Stumbling Forward and Finding Your Way

As a small business owner, it's never a bad idea to learn from other successful entrepreneurs and business leaders. For example, consider this quote from Richard P. Carlton, former CEO of 3M:

"Our company has, indeed, stumbled onto some of its new products. But never forget that you can only stumble if you're moving ."

Keep in mind that 3M is one of the most successful-and surely one of the most innovative-companies of the world. But they started out as a failing mining company that kept moving forward until they stumbled onto some unique products-such as sand paper, scotch tape and Post-It notes-that built 3M into a multibillion dollar company. You would be surprised to know how many other "great" companies established their position almost by accident. As James Collins says in the book "Built to Last", "In examining the history of visionary companies, we were stuck by how often they made some of their best moves not detailed detailed strategic planning, but rather by experimentation, trial and error, opportunism, and quite literal-accident. What looks in hindsight like a brilliant strategy was often the result of opportunistic experimentation and " purposeful accidents ".

The key is that these successful companies were coming up with good ideas because they were on the move. As mentioned above, they were not "incidental accidents" (I know, that's redundant) but rather "purposeful accidents". Consequently, one of the best things you can do as a new company is just that-do something . Many companies, small businesses, and new entrepreneurs often suffer from " paralysis by analysis ". They spend an agonizing level of effort on trying to develop exactly the right strategy, exactly the right business plan, exactly the right product, the right sales pitch, and so on. And often they stay in this planning mode and never get into the doing mode.

Unfortunately- or somehow fortunately-there is no one "right strategy" or "right business plan / model, etc". Most of us do quite well in life by getting many things "roughly right ". This is particularly true in business. It's more important to do something today rather than the right right thing tomorrow.

When I suggest that you "do something" I am not recommending that you run around aimlessly with the mistake awareness that activity is the same as progress. And I'm certainly not advocating doing the wrong thing, just to be doing something. But I am suggesting that after you develop your initial plan that you quickly move from the planning stage to the implementation stage. "Doing something" will put yourself in a better position to learn and to learn quicker. Doing something will help you to come in contact with customers sooner, to understand the market sooner, and to understand how your company, your products, and services are perceived (and possibly to make a few changes). Doing something will help you to figure out what works and what does not sooner rather than later.

One aspect of doing something is maybe more important than any other, specifically, selling something. Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business, but particularly, a new business. You need cash flow to help invest in building your business. And cash flow does not come until you sell something. In one sense, it almost doesnt matter what you sell, as long as it generates profits that you can then use to fuel your growth. The product or service that you initially sell might well be dramatically different than the "something" that you sell down the road, but regardless, sell it … sell something.

Other stumbles you can take as you move foreword are what I call "The Something Sisters", Do, Sell, Be, Change and Learn. They can teach us a lot about stumbling forward.

Do Something : Experiment; learn by doing, dive in! Take a risk and start down the path.

Sell ​​Something: Nothing starts until you sell something as a business. Try to fin someone who will buy that something from you and you'll start feeling like a business owner!

Be Something: Positioning- "be something" in the minds of your customers – be an expert, be friendly, be honest, be smart, be happy, be funny, be popular. Just figure out how to make yourself stand out from the crowd.

Change something : Do not be married to the first idea – be flexible in order to look for "greener pastures". Flexbility and recognizing opportunity where you least expect it is KEY to stumbling forward and stumbling on something great!

Learn something: Learn from your mistakes and learn what your strengths and weaknesses are. Learn from those who have gone before your. Look for a "something" that is a strength.

And finally, once you stumble upon that "something" of success, then keep moving forward and …

Make it Better: Make-Up Queen Mary Kay Ash said, "A laurel rested upon becomes wilted". Be prepared to continue to stumble forward DESPITE successes along the way. Will Rogers said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." Continually strive to change, adapt and improve your product or service. As you keep moving, you will stumble from time to time, but you will either take those stumbles and make them successes, or you will just trip and fall (and get run over). The choice is yours, but the key is to keep stumbling forward.