This week it's story time! What's been your worst day at work? Has there been a day when nothing has gone right, where everybody seems to be against you and when you just wished the day would end? I've had many days like that over the years, between paranoid conspiracy theorists ringing me up over and over again when I worked for a politician, to my bus catching fire whilst trying to pick up a group of stranded students, there have been some exceedingly long and frustrating days. However, one of the more bizarre days happened in my first job at a Retravision store. Whilst at that stage they were the biggest retailer of electrical appliances, they’ve been replaced by other retailers of electrical appliances and online retailers.
It was a Thursday morning and a day like any other. I arrived around 8:20 ready to setup. However, overnight the electrical fuse box at the back of the store had been vandalised. An electrician had arrived and was working on the wiring outside the loading bay. There were only two of us in the shop that morning. The owners and the floor manager were away, leaving us to open and run everything.
My colleague told me not to turn anything on until we got clearance from the electrician, so we waited around and several coffees later, the electrician finished his work and it was time to turn everything on. I started upstairs with the wall of TVs. They were the old sort which had a large vacuum tube inside of them, a standard and popular feature of any electrical goods store. One by one I turned the TVs on until the 15 metre wall was illuminated with the flashing of the same mindless daytime TV channel.
Just as I finished turning the last one on, I heard a loud hissing noise. Stepping back, I glanced back along the wall and heard another hissing sound, then another and another all coming from different TV sets. Suddenly there was a loud bang! Dark black smoke plumed from the back of a TV at the start of the wall. This was followed quickly by another loud bang! More nostril burning smoke billowed from behind the TVs. There was another hiss, and another each time followed quicker by more loud bangs as the smoke grew denser. TV after TV continued to explode in rapid succession from one end of the wall to the other. Set after set after set hissed and exploded. The room now choked with dark black acrid smoke.
I stood before the smouldering ruins of what once was tens of thousands of dollars worth of TVs, now nothing more than lifeless screens. How was I going to explain this one? I nervously walked downstairs to break the news to Barry. Thinking which, out of a staff of nine, three were named Barry. What are the odds of that? Anyway, the Barry that was there with me that day was one of the salesmen and not the Barry who owned the business who I'd have to explain this to later.
“There’s a slight problem upstairs,” I said to Barry, which was probably a tiny understatement as the smoke had set off all the alarms and was so thick it started to linger its way downstairs. Barry quickly dashed up the stairs brandishing a fire extinguisher that was to prove totally and utterly useless. At the top of the stairs he stopped dead in his tracks.
“Oh crap!” he exclaimed, seeing the extent of the problem. “I'd better tell the electrician,” he continued as he dashed back down the stairs and ran out the back.
All I could hear from the back of the building was a series of loud swear words, sounding as if they were coming from the electrician. It turned out that somehow instead of leaving the power set on 240 volts, he had somehow upped it to 410 volts, consequently overloading the entire system and blowing the crap out of everything. Thankfully, salesman Barry made the phone call to owner Barry and filled him in on all the details of what had happened. Storeman Barry was out on a job and completely oblivious to anything that had happened. He is not actually part of the story but given that he was also named Barry, he at least deserved to be mentioned.
Over $40,000 worth of TVs were destroyed that day, never to transmit another awful daytime TV show again. It took about a week for the caustic smell of burnt electrics to finally make its way out of the upstairs showroom and another week to finally replace all of the televisions that blew up that day. Whilst for me, it wasn't actually that bad a day at work. However, for the electrician, things could only get better.
Building a business from scratch is hard work. There are so many things you need to do, so many things to organise and so many things to make happen, often with no idea as to how any of it should be done. Where do you start? In what order should you do things? These are just some of the many and varied problems when developing a business from scratch and shaping it so it grows the way you want it to.
Consequently, not only do you have to decide in what direction you want your business to head, but how all the moving parts must operate for that to actually happen. Sometimes it feels as if you’re trying to spin a collection of plates on thin metal poles. This is a classic circus act trick and if you’ve ever been to a circus and have seen someone doing this, it’s amazing. If you’re in business for yourself, the reality of the spinning plates being your world, starts to become clear. It really is amazing to watch! One plate slows down and the performer has to run over to speed it up so it's going fast enough for it to balance on the thin metal pole. By the time he has that plate up and spinning again, the next one is starting to slow down and wobble awkwardly. So once again the performer has to run to it and speed this one up. The performer continues to add more and more plates on thin metal poles to the act. As he starts each one, another one slows down and starts to wobble. This one urgently needs his attention and once sorted, another plate needs his attention.
This seemingly endless act of plate spinning ends in one of two ways. With all the plates up and running smoothly, the performer calmly walks along and removes each plate from its pole and neatly stacks them all up. The other way, the plates end up smashing on the floor one after another in a hideous disastrous mess. However, any good performer is not to let this happen and will do everything to keep those plates spinning.
This is a perfect analogy for building a business. There are so many moving parts. It comes down to priorities. What’s your current priority? What needs to be done right now to make sure that you keep that part of your business going just long enough to get the next piece in motion? In real life terms, this is called crisis management and crisis management is never good. With a significant amount of experience in crisis management myself, it's not a place in which I like to spend much time. A crisis is a point at which an organisation encounters a significant disruption to normal operation. However, if your normal business is drowning in constant crises, then as soon as you solve one crisis you just find yourself falling into the next one, you need to carefully examine the way in which you're doing business.
Operating constantly in crisis mode is unsustainable and something will eventually give. However, when you’re building something completely from scratch and a lot of it you’re having to make up as you go, what feels like a crisis is often not. It's just the way a new business is and we’re not used to that feeling and people often believe that everything must be done, all at once, right at this very moment for the business to succeed.
The reality is however, if you try and get everything done all at once, you’ll never succeed in getting anything done at any point in time. Therefore, it’s a matter of setting clear goals and priorities. The size of the goal doesn't matter, but what does matter is the mindset and approach you take as you start chipping away your big goal. When staring up at a seemingly insurmountable mountain, you can either give up because it looks too big to climb, you can run around in a panic worrying about all the things you must do before you can climb the mountain, or you can just start climbing.
It's the people who just start climbing and little by little make their way up the mountain that in the end succeed. When you look at your business from the same point of view and divide the massive end goal up into small manageable steps, the path toward success becomes much clearer. With a persistent mindset that ‘I’m going to take this first step, then I’m going to make it to that first ridgeline. At the ridgeline, I’m going sidestep around till I find the next ascent, which connects me up to a great stable rock face with some solid footings which will help me to take the next step, and the next, and the next until I’ve reached the summit.’
Approaching any goal, be it personal or business in this methodical and relentless manner, helps to remove the crisis mindset that is so often holding many great entrepreneurs back from success. This doesn't mean you won't encounter a crisis, an avalanche or a yeti along the way, but it does mean that through taking all of these small steps along the way and working towards your end goal consistently, you can conquer any mountain.
When you’re building your business and, like the performer with too many spinning plates, you’re struggling to keep it together, step back and instead of looking at the mountain ahead, simply focus on what your next step needs to be. Once you decide what the next small step is and you’ve gone and done it, feel happy in the fact that you’ve done everything you need to, to ensure you reach your end-goal. The simple act of taking the next step, has chipped away at that mountain of a goal and all those little chips start to build momentum towards whatever you’re trying to achieve. Eventually, each step and each little chip will ensure that at the end of the day you will conquer the mountain in front of you.
There’s a phenomenon in Education that’s a strange thing to see and experience but when you look at it in more detail, it makes perfect sense. Often schools are quite dysfunctional places from a managerial point of view and you have people who are promoted into management positions who are often inexperienced and totally unsuited for the positions.
A good teacher doesn't necessarily make a good administrator. As a result, if the wrong people get promoted into positions of influence, you risk ending up with what can be a toxic culture. When this happens, you find incompetent managers surrounding themselves with more incompetent managers to try and hide the fact that they’re useless. This is common practice in any organisation, which results in higher staff turnover and lowers productivity.
If this is the case, why do schools keep functioning for longer when a comparable business or organisation would be falling apart at the seams? Why do schools keep rolling along and producing reasonable outcomes? Unfortunately, it comes down to the ability of a school to blackmail its teachers. This might seem to be an extreme statement. However, it's quite an apt analysis of a dysfunctional school.
Despite layers of incompetent managers in a toxic school, you still have genuinely hard-working teachers who want the best for their students. They want good educational outcomes and they want the students to be learning now, what the other workplace pressures could be.
