I’ve had an insight in the last 6 months and I have to make an admission:
One of the pillars and accepted principles of my profession of business coaching, is wrong.
- Complete Rubbish
The principle I refer to is this:
If your business doesn’t grow, it die
Every business coach, guru, mentor, consultant, author, academic and MBA student will tell you that this is a foundation principle of business, capitalism and society at large.
I admit that until not too long ago, I repeated the same refrain and was an enthusiastic member of the choir.
Today, I deeply apologize to everyone I have repeated this refrain to in the past 10 years; because I now realize that the principle sounds good, but is wrong… very wrong.
I am reminded of the quote by American Journalist H.L. Mencken :
For every complex human problem, there is a plausible solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.
I don’t know who first stated that business must grow and (and by extension, that more growth is better than less growth) and I don’t know in what context, but it’s crap.
And what’s more, it’s dangerous crap and has caused all kinds of damage to business owners, their families, their friends and society.
The idea that business must grow or else it will fail doesn’t exist in isolation from a number of other ideas on which we base the management of our society. The idea is closely related to our celebrity worship culture, the western world’s depression epidemic and other mental health issues, anorexia nervosa in young women and the basic belief in our society that nothing is ever enough.
Because in 2013, we are never:
- Thin enough
- Rich enough
- Good enough parents
- Educated enough
- Successful enough
- Beautiful enough
- Clever enough
And we are definitely never good enough as business owners
The measure of success for business owners is whether or not we sell our business for $100Mil or more.
Or more specifically, the role models and shining light examples we are told we must aspire to as business owners are people such as Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, or Larry Page, people who started a business and ended up billionaires. And don’t get me wrong I think they are amazing people, no doubt about it, but I know many other people who I find just as amazing and just as inspiring and they will never be billionaires, and probably not even multi-millionaires (just owning a house in a major city in Australia already qualifies you as a millionaire).
Let me explain how I have come to the conclusion that business doesn’t actually need to grow.
My favorite client
I have a client who is a plumber and he has three vans on the road and employs 3 people. He might end up employing one or two more people and have one or two more vans on the road in the next few years, but that’s probably where he will stop growing. He may continue to operate his plumbing business for the next 20-30 years and then, possibly, one of his kids might take it over, or maybe one of his employees might.
But in any case, someone will probably run the same business more or less in the same form and the same size for the bulk of this century and beyond.
His business isn’t dying, far from it.
His business is providing him and his family and his employees and their families a comfortable, meaningful, rewarding life. A life that allows him to feel proud of himself, a life that allows him to look after the people he cares about and do the stuff he wants to do.
The little voice on our shoulders
Now I haven’t talked about this with my client, specifically, but I can guarantee you that there is a small part of him at least, the little voice in his ear, the famous critic on his shoulder (mine is called Ted by the way… what’s yours?) that will be whispering: “You suck as a business owner”; “Obviously you aren’t fit to polish a true entrepreneurs boots, because a proper business owner would by now have built the business up to at least 20 vans and he would have set a big enormous goal to be dominating Sydney and Australia in a few years, with offices everywhere and managers and executives … ready for a lucrative take-over by LendLease or some other conglomerate like that”… “You suck”.
What does your little voice whisper to you in the quiet moments?
We are told that we have to have an abundance mindset and that there are unlimited growth opportunities and unlimited money for all of us. All we have to do is think right and have the right attitude. As long as we have the right entrepreneurial mindset, we can all do as the title of one of Richard Branson’s books suggests: “Screw It, Let’s Do It” and we too shall have an island in the Bahamas.
Allow me to be blunt:
You will not have an island in the Bahamas, and nor will I…
And you know something? That is perfectly OK (they don’t even have 4G reception on islands in the Bahamas anyway, so who needs it?
Famous researcher, professor at the university of Houston and author Brene Brown says in her book: “Daring Greatly, How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”, that the opposite of Scarcity is not Abundance. Brene Brown makes the point that scarcity and abundance are two sides of the same coin. The opposite of Scarcity is Enough.
And it is. My client the plumber will get one or two more vans, which will allow him to do a certain kind of work and employ a full time admin assistant and allow him to spend two days a week no longer “on the tools” and then it will probably be “Enough”, for him.
That doesn’t mean everyone goes to sleep… of course not… there are all sorts of things that can be improved and run smoother in his business, there are efficiencies to be gained and his people can get better and develop… the challenges don’t stop, life doesn’t stop, but business growth can stop.
The Abundance Fantasy
When we are told to let go of our scarcity believes and the abundance mindset, we are told a fantasy. The pressure to embrace the Abundance mindset, sets us up to feel bad about ourselves, it sets us up for up for failure and shame.
There is only room for one Richard Branson and one Donald Trump (thank God) on this earth and 99.99999999999% of the people on this earth are not going to become billionaires.
Neither you nor I will sell our business for $100mil; this article may end up being read by 10,000 people. It is possible that there might be 1 or 2 people in that group who will sell their business for such an enormous amount of money but the rest of us, all 9,998 of us will simply arrive at the end of our lives and have to find another way to measure how well we’ve done with the 70 years we were given.
The entrepreneurial myth
The entrepreneurial myth, the business growth myth has done us all a lot of damage. We walk around feeling inadequate, guilty and ashamed, because deep down we know that we are not going to be the next Celebrity Entrepreneur. Venture Capitalists are not going to stake us with a few million dollars, only to cash out a few years later. And so we walk around feeling ashamed.
Enough is a great place to be. As Brene Brown says in her first TED talk… You are enough.