It’s Not What the Numbers Say – It’s What You Hear

It’s easy to get caught up in numbers, and measurements. You measure your growth or any deficiencies against numbers. However exactly what you’re measuring against can be just as important as what you’re measuring.

Don’t try to measure yourself or your accomplishments by using someone else’s yardstick. Use your own. Just because it’s called a “yardstick” doesn’t mean it’s held against a standard residing at some National Measurements Institute.

Problem for many of us when using these mental yardsticks is we’ll unwittingly (and sometimes intentionally) lengthen the stick or shorten it based on emotion. We’ll put more emphasis on what we think was harder based on our prism, while at the same time see other milestones as smaller or more easily accomplished when in reality those might have been the hardest.

It’s a never-ending labyrinth for financial freedom if all you say repeatedly is “you want to earn a million dollars,” yet have no real idea of exactly what you would do with it. What good is worrying about how one would go about obtaining it if you could have everything you wanted in life for half, or a quarter, or even less. What if a million wasn’t enough? Make sure you know the numbers.

If you’re going to be in charge of your own life then you want to make sure when you compare yourself on any image of ‘measuring up” that you use numbers that speak to you honestly. Not some arbitrary number you pull out of thin air because it sounds good.

Just because you hear a number that sounds “rich” doesn’t actually guarantee it adds up. Bigger numbers can imply bigger headaches if not careful.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting a goal where the number has only 1 zero or has 6 or more. It’s in the knowing how many that needs to be calculated and measured against.

After all what good is chasing and worrying about trying to acquire a forest in order to supply the wood for a building project when if you had done your measuring and calculations you found all you needed was available at the local hardware store.

“Measure twice cut once” is a metaphor that can be used in life just as effectively. Knowing where your measurements are is just as important as fitting the pieces together. Done correctly and it all comes together seamlessly.

Spending time, worry, and effort in trying to acquire more materials than what’s needed is just as foolish as getting close to completion only to realize you don’t have enough.

Knowing what you need and why should be all you concentrate on hearing.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Caution Isn’t A Dirty Word

One of life’s greatest guilty pleasures not discussed in polite company is being proven correct when everyone couldn’t help themselves to tell you had no clue. Not that they wanted to discuss why you were wrong, or what was your thesis for being contrarian to everyone at the time. No, the ones that just want to shout like a 12-year-old across a schoolyard: “Nah, Nah, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” When this crowd suddenly falls silent, that’s when it’s most gratifying.

Being an entrepreneur of any stripe will at times leave one with feelings of isolation. These are the times that try the will and fortitude on whether to believe the research you’ve done in analysis of any given endeavor. Or should one just relent to the crowd, and say “I must be wrong because so many are telling me so.”

It’s in these moments far too many entrepreneurs falter. Not because someone has disproved their rational or analysis, but they point to flawed examples as some empirical proof. Yet just because it seems correct at first blush doesn’t necessarily mean it is what everyone “believes” it to be.

Illusions, as real as they can seem to a great many doesn’t make them real. However arguing against such claims can be akin to ancient times when one would then be hauled off and branded a heretic…literally!

It’s one thing to go with the flow, or ride a trend till it exhausts itself. You don’t always need to be married to the fundamentals, or other aspects of the where, what, or why. Sometimes as an entrepreneur you’ll decide to hitch your wagon and see where it goes. That’s fine. However there are times where crowd mentality, or trend chasers need to be part of the analytic model. You might use some as a sign post to enlighten you as to tread very carefully, or to not venture any longer or further in a given direction.

It ‘s not an easy row to hoe but fortunately I’ve had enough success that I’m not one to shy away from either making a tough call or stand. I’ve experienced firsthand when questioning the reasoning or assumptions of others and found myself in the equivalent of some medieval inquisition.

I don’t have the answers to all of man’s questions. And I’m more than humble enough to eat crow pie when I’m the one cooking, and serving it. However if I’m going to be beaten about the head by what seems like everyone because I express a view (That I’m asked for!) about what appears to be far too many people’s sacred cow. Then when I’m proven correct I’m not afraid to show it either.

To wit here’s a stock chart of Apple® as of today’s close:

Caution isn't a swear to be avoided. Sometimes it's exactly what's called for.
Caution isn’t a swear to be avoided.
Sometimes it’s exactly what’s called for.