Unfortunately, this results in a very strange situation. On the one hand managers are driving a completely different agenda to what the school needs from an educational point of view. On the other hand, you have teachers doing their best for the students, which could be quite out of touch with what the school management sees as valuable. This odd situation can be sustained for a long period of time because the teachers on the frontline do the best they can for their students.
If you have a reliable core group of teachers, despite the incompetent management, often schools just keep rolling along without much of a noticeable problem. As long as nobody in management molests any children or runs the school into bankruptcy, incompetent managers seem to stay for years and years, because their incompetence is often covered up by the hard work and desire of other teachers to provide the best opportunities for students.
However, any sort of hardworking individual no matter how motivated, will end up being worn down by this situation. Despite the desire to help students, the longer poor management remains, the greater the decline of the school. It might be a much slower burn than in private enterprise, but once you have disengaged teachers then the entire school becomes toxic, staff turnover increases and good educational outcomes for students becomes a distant memory.
How do you address this? Firstly, you need better managerial oversight. You need better schools’ boards that actually understand the business of education, not just business. They need to look carefully at the connectivity between what teaching staff are doing and what senior management is doing.
Forget the grand strategic building plans. What are the actual educational outcomes for the students? How are they being achieved? Why not get feedback from the students on the entire organization, not just the classroom teacher? This could provide a fascinating insight into how a school is going.
Performance review should be an ongoing process initiated by senior management to ensure continuous improvement for the school. Teachers and students should be able to provide feedback for senior management on a regular basis.
This can provide a much better overview of how well the organisation is going. Is the direction being set by management translating into proactive, positive and effective educational outcomes for students? Or is there a toxic disconnect that’s eating away at the school from within? Unfortunately, due to the slow burning nature of decline within a school, it might take many years to notice the dysfunction. By then, it's too late and all your good staff will have given up and left.
However, by carefully selecting those to manage versus those who should remain in the classroom, this can help to alleviate this concern. Seeking feedback from staff and students and approaching the organisation with a view of continuous improvement, is vital in developing a positive and transparent culture.
You want to avoid the slow burn into decline and instead set a clear vision of what the school stands for and everything the school does should be focused on achieving this ultimate educational goal. As a result, you will increase staff retention and provide the best educational experience possible for your students.
A question I’d like to pose, is what is happening with the Australian economy? Every time you look around more retail shops are closing on our main streets, especially in small towns. The cost to rent anywhere is ridiculously expensive, so why bother with a shopfront? Commercial real estate owners are yet to realise supply is now outstripping demand and many shopfronts now stand ghostly empty in our streets. With the latest economic figures being a reminder that economies go forwards, sideways and backwards, what does the future hold for Australian business?
We're at a tipping point where manufacturing is dead, mining is stumbling along, agriculture is almost subsistence living for many farmers, retail is still coming to terms with the reality of eCommerce and cafés seem to be popping up everywhere! Are we becoming a nation of public servants and café owners? Hopefully not, as diversity is key to a sustainable economy!
What then is the way forward? With our cities bursting at the seams and a two hour daily commute wasting 20 whole days of your life a year, what's the answer?
Well that's simple, decentralisation. Move more services away from the main cities into regional areas. So long as regional centres have fast internet and an airport, and a couple of good cafés, this opens a world of opportunity for government, professionals and businesses at a fraction of the cost of our major cities.
Regional centres have cheaper housing, virtually no traffic, open spaces and a pace of life and lifestyle which lends itself to far better family time and opportunities to connect with others. Most employees only get twenty days of annual leave each year, yet living in the city, they’re spending the equivalent of their entire holiday break sitting in traffic.
The reality is that as communications improve, there’s no reason why you can’t run big businesses from regional centres. There’s no reason why every single government department needs to be in a city. It’s cheaper to fly senior managers in and out of Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra for meetings, than the massive cost of renting entire office blocks in the CBD. After all, how many clients who are being served actually walk into the office?
If people have access to core services in regional areas, fast internet access and fast transport options, then the opportunities for a better life style is beckoning. Whilst many a study, by those living in the city, will tell you how it makes no difference, why not give it go. Spend a few weekends in a regional town or city and get a feel for what life would be like without the horrendous congestion.
