I watched the crazy downhill guys on TV yesterday. As these skiers were getting ready to plunge down the icy slopes of a mountain at speeds of up to 140 km per hour, they prepared themselves by closing their eyes and envisioning skiing the course, turn for turn, in an absolutely perfect ski run. With eyes closed, they leaned left, then right, going down, up and through the entire course. I guess that they also saw themselves winning the gold medal and standing on the podium with a shiny trophy raised overhead in victory.
So why do they bother to do this? Does mental practice really affect performance? Is this just silly “positive thinking” jargon or does this really have a measurable impact?
I often get everything backwards… ass backwards. Whether it is in my life or with my business, I often get things turned around the wrong way… and this causes me to struggle and flounder. While running a small business I am continually confronted with problems and challenges that are complex and difficult to navigate. That’s part of the game, but as I stand knee-deep in a big problem it is really tough to figure out how to lift myself out and to find a good solution. When I am standing in a hole, I have no perspective or overview. I often see only the problems and I get stuck there. Stuck in the mud.
Henry Ford is one of my heroes. He was a pioneer of large-scale mass production, he founded the Ford Motor Company and he produced the Model T in 1909 – a product that forever changed the world’s idea about what was truly possible.
“If you are so smart, why are you not rich?”
I saw this written on a T-shirt the other day at a gathering of entrepreneurs. It was a blatant challenge and it made me stop and think. In looking back on my 20 years as an entrepreneur, have I failed if I am not rich? Is that really what has driven me all these years? No, not really.
When I was a boy I loved to watch “Cowboy and Indian” programs on television. The plots were always the same. They usually started with a group of settlers – who were traveling in their covered wagons towards some dream of a better life in a faraway place. Then would come some sort of a crisis. The crisis was usually the Indians. First the Indians would signal their attack by sending up smoke signals that would be visible from far away (because the Indians didn’t have mobile phones). The smart cowboys would see the signals and take cover, but most cowboys would ignore the signals and keep right on moving along until the Indians swooped down from the hills and attacked the wagon train.
When a business ends up in a crisis, it is usually because they fail to pay attention to the smoke signals. Most of the time the signals are there on the horizon, clear and easy to see, yet they choose to ignore them. And then when the Indians swoop down upon them, they are just as surprised each time.
I saw a strange French movie in 1979 that made a big impact on me. It was called Meetings with Remarkable Men and told the story of G.Gurdjieff, a philosopher who traveled through Central Asia in order to discover spirituality through dance, music, near-encounters with death and by meeting remarkable people along the way.
Over the last 24 hours I have had 2 encounters with remarkable men. Both related to my last blog entry regarding how to handle a crisis. I learned something new.
My own company is in a crisis right now… a real crisis with tough decisions to make, sleepless nights to endure and an impending sense of doom that is like a nasty hangover. A bit of bad luck, bad timing, some strategic mistakes and a global financial crisis have all combined into a witch’s brew of a startup company cash-flow mess. The squeeze we have gotten ourselves into is not all that uncommon for most small business leaders and entrepreneurs. A friend said “just get used to it… the bigger your business, the higher the stakes and the smaller your odds of survival”. Thanks for the depressing thought.
Now before you all start to worry that I am about to throw in the towel, shipwreck the business and go take a job flipping hamburgers at McDonalds, just relax for a moment. I am attacking this situation head-on because… A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste.
How successful are you willing to let yourself be? Are you one of those people who are willing to settle for just an OK life, or are you driven to achieve something greater? If you are someone who is drawn by a greater cause then the only thing that will really limit you is the amount of energy you put into it. It´s that simple.
My grandfather was an entrepreneur, just like me. Unfortunately he died of a heart attack at an early age. Big doses of stress and cigarettes were standard fare for entrepreneurs and shop owners in those days. Although I never met him I have envisioned that he would look at me with his ancient blue eyes, stare for a long, dramatic moment and then say “You´ll have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps son”. I expect that this would be his advice for my life. Little did he know that I would also have that entrepreneur gene (or is it an illness?).
Being a successful entrepreneur is an inner game. It’s all about how you manage your mind and your internal beliefs. In Timothy Gallwey’s famous book The Inner Game of Tennis, he pointed out that tennis players are often totally obsessed with external things (the new tennis racket, the tennis shoes, the competition, the weather, etc.). They tend to lose site of the most important factor to being a great tennis player – the inner game – the mental attitudes and internal focus that are necessary to succeed.