Where the company Apple goes from here, or how much lower or higher its stock or market cap goes is anyone’s guess. I’m a great fan of Apple and still believe there is much more innovation and ground breaking products yet to be developed from this company. However when everyone wants to walk in lockstep on anything without the ability, or feeling the necessity to articulate the reasons why or why not while at the same time an unwillingness to defend or change their viewpoint based upon possible new or improved insight. You just can’t try to change their mind.

You’ll just have to wait to see if the circumstances will change it for them.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Listening and Hearing

There’s an old sage of, “Listen more than you speak.” The problem in today’s world is far too many think listening is merely the act of allowing the vibrations of sounds within their eardrums. For them if the medical definition is accomplished that’s all that counts. Regardless if they understand what was said or not.

There is probably no more important skill in business or life you can acquire or hone than listening properly. I don’t use the terms acquire or hone loosely. It’s a skill – a real skill. It’s both teachable, and improvable at any age.

Here’s an analogy. Imagine you were trying to learn or even improve just how well you could run the hurdles in a 100 yard race. You might know how to run, and jump. However doing it efficiently – in unison, is something to learn, practice, and hone to the best of your abilities. Just one time on a track even for fun would show you just how much you needed to learn or improve.

You can do virtually the same in the listening arena, but you have to be willing to step into the lanes and honestly judge your own performance. Any deficiencies will become apparent quickly as soon as you leave the gate. You’ll either clear the first hurdle – or you won’t.

There probably is no better real-time example to test oneself than what is transpiring with the debate of the “Fiscal cliff.” I know many of you are sick to death or frustrated with what is currently taking place. However you can use such events to your advantage as a game of testing your skills against some of the best debaters (or hurdler) available today: Politicians.

Instead of tuning out or throwing objects at your television or radio, why not use it to your advantage? It’s not like you can avoid it. So here’s what I propose…

When ever possible either at home or elsewhere find a place where you can actually sit uninterrupted. Have a note pad of some type at the ready. When one of the key players during this negotiation begins to speak (pick whomever you wish) listen carefully, and write down key points that immediately hit you as your listening. Don’t look down to write if watching, or try not to let your eyes move off what you’re focusing on if just listening. Just listen, and write key points that hit you.

Listen to the person interviewing if there is one – how the questions are framed – then exactly what words or phrases are used to answer. Don’t prejudge – listen.

When the interview or speech has concluded write a one sentence line or so about what you thought the tenor of what you heard meant. i.e., Seemed combative, evasive, spoke but said nothing, wouldn’t acknowledge, etc., etc.

Next time when the opportunity arrives, right before they speak re-read your notes. Then again just listen. However don’t write this time – just listen. When they’ve finished look back to your previous notes. Did you notice anything new? Did they clarify anything? Did they confuse their position with meaningless dribble? Are you still of the same frame of reference as you were when you first made a note? You get the picture.

Compare honestly what you first wrote to what you heard in later examples. Did it seem like you understood what was said clearly the first time heard? Did they change what they said, or nuance a different meaning to what was said previous? Did they change their position 180 degrees without acknowledging such? Did you understand or hear correctly at first? Are you now questioning your first interpretation?

Many of you already do this type of exercise daily in your own way. You’ve run the hurdles of negotiations for some time. It’s not new. But for many you never had a real way to self examine your skill level or see if there needs any improvement.

The mere act of aggressively listening in a regimented fashion alone can show oneself you might not have been paying as much attention elsewhere, or with others as previously thought. And there is no better real working model to use or practice with than a politician. Regardless of what side of the aisle.

If this exercise has no other benefit except to transform the current back and forth gibberish into something useful you can use. Then it’ll have done more for your sanity than the cardio effect of actually running hurdles.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

What Happens When Your Drummer Changes the Beat

We all believe in some form or another we’re marching to the beat of our own drummer. Then for some reason the beat changes. Yet we don’t notice. This could be just as confusing to your inner rhythms as trying to dance hip hop style to a waltz. You may feel like your cutting it up, but chances are you’ll find (to paraphrase Billy Idol): “You’re dancing with yourself.”

