growth plan, think about the things you can control and think about the things that will be needed to support the growth.
May you experience growth and may it be pain free as a result of your planning.
This blog allows you to experience the raw, gut wrenching drama of human conflict through accounting in each of its three stages: preparing to do battle, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.