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I’ve got lots of ideas.
Seriously, I’ve got more ideas than I can handle. I’m not saying that to brag; I read a lot, I’m inquisitive, I talk to lots of people doing different things. I’ve got lots of ideas. I bet you do too.
It’s a curse!
Great ideas are not the difference between success and failure. They’re not even in second or third place.
Great ideas are a distraction
Early on in my career as a divorce lawyer, I represented the wife in a case. She and her husband had started a small business replacing windshields in cars.
The windshield business wasn’t huge. Nothing about what the couple did was especially novel or different. They were doing it in a shabby garage in a town you’ve never heard of and won’t ever visit. They had five banged-up work vans that would have benefited from new windshields. The husband and wife weren’t working particularly hard. The wife had time for knitting, baking, and social activities, and the husband was busy finding his own “social” activities at the nearby bakery.
The wife took home $500,000 per year. The husband was earning the same. This was in 1990 when a million dollars a year was a lot of money.
The best idea isn’t an idea
This couple had looked at lots of business ideas and decided on something they thought would work. Auto glass is reliable, in that it frequently cracks. The couple took a boring idea and they got things done. They didn’t modernize, update, or innovate the industry. They just bought windshields and glued them in cars.
They didn’t have a website, and they didn’t have robots; they simply had a handful of guys in dirty jeans and company shirts with their names on the breast pockets.
I divorced the couple. The wife took the business. I checked up on her a few years later, and she had sold out to a big national company. Set for life–she never had to work again.
Shiny objects are disastrous
I meet so many lawyers looking for the new, new thing.
Sometimes it’s changing their practice area, or turning their practice into a membership site or workshop, or going virtual. Sometimes it’s a technology change. Sometimes it’s a new way to handle the money with virtual envelopes or new accounting software. Sometimes it’s the latest approach to management. Often it’s a marketing tactic inspired by a conversation with another lawyer or a salesperson.
Systematically managing your practice, aggressively pursuing new clients, using great technology, and implementing modern financial approaches is sensible.
Frequently changing these things is not sensible.
The auto glass couple settled on a business (a pretty dull business), then they perfected their approach. They put a whole lot of windshields in a whole lot of cars. They didn’t do it for a year, or even a few years. When I met my client, she’d been building her business for twenty years.
They may have been bored with car windows, but they weren’t bored with the money they put in their investment accounts, or the time they spent on family vacations, or the freedom and security they achieved by sticking to the plan.
I can already hear some of you, trying to justify flitting from idea to idea: “What if they’d turned that auto-glass business into a membership site? Would the husband still have screwed Betty Jo, the baker?” Um, yeah, he was going to put his baguette in her donut hole regardless of the business model.
You need an idea–once
When you create the vision for the business you’re going to build, you’re going to need an idea. It might be an idea that makes you better than the rest (like being the plumber who shows up on time?). Or maybe it’ll be an idea that makes you faster than the rest (like being the contractor who finishes when promised?). Possibly it’ll be a big idea that allows you to serve your market for less–you’ll be cheaper (like being Walmart?). Maybe it’ll be all three.
It’s good to have an idea, because it helps you set yourself apart from the competition. I’m not sure what my auto-glass people did differently. I didn’t get the chance to find out. My client was too busy telling me about the donut hole problem.
Then it’s all about execution
The approach I teach to building a business involves:
(1) creating a vision
(2) developing a plan
(3) systematically executing the plan
We teach our system each year with Vision Quest, followed by Marketing Accelerator, and then the Law Firm Flywheel.
Each component of our system involves developing a plan and a message; then, together, we implement the plan.
First, you have to decide what you’re going to do.
Then, you decide what you need to say out loud to lead your business toward the vision you’re creating with your plan.
You’re doing some of the work yourself, plus you’re leading others who help.
Your days are filled with taking action that is consistent with the plan, and talking about how everyone else can do their part. You’ll articulate the vision, share the sales message, and encourage your team to follow the plan and the systems.
Your message must be consistent. You’re going to say these things over and over. The message doesn’t change. It can get a little boring sometimes, and the shiny objects might appear overly bright.