Far too many start out in pursuit of a business or idea because they believe they have something to contribute, or something to say. Then little by little for some unexplained reasons they believe customers, fans, or others no longer find them as unique, (or whatever word fits) and they can’t understand why. I will assert it’s because they haven’t noticed the drummer they were marching too has changed the beat. Yes they’re still marching, but not in the same rhythm or cadence they began with.

Steve Jobs is known for his disinterest in customer surveys. He felt he knew what people would want better than they did themselves. He did, and delivered ground breaking products people still clamor to buy. There are of course far many more that loose this sense of their vision and begin to transform their products to fit everybody.

Not a product that everybody wants – but a product everybody says “they” want. Once you begin down this road potholes begin to appear. Eventually if you continue they’ll morph into sinkholes leaving oneself wondering: “Where were the warning signs?”

We see this happen with companies that were once considered cutting edge before they decide to go public i.e., launch an IPO. (initial public offering on Wall Street) Then suddenly it seems the company has changed its tempo from what they wanted to build for customers – to what they believe they need to build for customers that shareholders like just as much. The company feels it’s still pounding out the same beat, but to anyone listening and watching their tune has definitely changed.

Facebook® is a current example of this. The stated beat they don’t care about the money march has noticeably changed to have a rhythm more in line with what they want (or need) to hear at a Wall St. parade.

This happens everywhere, in all businesses. Wall Street can show it with glaring clarity so it makes for great examples. However it happens subtly but with the same affects all the way down to the solo entrepreneur. And just as hard as it is to remain disciplined at the Fortune 500 level, so too is it just as hard at the smallest companies. Sometimes even more so.

Imagine for the moment you were a baker of artisan breads. You decide for whatever the reasons your mission is to bring this style of bread to markets. You open your bakery in some location and begin selling your wares. As far as you believe no one offers what you do – except you. You feel a need, or calling, or whatever, so you start.

Almost out of the gate you’re endeavor takes off. It seems like your thinking was spot on and you try to improve daily. Then you begin to do something that seems innocuous but can change that beat you listened to if you’re not careful: You start asking for, and reacting to all suggestions people might request.

It starts with a simple suggestions such as, “Why don’t you offer any Pepperidge Farm® styled bread?” At first you laugh at such a thing. Then you begin to think, and say “Well maybe if I made one PF version in my style…” And you do. You think you’re giving people what they want. Maybe that’s true. However if you’re not careful the beat of this drummer just might be changing.

As you continue more requests or suggestions come in. They suggest if it tasted a little more like this, or shaped a little more like that they would enjoy it even more. You begin to oblige such requests because this new bread is now selling rather well. A good thing you believe because what you’ve noticed is the sales of your artisan breads have slowed. More customers are now coming in for the PF styled bread while it seems your artisan customers are falling off.

Business remains good. You attribute this to your listening skills of understanding the beats of others. You might begin to contemplate “It was a good thing you listened” because as you look over your cases the artisan breads you started with are no longer even a definitive part of your offerings. Those customers no longer visit your store. Now your bakery is full of what everyone said they wanted: Pepperidge Farm styled breads.

Your drum beat changed, and you never noticed. You were doing everything as far as you thought correct because as it was pounding, you were marching. You were going through all the moves but that beat was not the one you originally chose to listen to.

In an effort to please everyone what you did was displease the very customers you went into business for. The ones who needed you. The one who can’t get, find, or just enjoy your artisan offerings. Now they don’t seek you out. They don’t even come in. They know they aren’t your customer any longer. The masses are. They never understood why an artisan bakery would even offer a version of PF. They won’t return any time soon – if ever.

You’re now out of sync with the rhythms of your original intended customers. You no longer produce what they march for. But you shake it off because you think: “Hey I’m selling a ton of the PF styled bread, and making a fair profit to boot. Maybe I was right to change my thinking.” Then a real Pepperidge Farm bakery opens on your very street.

This scenario happens far more often than people realize. Yet it’s easy to see how. This is why it’s so important to stay true to your original vision, listen for clues in a change of rhythm. Yes you’ll make changes along the way. You’ll try to improve your products, try to offer products that meet the needs of more, and more customers. However it’s a very slippery slope that you must heed the warnings of before you venture down. Because sometimes you just don’t notice the pounding is no longer your drummer, but some parade you didn’t realize you became part of.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr