Ignorance is Choice

600600p82931EDNmainEd_Reid_imageI don’t frequent football fans’ forums very much – as a Newcastle supporter it’s not a sensible way to spend Saturday evening. But you know how it is, sometimes you can’t resist… And what did I find after we snatched a draw from the jaws of victory against Crystal Palace? An important business lesson for us all.

If you’re not a regular visitor to football chat rooms – and let me congratulate you on that particular life choice – I should tell you that all the fans have fictitious names and ‘signatures.’ Mostly these signatures question the manager’s competence or the owner’s sanity, but one of them ran much deeper than that. “Right now,” it read, “Ignorance is a choice.”

And for every reader of this blog, that’s true.

Let’s do a simple test. How far is it from Vladivostok to Delhi? Starts stop watch on iPhone…
It’s 5,088km – and it took me 18.53 seconds to find that out, including the time it took me to type the query.

Maybe something more philosophical? Why is it wrong to steal? In 0.31 seconds Google offers me 43m results.

So I’m inclined to agree with my pal on the forum. Ignorance is a choice.

But sadly from a business point of view, it’s a choice that a lot of us make. The mass of men not only live lives of quiet desperation: all too often they live lives of quiet complacency as well.

And if you’re running a business in this rapidly changing world, that’s dangerous.

Let me ask you two questions:

• When did you last challenge yourself intellectually?
• When did you last feel out of your depth in a discussion, at a conference or in a meeting?

It’s human nature: we all like to feel comfortable: we all like to feel in control – but very often we’re only learning when we’re slightly out of our depth.

One of the best business tips I’ve read recently is to take yourself off to a conference or a meeting that’s well outside your comfort zone. Maybe it’s programming or SEO or mobile apps: you’ll be surprised at a) how much of it is relevant to your business and b) how much you learn.

I find as I get older that I like learning more and more: it’s one of the bonuses I never expected from TAB. I know far more about management techniques, different leadership styles and – above all – different ways of coping with the trials, tribulations and joys that running your own business brings.

One thing we can be sure of: the world will not stand still and the pace of technological change will continue to increase. If you don’t carry on learning you’re going to be left behind. Ignorance is a choice and unfortunately it’s going to be a choice that will put your business at risk.

One of the great strengths of TAB is that it allows you to go into areas where you’re not comfortable; where you don’t know everything. I’m constantly amazed at the collective wisdom round a Board table and I’m constantly gratified by the discussions: it’s fantastic to hear successful people say, ‘All I know about this is that I don’t know. Can someone help me?’

It’s a characteristic of good leaders that they’re always willing to learn: rest assured that if you’re going to run a successful business over the next ten years a willingness to learn and to go on learning will be absolutely crucial.

To paraphrase the famous Robert Kennedy quote, successful leaders won’t be the people that see things as they are and ask ‘why?’ They’ll be the ones who see things as they could be and ask ‘why not?’


The Best of Times

600600p82931EDNmainEd_Reid_imageBack from holiday and as I do every year, I’m struggling with my shoes and socks. Shorts and sandals… I get more attached to them every year.

Still, time to suit up and get back to work and as you read this I’ll be in Denver on my annual Alternative Board trip to the States. But the wonders of the age mean that the blog is back on duty and, regrettably, I must start with a confession.

I’ve never read Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. But I do like the opening:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness … it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the Worst of Times – the moment when the entrepreneur realises he’s trapped by the business he built and that somewhere, somehow he needs to get help.

So it seems appropriate now I’m back to write about the Best of Times – the moment when help has arrived and you’ve finally taken the decisions you know you should have taken a long time ago.

I have to tell you, Ed, that – with the notable exception of proposing to my wife and deciding to make babies – joining TAB has been the best decision I’ve made. I arrived at a point where I was, if not disliking my business, certainly having second thoughts. And I was joining a Board that was already established. Everyone seemed a great deal more assured than me, a lot more experienced and considerably more successful – so I was nervous.

Two years on I realise that I didn’t need to be nervous – the other Board members were exactly like me with exactly the same hopes, fears and frustrations. And what I’ve gained has been immeasurable. Insight, accountability, friendship – and as everyone says, the feeling that you’re not alone.

Without doubt though the big thing was the decision to take someone else on and free myself from the day to day running of the business. I’d had cold feet about that decision for about a year – and it took the Board ten minutes to convince me. I was nervous about the financial commitment but it’s paid for itself three times over. The fact that I can spend more time with customers – and think strategically about the business – is simply invaluable.

The point mentioned in the last paragraph – being persuaded to take a decision you already know you need to take – is one echoed by Simon Hudson in his reply to the previous post. Yes, the Board is there to stop you making dreadful mistakes – but very often its most important function is to rubber-stamp a decision you’ve already ‘taken,’ but not acted on. It’s simply to say, ‘Yes, it’s the right decision. You know it’s the right decision. So just get on with it.’ To go back to Charles Dickens, it’s to inject some wisdom and move you from the ‘winter of despair’ to the ‘spring of hope.’

…And talking of winter brings me on to Christmas. I’m writing this on Thursday 21st August: there are four months and four days until Christmas and effectively 17 working weeks of the year to go.

Some of you will be basking in the knowledge that you’re going to achieve your targets for this year. Some of you may have rather more work to do. Whatever the position I want to make sure that all my Board members and readers of this blog have the best possible end to the year and that they’re in great shape for 2015.

Next week I’ll be looking at what we all need to do in the time leading up to Friday December 19th – the day on which everyone will stop answering your e-mails and the to-do list headed ‘Week commencing January 5th’ will start to look remarkably attractive.