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 Whilst at that stage they were the biggest retailer of electrical appliances, they’ve been replaced by other retailers of electrical appliances and online retailers.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.
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