This post applies to business and life I think – so use it as you will.
I’ve owned my own business for a very long time and like most businesses I’ve had my share of ups and downs. More often than not though I’ve had sometimes long stretches where I mostly just felt a bit stuck – not going anywhere exciting and not knowing what my next move should be – only that I should move. (Probably a bit of undiagnosed ADD creeping in here.)
Lately, I’ve been writing and thinking a lot about growth and the need to focus in order to do so, and I think I’ve unlocked or at least begun to understand that the secret to getting unstuck does involve focus but more than that it involves what I’m going call optimization.
It’s not enough to just choose a narrow focus you’ve also got to choose an objective for that focus – you have to create what and why.
Optimization over focus
Now I know there’s been plenty written of late on purpose in business and choosing the “why” you do what you do. Heck, I’ve contributed to that chatter myself, but there’s always been something sort unpractical about that entire conversation. Sure, I do want to save the world and the whales, but sometimes I have trouble aligning that with what I do day to day.
So, here’s what I want to put out to the world of business that I don’t think is talked about enough.
To feel fully focused and alive in your business, I believe you have to decide just what you are optimizing your business for and then go about staying on that path in everything you do.
Here’s what I mean.
The 5 points of optimization
I believe there are essentially five things you can optimize your business for, and each of these things suggests that you must adopt a certain point of view about your role in the business.
So here goes. (Feel free to add to this list as I’m certain there are more, but in the spirit of focus I’ve opted for less.)
Profit – A business or life optimized for profit means you must make decisions that are more about helping others get what they want rather than building a large following or name for yourself. Have you ever noticed that some of the most profitable businesses are ones you’ve never heard of. That’s because they are busy making products that help other get famous or, at least, live their dream. These businesses are led by people who like to make others shine. That’s why I think the conversation around profit being something bad is so misguided. Sure, there are people who profit at the expense of others, but that’s not the profit optimization I’m talking about. Here’s the tough thing about this one for many business owners – you usually have to get good at giving others credit.
Lifestyle – Today there are countless individuals starting “lifestyle” businesses. That’ the dream, right? Four-hour workweek anyone? There’s no question that there are people living the dream, traveling the world, leading and running causes under the banner of a lifestyle business, but they’ve made choices. They’ve optimized their life, their living situation, and their expectations for what work looks like to fit this choice.
Legacy – Building something that lives on after you let go is certainly a driving force for many. I’m not sure too many businesses get started this way but plenty evolve to this place. Again, this objective involves choice making. Legacy businesses have to invest in building assets and creating endowable innovations and earnings. This might mean making hard choices about both investments and short-term gains.
Growth – Pure growth firms are today quite often associated with the tech startup scene, but it’s just a mindset. A firm that chooses growth and scale must constantly experiment, measure, analyze, and gamble to some degree on rapid change. This can be exciting, gut-wrenching, lifestyle altering and very, very profitable if you win, but it’s not for everyone.
Authority – We’ve seen a surge in authority building over the last five years as many early social media adopters became authorities in a space that rewarded people for engagement, but perhaps not so much for ROI. To some degree, the authority business is a choice that involves a fair amount of ego to sustain. It’s a beast that isn’t ever satiated, so it requires constant innovation, platform and point of view.
Optimize for one or none at all
Now, I’m not suggesting that any of the paths above is right or wrong or that one is more suited for someone who does or does not want to get rich. There are countless examples of highly profitable businesses whose owners enjoy an incredible lifestyle many industry authorities who have become incredibly wealthy due in part to their status.
But there are many more examples of people who think they have made one of these choices only to find themselves rather stuck or even failing at some level. (This, of course, may be a measure made up and articulated by a panel of their peers)
Okay – after about 900 words I’m going to give you the real point of the post – in order to thrive in business I believe you must choose to focus on one and only one way to optimize your business and make every decision for how you spend your time, how you market your business, how you build what you build, based on that one thing.
So, a business that chooses profit must be able to build a culture where credit is given to others, where service is about helping others get what they want, where staff, partners and customers are the focus of business decisions.
Far too many business owners say they want to build a highly profitable business and then spend a great deal of their time worrying about their Klout score of some other measure mostly useless in the pursuit of profit.
Others claim that a lifestyle business is their dream, but then they never really get around to creating product v.001 so they find out what’s it like to check your PayPal account from a cabin in the woods.
Look, I get, this stuff is hard, so my intent here is to simply acknowledge that most of the stuckness you might be feeling is self-inflicted and until you realize that you can’t optimize your business for everything the sooner you’ll find focus, make decisions that are true for you, and perhaps for the first time in a long time, start to understand why you do what you do.
Try it out for yourself. Consider the options I’ve listed above and ask yourself, which one of those am I (are we?)
Now, ask this question over and over again – What would a [profit or growth or authority] business do?
The thing is once you commit to this you can start to determine that only thing that matters our business is X – and then you can start to let go of so many of the things you or someone else has convinced you are important.
I know that this is a much bigger topic than that space of one blog post can fully unpack, but just for today – consider what you need to optimize for and start doing it.