When I was younger, in my early 20’s or thereabouts, and starting my first technology business, I was seeking advice and building my network. After each meeting with someone I would ask if they could make a recommendation of anyone else I should meet within the community. Invariably they would always say someone older and close to retirement age (at least they seemed that way to me!).
It was weird. Here I was, young, on the forefront of a massive technology revolution (something called the Internet) and they wanted me to speak to fossils. Business people that faxed and dictated memos. I had followed up on a number of those referrals only to have my beliefs reinforced when they would ask me “why we need the Internet when we have TV and radio and newspapers”…it was time to move on.
I was asking the wrong questions
As I moved from intro to intro it dawned on me that I was clearly not going about this the right way. There had to be a reason that everyone was referring me to the same bunch of old people. It wasn’t an accident and each person was incredibly successful. That’s when it dawned on me that I was asking the wrong questions. They didn’t need to understand the shifts in the business landscape. They didn’t need to digest the underpinnings of the technology that was moving the bytesphere. They understood how to build a business. They knew how to avoid the many mistakes that I was about to make. They knew where to focus and what to ignore. In short, they knew how to run a business.
As soon as I reframed my behaviour I began to ask the right questions. They weren’t specific to the actual product I was trying to sell, they were fundamentals on how to sell, grow, hire, lead, market and manage. This is the common language of business that a stubborn young founder needed to know in order to succeed — or at least not make avoidable mistakes.
They were like I am now
They didn’t have all the answers at the time and there were still plenty of mistakes that were made on my end before the lessons sunk in. Sometimes this is just the unavoidable human trait of stubbornness. I am now at the age and experience level of the same people that I asked for guidance 30 years ago and I get it. It’s not one thing that changes over night, you don’t suddenly see the answers to things that have plagued you along the way. It has become a repertoire. A menu of skills. Subconscious and present. All those conversations over the years, the advice, the mistakes, the testing and way finding is in there ready to be brought forward to help.
Doing it versus reading about it
I’ve had the great privilege to travel extensively around the world for joy and I’m now bringing that expansive thinking to my kids. Nothing cements something more than experiencing it. Making the book come to life. We were in Paris the summer before Notre Dame was severely damage by the fire. When that dominated the news my kids felt it because they had touched it, understood its history and importance. You can get that from a book but the experience of being there makes it real. This is the power of experience.
The same thing can be said about building and running a business. You can read many books and articles, listen to podcasts and watch documentaries all you want but the real world often needs tactile experience. A balance of book learning and real learning makes things stick. Following someone else’s game plan from a page and a moment in history may motivate but it does not replace the need for experience.
The path of an entrepreneur is never linear. There are many highs and many lows but the goal is to balance those in order to make progress. Moving forward means spending less time in a manic state of up and down. A guy like me and those that I have relied on during my 30+ years in business help round down the peaks and round up the valleys to spend more time in the middle — where the growth happens.