Recently this has been on my mind as I’ve been caught up in a frantic whirlwind of work, work and more work. Basically, if I’m not working, I’m sleeping. Now this is an insane combination and totally unsustainable. The realization hit me the other weekend when I went to Canberra to run the marathon! One of my goals this year has been to run a 1000km for the year and as part of that, run a marathon.
42km all at once is a hard slog. I did this once in the Relay for Life, when I was living in Orange. However, this was without the pressure of the race and basically it was just going around and around in circles on a playing field. Looking back, it was great that a group of high school students, who had been walking on and off throughout the evening, had seen me slowing down, but then encouraged me to keep going (around midnight) when I was about to give up having hit the 40km mark. With their encouragement and running beside me, I pushed through the stinging pain in my legs and jogged the last 2km before collapsing in a chair that took me until 1am to vacate.
Fast forward a couple of years and last year I got back into running. When I started to set some goals at the start of this year, running a marathon became one of them. So I booked my entry into the Canberra Marathon and during January got into training. I kept progressing and extending my runs from 6km (two laps of the beach near home). Up to 21km (the beach near home, plus the next two beaches to the north). All was looking good and if I kept increasing the distance I was training for, I’d easily be ready for the April race. However, February struck!
Once businesses and schools went back for the year, I found myself consumed by work. As I said before, if I were not working, I was sleeping and something had to give and that was everything outside of work, and I mean everything. My training stopped dead in its tracks and the only running I was doing was from meeting to meeting and eating unhealthily on the way. Not quite what was needed to be able to run 42km…
Two weeks ago, I reached the point where I knew I wasn’t prepared for a race of that length. Whilst much of a marathon is a mental battle, there’s also a massive physical component. Burning the candle at both ends ultimately has a cost, and the cost was achieving one of my important goals for the year. I reluctantly changed my entry from the full marathon to the half, knowing that was at least within my reach.
When I ran the half marathon, it was a good run. Thankfully, the training I’d done last year and early this year had paid off. However, it left me feeling unfulfilled. I’d wanted to do more and yet, because I’d been throwing all my energy at something else, I’d missed out on doing something that was important to me. I can only blame myself for letting it happen.
Reflecting on this, the reality is that work can never fulfill every aspect of your life. If it is, then you need to do something to change this, because at some point you’ll miss out on something that’s important to you, just as I did. I know I’ll find another marathon to run, but with this happening, it was a timely reminder that everyone needs to make sure there’s always time for themselves throughout their daily and weekly schedules, without which, you risk becoming the guy from
Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of A Salesman,’ and nobody really wants that.
Frontline Management is a challenging role and to do it effectively, you have to be able to build professional relationships with your staff. If you have to resort to yelling at your staff as a direct supervisor, you really have lost the ability to provide any semblance of guidance.
I know how frustrating and even infuriating it can be dealing with staff at times, especially if they’re the wrong fit for the organisation. However, if you’ve been put in a managerial position, the reality is that you’re getting paid more than everyone else for a reason. It’s believed that managers have the qualities and capacity to guide others towards shared goals and objectives. (Yes, ‘believed!’)
Unfortunately, many managers are ill-prepared for the role and if they simply think that making demands of staff is the way in which they can lead them, they’re seriously mistaken and perhaps the would-be manager should find themselves another sort of role.
Leading staff is about inspiring. It’s about developing and working towards common goals. It’s often the case, however, that there’s a disconnect between the common goal and the values that the manager has versus what staff value or perceive their role to be. If this is the case, expect nothing but conflict and ineffective work practices.
I’ve worked in a number of organisations where there’s been a total disconnect between what management values and what staff members value. The reality is that the two can’t be disconnected. Everyone needs to be working towards the same goal, otherwise the workplace just ends up in a completely dysfunctional mess.
Now I also need to be clear in that even if you’re working towards a common goal, you may still experience internal conflict. After all, you’re dealing with groups of people, not machines and people love drama, especially workplace drama, as it can fill the emotional void between morning talkback radio and ‘Home & Away’ in the evening.
However, if you’re truly leading people, you need to have a common goal, a common vision of what you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t have this then it makes it extremely hard to inspire others to do anything at all.
I was working for an organisation where this problem came to the fore. The manager was seriously out of his depth. He didn’t understand what the organisation was trying to achieve. He didn’t have the experience within that organisation or within the industry to be able to provide any sort of management or any sort of guidance in this either.