Build boring into the vision
A big new idea can’t compete with the old idea of effectively using a task manager every day, and getting things done.
A storyteller with a thousand great stories loses out to a leader with one good story told one thousand times.
The key is to execute the idea. One idea. Not one hundred. You’ve got to pound it out.
You’ll have to tell the same stories, share the same vision, and encourage the same people, in the same way, thousands of times.
Because nobody is listening to you. They don’t hear you if you don’t repeat yourself. You’ll have to drive your message forward, over and over and over, to the point where you sometimes want to swim down to the bottom of that fancy pool in your backyard and stay under too long. It’s hard–often dull; it’s definitely not shiny object material.
You need to know, now, that building a business beyond yourself involves sticking to the plan, staying the course, and repeating and repeating and repeating yourself.
Every time you go off course–distracted by the latest shiny object–you’re reducing your effectiveness by diluting your message. You’re confusing your team, your market, your customers, and mostly yourself.
Going off course might be interesting, but it doesn’t get you where you wanted to go.
Execution is everything
Getting things done, executing on the plan, isn’t always enthralling from moment to moment.
But it’s satisfying to achieve your goals. It’s satisfying to see your vision come to fruition. It gets you what you decided you wanted when you created your vision.
I imagine that folks like Tim Cook at Apple have amazing lives. But, at the same time, the people who lead businesses like Apple have to give the same speech a thousand times. They say the same things to employees and customers and shareholders, over and over. It’s a big part of the job.
Getting things done requires a plan, and then (and this is the hardest part) it requires executing on the plan. It does not require frequent resets, regularly starting over, or constantly changing direction. It requires steady progress from where you are now to where you’ve decided to go.
Don’t let frustration, boredom, or shiny change your course
One thing is for sure–there will always be something new.
The new thing, at least for many of us, calls to us, pulls us, draws us in, and takes us away from our vision.
The pull is incredibly strong. It makes me want to start a new business, switch task managers, get a new wife (just kidding sweetie), and revamp everything.
My big new idea makes me want to create a new vision, develop a new plan, and start from square one.
Yep, ideas are a curse. They kill our dreams. We created a vision we’d love to have–we can see that business in our mind’s eye–and even today, long after we created the vision, it’s still something we’d love to achieve.
Our ideas, our distractions, those shiny objects: they are the enemies of executing on our plans. They are the things that keep us from manifesting our dream.
Don’t stop being curious, don’t stop reading, don’t stop talking to people about significant innovations, but stick to your vision. Make it real. Go faster if you need to get on to the next thing, but make this thing happen first. There’s plenty of time for your big idea to be part of the next vision you create.
It’s hard to see it in ourselves
It’s easier to see the impact of shiny objects, new ideas, and changing plans when we see someone else doing it. When it’s us, it all feels so reasonable. We’re good at justifying the things we want to do.
Come back in time with me to that auto-glass shop in 1990. They’d been at it for twenty years and were earning an excellent income. They had millions of dollars in equity in a salable business.
What if they’d started in 1970 with auto glass, and then decided that a car wash would be a better idea? Then after a few years, maybe they realized they could sell car wash kits with the soap and the wax. That didn’t pan out so they switched to bodywork and custom paint jobs. They experimented with hourly fees, and then went back to fixed fees. Then a great automated paint system was released and they bought it, but never quite got it to work.
Years turn into decades, they’ve continued to jump on the next new thing, and then it’s 1990. Do they have a thriving auto-glass business? No, they have a knitting shop, because the wife decided to turn her hobby into a business. Do they earn a million dollars per year? Nope.
But are they happy?
Decide on the vision. Include happiness in the vision if that’s important to you. But don’t use happiness to justify changing the vision every time you have a new idea. Happiness is living your vision.
Ideas are a distraction. Stick to the plan. Do the work, communicate the message, accept that boredom is part of sticking to your plan. Build the business in your vision. Then, if you like, sell it. With the money in your pocket, you can start anew, create a new vision accompanied by a plan, and build that vision to fruition too.