Think Outside of The Box

March 9, 2019

I was driving to a client and listening to someone on the radio talking about rejection. As a ten year old he had big plans to be in business and a millionaire by the time he was 25. When he turned 30, he had still not started his business. School had destroyed his inquisitive mind, and transformed him into a shy compliant boy. He was programmed to accept rejection. In his job, he followed policies and procedures without question. He longed to rekindle the dream of his 10 year old self, but was fearful to jeopardize the security of his family.

He still wanted to become self-employed, but realized that he would never succeed in business unless he overcame his fear of rejection. He embarked on a journey to conquer his fear of rejection by offering “Outside the Box” ideas to people he met in his daily life. Each day, he would challenge someone with a new idea. It might be a friend, or a complete stranger, but he placed himself in a position to be rejected. At first he was devastated at the reaction and wondered if he had made a mistake. But he persisted with singlemindedness and conviction.

Eventually, he got beyond “No” to opening the door to more discussion. This was the tipping point for him. He realized that “No” was not to be taken personally, and didn’t necessarily mean the death of the idea. If he brought facts and persuasion, some of his ideas might actually be adopted. He formed a consulting company and continued to offer “out of the box” solutions. One innovative idea rewarded with a contract for a large medical instrument supplier. By the time he was 35, word had spread on the street of his genius and he was prospering.

That got me thinking about attitudes we have toward rejection. When developing new ideas, companies sometime ask their staff to “Think Outside the Box”. They want to explore finding a path that is different than where they are currently. As an employee, should you believe that your company might entertain your ideas? Or do you feel like Charlie Brown getting ready to kick the football with Lucy holding it in place?

Here is a clue to consider on the sincerity of the corporate intention. If the CEO is a stickler for the status quo, then innovation is not something he/she will generously embrace.

I’ve seen countless companies ask for “Outside the Box” ideas, having already determined the path they were going to take. It merely demoralizes the staff, and does not encourage them to take part in the process. The company becomes sluggish as a result. If as the CEO of a company, you are not prepared to listen to the ideas from the rank-and-file, and to discuss ideas without repercussion, then don’t elicit their help.

If you already have an agenda to implement regardless, start early and share the new plan, test the new ideas on how the transition will take place, find the flaws and correct them as part of the process. You will get greater buy-in from staff for having including them. You might even discover something about your company, you never knew.

Here’s a small example. Early in my consulting career, I was asked to review the manual processes of a small manufacturing company in Toronto Canada, with a view of how I could reduce costs through automation. The Managing Director, a well-attired man in his fifties, gave me carte blanche to explore every aspect of the brassiere manufacturing operation.

I carried out the study and documented each process. At the end of the second week, I was summoned to the office of the Managing Director to deliver my report. I was greeted by a middle-aged woman sitting alone behind the desk with “Who are you kid, and what have you been doing here?” After explaining that I had conducted a study for the Managing Director, she stopped me cold.

Rose explained to me in detail how she started the company 20 years ago with two used sewing machines, and had built it up to what it is today. Her husband was MD in name only, it kept him away from the race-track. She ran everything, and signed all the cheques. Even though she was completely unaware of my involvement, she was interested in my findings.

In the course of the study, it became abundantly clear that the shipper was the most important and least paid staff member. When orders came in, he pulled stock from inventory, ordered the cutting room to replenish the inventory, and even controlled the purchase of material used to manufacture. Without him, the business would fall apart.

She thanked me for the work I had done, wrote the cheque for my services on the spot, and sent me on my way. We never automated the processes at her company. The shipper however did get a substantial increase in salary, and her husband took up golf.

“Thinking Outside the Box” has become a cliché. It works very well when there is a trust amongst everyone that their new ideas will be given equal consideration. It fails when it is used as window dressing to implement an existing agenda. Rose learned something valuable from her unintended “outside the box” report and took appropriate steps to correct the fatal flaw.

Top down management is a relic of the past. To insist on robotic acquiescence from staff without the opportunity to provide feedback demean their intelligence, destroys their passion, and subjugates them to 21st century intellectual slavery. They will abandon an environment that stifles their growth, and seek companies that foster participation and innovation. Keep this in mind, the most successful people in the world have one thing in common, it is their willingness to think outside the box without concern for what others think.

Do I Really Need a Business Plan?

February 9, 2019

This is the most asked question I get at business presentations, from startup companies, and potential clients. My answer is always the same: “Absolutely, it’s Essential”. The importance of a comprehensive Business Plan can’t be underestimated.

Some entrepreneurs consider the process of creating a Business Plan as a waste of time. I take the view that it’s an exciting opportunity to explore all the various aspects of the business in a focused and methodical way before taking that big leap.

Would you start a trip without making preparations? You would pack clothing, make sure the car was serviced, tend to family pets, empty the refrigerator, etc… In other words, you would plan ahead. Your Business Plan is part of your planning guide.

A recent study has found that writing a Business Plan greatly increases the chances that a person will actually go into business by a factor of two and one half times. There’s some motivation for you!

That same study found that people who write Business Plans also do more stuff. And doing more stuff, such as researching the market and preparing financial projections, increases the chances an entrepreneur will follow through.

There is a wide gulf separating having a formal written Business Plan and having no plan at all. Every business starts with a plan, whether it’s in your head and never committed to paper, or a more detailed description written down on the back of an envelope.

Business Plan supporters as well as detractors agree on one point: Securing funding almost always requires a formal Business Plan. An exception might be companies funded by friends and family. If you are going to approach banks, government-backed lenders, or any other financial entity, you will need a Business Plan.

Business Plans no longer need to be 20 to 40 pages in length. The rule of thumb is, the shorter it is, the better chance it has of being read. Pay particular attention to the financials and be prepared to defend any of the numbers immediately.

Whether your Business Plan is long, short, elaborate or simple, it still must contain the same basic elements; an executive summary, the market research, a marketing plan, a management team description and financials (income, cash-flow and balance sheet projections).

With a Business Plan, you are increasing your chances for success. Your personal Business Coach will guide you through the process that will enable you to create your Business Plan.

At Eclectic Diversions, we believe in the power of the Business Plan. Our experienced coaching staff consists of lifelong entrepreneurs who are eager to join your journey as you explore the world of self-employment. They will make sure you remain focused, and show you how to develop “passion” for your business.

Doug Tardif EDP, February, 2019