This is often the case, especially in organisations and large organisations that keep adding more and more staff quite rapidly and yet they’re not really clear on what the staff need to be doing, yet at the same time, they need more staff to do something! It’s a classic public service experience but also it happens in a lot of other organisations. You end up with more layers of management than you can poke a stick at. However, none of them is really clear on what they’re actually supposed to be doing and none of them can make a decision to save their lives.
If this situation arises, then you get an even greater divide between management objectives and employee realities. Once you get this disconnect between management and employees with no clear goals, with no clear idea what the organisation is trying to achieve, you get increasing internal conflict. There’s lots of knee-jerk reactions by management due to the need for control over people in the absence of any clear vision.
When issues arise, there’s a natural fall-back for many poor managers to become defensive about any issue and instead of dealing with it head on in person, most of it now is being done via messages or email. With no direct personal contact with staff, this only exasperates the situation. This then leads to an increasing feeling of resentment and hostility within the organisation and ultimately conflict between managers and employees that goes round and round in circles and gets nowhere.
Conflict within an organisation due to bad management, then increases absenteeism and the cost of doing business. If nobody is really sure why they’re doing what they’re doing, it’s little wonder that small issues will get blown out of proportion by everyone.
The issue then becomes a growing mistrust felt between management and staff and this can go from an organisation not really working coherently, to a very toxic and detrimental workplace. You can be assured, any minor issue will suddenly blow up into a massive problem that seems to dwarf Mt. Everest in size and scope.
The sad reality is that it’s quite common in many organisations to promote people based upon years of service and not actual ability to manage. Just because someone has been there a long time doesn’t mean he or she will be any good at managing people. Managers must have other qualities and working towards clear goals is one very important one. If a potential manager can’t demonstrate why the organisation is doing what it’s doing in a genuine manner, you really don’t want that person trying to manager others.
To avoid this situation, you need front line managers that are able to understand staff, make decisions and have clear visions and goals for the organisation. If the organisation’s vision is aligned with the beliefs of the staff, then it means minor issues go away very quickly. They can be dealt with in a professional manner and don’t end up in yelling matches with people firing accusations back and forth and getting everyone nowhere but stressed.
At the end of the day, if you want your organisation to operate at around 25% of capacity just go for whatever person you like and throw him or her into a management position. It doesn’t matter. However, if you want to be operating in the 80-100% capacity range and really want to make a positive difference to what your organisation’s doing, you need to be far more careful and discerning of who you put in to your management positions.
Once you get the right mix, it’s not just about managing people. It’s about inspiring them. It’s about motivating them through common goals and a vision to be the best at whatever you’re doing. This sort of approach changes the whole dynamics of an organisation. All the daily drama and nonsense that holds people back and cripples workplaces, just disappears into the aether. Suddenly people are happier, more effective and ultimately, the organisation can grow and become far better at what it does.
Over the years, I've observed a strange phenomenon where organisations seem to keep functioning despite gross managerial incompetence. The first job I worked in after the gun club (which was my weekend job when I was at school) was a retail business and it was an interesting experience from the point of view that the owner, when selling to customers, especially ones from foreign countries, would put on a bizarre accent and try and match the way in which he thought they spoke.
If you can imagine Basil Fawlty attempting to speak like a Chinaman, then you’re starting to understand what it was like. Despite this being insanely insulting, it was more amusing to watch than anything else, but at the end of the day, he was good at selling and the business did very well.
However, my next job couldn't have been a greater contrast. The organisation had suffered a major setback and as a result, they'd gotten rid of several managers. One of them, who was my direct boss had been really good at his job. However, they were trying to find someone to blame for what had happened a year earlier and so they fired him. What came next was a disastrous series of hopeless, disengaged and incompetent managers who, rather than rebuilding the organisation, drove it deeper into the ground.
It was frustrating and disappointing to watch, as the place had so much potential. If only they’d had the right person to guide! That's all it needed! One competent leader, rather than a series of useless incompetent managers. No matter how hard the staff tried to do their best, it was a pointless uphill battle in which their morale was continuously destroyed by one individual after another who were there for all the wrong reasons.
At one point, because one of these managers didn't understand the first thing about Australian employment regulations, nor possessed common sense, he handed out a roster that had people working 60hrs a week, every single week. Looking over it, it was relentless for everyone, except for him, who I noticed was down for a neat 5 days every week from 8:30am to 3:30pm.
When I pointed out in a staff meeting, the legal considerations, he actually had to make when rostering, as well as the danger of burning staff out, he yelled, threw a copy of the roster across the room, complained how long it took him to do it, demanded if anyone else had a problem with it and then walked out before anyone could answer. Everyone just stay there looking at each other dumbfounded.
I eventually left, as it became unbearable working for such a person. The culture in the organisation went against everything I believed in and the longer I remained, the worse I was seeing it get.
After this experience, for the next few years I took up a different sort of challenge and ran my own business. It was a busy café by the beach, I employed almost 30 staff and I won't go into details on this right now, but after 18 months my head cook took over as manager and ran the business for me for another four and a half years until I sold it. This was a great experience and one from which I learnt a lot about managing and leading an organisation.
Stepping back into education, I worked for a few different schools that varied considerably in their levels of mis-management. I was once again sitting in pointless meetings in which those in management positions were there by default and not owing to any significant talent on the leadership front. I reached the point where no matter what was suggested to improve a school I was working for, especially after they’d asked the staff for ideas, I could see this was just a tokenistic gesture and the organisation didn’t actually value what the staff thought. I started to feel myself becoming disengaged and only doing what I really had to do, nothing more. I knew once again it was time to leave.
Having quickly worked out that regular classrooms weren’t for me. I returned to outdoor education when an opportunity to work on a ski program came up. As soon as I started, I was impressed with the organisation’s positive and proactive culture and the way in which the director mentored and supported staff. It was a friendly atmosphere where we ran an intense 10 week skiing and academic program. You'd be up at 6am for a quick breakfast, then on the bus by 7:15am to drive to the snow. Ski lessons until 11:30, back on the bus, down to campus, lunch, afternoon classes until 5 and then dinner at 6:30. After this it was homework supervision at 7:30 and bed time at 10:00pm!
It was frantic and yet fantastic at the same time. We dealt with a high-risk sports activity on a daily basis with a large group of students. Yet we had comparatively few injuries and the students got so much out of it. I've never worked more hours each week in my life, but at no stage did I feel burnt out nor despondent. The determining factor was effective leadership. The staff felt valued, which translated into happy staff, happy students and everyone working towards a shared vision of what we were trying to achieve.
I spent 6 seasons working on this program before I moved on to the next role and I still have the fondest of memories of working there.
Unfortunately, after this excellent experience, it was once again back into a dysfunctional organisation. So how and why do these organisations survive? If the leadership in a new business was as dysfunctional as some of the places I’ve worked, you'd be out of business in no time! However, the reality is, established businesses and organisations are able to somewhat weather the storm of managerial incompetence far longer than new ones. At the same time, they’re also far more susceptible to it.
This doesn’t mean an organisation with dysfunctional management will ever thrive. It just can’t. These businesses just roll along day in day out because employees are motivated by having a job so they can pay the bills. When this is the sole motivation for someone to turn up to work, employees will only ever do the bare minimum. Staff don't bother questioning how useless and stupid the situation is and despite the dysfunctional management, the organisation continues to function. In reality though, everyone’s just treading water and looking for a way out. As soon as employees finds a better job, they’ll be out the door as fast as they can.
Some people get stuck in this merry-go-round, accept mediocrity and never move on. Instead, they get dragged down into the vicious cycle themselves and perhaps staying there long enough will get promoted themselves.
However, if you want to thrive personally in your career, you need to get yourself away from these toxic dysfunctional messes as fast as you can. Even though it might work, the organisation is going nowhere fast and nor are you.
When people and organisations stagnate and start down a path of mediocrity, it affects every other aspect of your life. Your friends, your family and your happiness in general are victims. So rather than put up with functional dysfunction because it’s an easy way to get paid each week, seek out something new, something fresh and interesting. Find somewhere where your contribution is truly valued and you can grow personally and professionally. The difference this will make to your life and those around you will be phenomenal.
You promised us a Scandinavian saga style opera on 1st Jan! What Happened???
Well that’s a fair enough question and whilst I apologise to my 10s of readers who were eagerly anticipating the whole saga to begin at the start of the new year and play out in all its epic glory, instead at the time I was busy getting snowed in on my trip to the US as I explored opportunities and went to a Village People concert!
Yes, they’re still alive, well, some of them at least and they didn’t miss a beat, although they were sucking down oxygen from small canisters between songs, but that’s understandable as the concert was in a town about 2,500m above sea level. The mood was electric, as everyone in the entire auditorium danced and sang to the encore performance of YMCA! It was a great night!
I did promise singing after all! So why haven’t I written the blow by blow account of building a business from scratch? Well for one, if I wrote a daily account of everything that happened, which I did to begin with, there would be lots of repetition, dull moments and swearing.
What’s my solution to this? The easy solution is that I’m going to hold off on doing the daily blog, or even a weekly blog of the saga of building a business and instead condense this down into a book. Oh crap, not another business book! Yeah… another business book, but hey, I’ll probably make it into an audio book so you can listen to the saga, rather than having to actually read it. It makes it easier to include singing in it as well.
In the book however, I won’t tell you what you should do in business. I’ll just be reflecting on my own experiences and from this I’ll let you decide what course of action you need to take for yourself. With everything in life, there are many ways to approach a problem. If for example I’d listened to all the advice I’ve been given about business over the past two years from all the many willing advice givers, I probably wouldn’t recognise my own business and it’d be a bastardised mess filled to the brim with other peoples’ ideas, goals and expectations. If I wanted that, I’d just work for public service.
Building a business is one of the most challenging, frustrating, yet rewarding things you can do and as such, the story deserves a lot more attention than a few blog posts and later in the year, it will start to take shape. In the meantime, I’ll just keep posting away about random things which excite me, annoy me or simply make me laugh.
Now thankfully this isn't something that happens every day, but it does happen. Given the fact that my first job was at a gun club, shouldn't mean the chances of being shot increases. Whilst many bleeding hearts will tell you the dangers of shooting, it remains one of the safest sports you can do. I've had far worse injuries from hockey than anything else. Mountain biking and skiing are right up there for the most dangerous sports. However, once again, I digress and so back to the topic.
I'd got my first job as many teens do at 15. However, it wasn't a fast food joint. It was a shotgun club. My job was to put the skeets on the hopper and fire them up so that people could shoot at them. It was a fun job that paid really well. Most of the time I just sat inside a concrete bunker waiting for the buzzer. When I heard that, I'd load the clay and off it would go. This would be followed by the sound of a shot gun and depending on how good a shot they were, it either shattered the clay pigeon, or it would gracefully sail back down to land in the field nearby. The only real hazard of the job was when a clay shattered inside the bunker as it flew out. You'd be shielding your eyes as you were peppered with tiny ceramic fragments as they ricocheted off the solid concrete walls.
The job was fun and often I'd get to shoot a few clays afterwards too, which added to the excitement of it all. One day however, we were on a different range. It was the field and game range. At this range, it wasn't the traditional skeet tower and bunker configuration that we usually worked with, meaning the clay pigeons would be fired from either a tower, or the bunker. Instead, we used a whole range of different styles and sizes of clays which could be bounced along the ground, thrown up into the air, down a gully or every which way possible. It added a remarkably different sort of challenge to it all.
That day, I was stationed high up on top of this rock. When I heard the buzzer, I'd fire two clays up over this rock and the shooter would see them as if they were birds through the trees. This was no worries at all as I was high up and protected by a rock. However, the next range over, something was being fired across the gully and unfortunately I found out the hard way that this side wasn't so well protected.
There had been a few shots now and then where I'd heard the leaves in trees above getting sprayed through with shot, but thought nothing really of it. I was protected by a rock. It was way above my head as it should be. It was all good. However, just as I was loading a double clay, I heard a boom and whipping sound coming at me. My arm suddenly stung before a hot painful burning sensation took over. I grabbed my right shoulder with my hand. Looking down I could see blood, lots of blood and my upper arm dimpled with telltale signs of a spray of shotgun pellets.
I don't remember screaming or crying in pain. It all felt so surreal. One second I was loading clays. Next I'd been shot in the arm and bleeding profusely. I felt my right hand release the clay hopper and I shot the two clays up into the air. It must have surprised the range officer, as I'd let them go too early. He was on the radio to see what was happening.
I said, ‘I think I might need some help. Can you come up?’
I remember the reply was one of grumbles, as if it were so much effort to get up the hill. (Actually, for most of the club members it was, given the fact that they weren't the fittest group of individuals.)
However, when he got up there and saw the blood, his attitude changed. Thankfully, someone in the club had some idea of first aid and it wasn't long before they stopped the bleeding and revealed some nice neat pellet holes in my right shoulder.
Whilst today, I'd be seriously looking into their risk processes and procedures to find out why there was such an horrendous failing in their safety, back then. After I realised that the wounds weren't too deep, the pellets had all been removed and I was ok, it now felt so cool to have been shot at work and as compensation, they gave me and extra $50. All in all, a great day at work.
Kakadu National Park
Last year was a year of travel and adventure. However, it hasn't all been just for fun. The majority of the time I've been working and building a business whilst travelling. Being an entrepreneur is challenging, yet, at the same time, running your own business, especially in the tech world, has some amazing benefits.
To be honest, this isn't something for everyone, as it means you're usually on the go from place to place, reliant on finding reliable wifi networks and living out of a suitcase. Some people find this unsettling and frustrating, which I can understand. However, for me the benefits of being able to travel and work far outweigh the challenges. I never really got to do the whole world tour thing in my 20s and so instead of doing that and then, ‘settling down’ finding a regular job to go to each day and taking on a massive, unaffordable mortgage, I've taken a different path and one which I find creative, exciting and invigorating!
So where did I go and what did I do? I travelled around Australia. I travelled overseas. I explored, I hiked, I canoed, I mountain biked, I skied, I saw ancient aboriginal rock paintings, climbed to the highest point in Australia and tried foods I'd never even considered before, including a wonderful vegan restaurant in LA! I went to galleries and museums, met wonderful new friends and most of the time, nobody noticed I was gone! My emails were still answered. My meetings still went ahead. My business still developed and grew. The difference being, every time I was somewhere interesting, my creativity, productivity and drive increased!
The places I've worked from in 2016
The rest of Australia
The different experiences, the new people you meet and the new foods are all part of the unique fabric of being able to work from anywhere in the world. In the morning, I could be hiking up a mountain or wandering through a gallery. In the afternoon, I could be on a Skype conference closing a deal or talking with the tech team and in the evening (depending on time zone), I could be making calls or working on the business.
But please don't get the impression though that it's all been business class travel and exotic hotels! In the last year, I've spent nights huddled in tents miles from civilisation designing software processes, writing business plans and beta testing software. One of my missions was to kill the notion that as a beta tester you have to be sitting in a darkened office cubicle mashing a keyboard. I remember vividly one freezing night in the middle of winter, sleeping bag over my head, trying to warm my hands on the battery charger as it powered my phone and testing my app to its limits trying to fish out any bugs. I've done conference calls from the other side of the world, framing the camera in such a way to make it look as if I'm in an office, interacted with customers in multiple countries and time zones and successfully managed multiple projects where nobody had any idea where I was. This was all due to the nature and effectiveness of today's technology. Right now, I'm writing this as I'm sitting in a café in Japan drinking an amazing hot chocolate. Believe me when I say that Japan has the best cream in the world!
Why am I doing this? Because I love the variety. It's wildly invigorating! I love the unique cultures I'm experiencing and I love the different foods I get to try. I even ate crocodile for the first time! And let me tell you it doesn't taste like chicken at all. It's like a mix between beef and fish. I baulked though at the thought of eating horse sashimi in Japan. That was a bridge too far and Mr Ed remains safe for now!
At the other end of the scale, I hate routine and for me sitting in an office somewhere isn't in the slightest way inspiring, nor productive. I do my most critical and creative thinking when I'm travelling. It's during this time that I've had awesome business ideas and been inspired to take on different challenges. If you're lacking inspiration or motivation in your business, then find a place or activity which inspires you and go and do it. Don't talk about it. Put it into action!
Working remotely and at times seriously remotely can be a hugely rewarding and fulfilling experience! If you can get the balance right, you can free yourself and discover things about yourself and the world you’d otherwise have never known. For me it's a wonderful and exciting thing to do. If you're in a similar situation where you can free yourself from the traditional office, then give it a go! It may be the life changing shift of environment that propels your business to the next level of success. If nothing else, at least you will have some delicious meals and great stories to tell!
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