Action without forethought leads to disastrous consequences; however, too much thinking results in procrastination. There’s a happy medium in there somewhere that every businessperson needs to tap within themselves and their employees. And–guess what–it all boils down to the thoughtful development and execution of processes that launch and guide activity.
Whether the hardest part of completing any project is getting started to maintaining momentum, the process for action requires benchmarks. Benchmarks break down the overarching objective into bite-sized pieces of accomplishment, which prevents team members from being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the whole effort. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train.
In Forbes, Amy Morin posits that people categorize time into “present” and “future.” Deadlines, of course, fall in the “future” category and, therefore, become out of sight and out of mind. She cites a study in which participants were given a 6-month deadline to complete a task. Some of the study participants received a deadline in the same calendar year, others in the next calendar year. Those whose deadline in the next calendar year procrastinated. The attitude of postponement worked with shorter deadlines, too.
Morin relates how, in another study, researchers experimented with the elasticity of time and procrastination through color coding. In short, deadlines coded the same color as the present day spurred immediate action; deadline coded a different color than the present day incited procrastination.
These studies highlight that several factors influence our perception of what needs to be done now and what can be postponed until some vague future date. Therefore, when developing a process to start a project and keep it on track, simplicity appears to work best. For instance, rather than color code different deadlines, perhaps color code each track for a particular part of the team: all HR tasks to red, all accounting tasks to blue, all administrative support tasks to green, all engineering design tasks to purple, and so forth. In that way, each part of the team receives visual continuity–all one color–and the single color keeps the subconscious focus on the now.
Another way to move from interminable thinking and dreaming to actual motivation and action is to turn abstract ideas into concrete steps for action. This plays into breaking down big objectives into bite-sized chunks of feasible accomplishment. Stating that you want to be wealthy won’t do anything more than inspire a feeling of discontent and idle daydreaming. If you break down that overarching goal into actions such as “I will do this for 30 minutes per day” will identify the behavioral change that you can tackled right away and achieve.
Rewards also motivate. Business coaches encourage job hunters to use a self-reward model to keep their clients motivated. Rewards need not be tangible. For instance, securing a desired number of interviews can yield a reward of an extra afternoon of reading that highly anticipated novel calling your name. Or having X number of networking meetings yields that late, lazy morning you’ve been hankering after.
Experts agree: too much thinking destroys motivation. If you don’t look before you leap, you’re likely to topple off that cliff. If you spend too much time examining the leap, you’ll talk yourself out of the adventure of a lifetime. Think the action through to understand what you need to do to accomplish it and move on to the next benchmark goal. No one runs a marathon after a lifetime of couch potato survival, but start out by walking 30 minutes a day and eventually increase distance and speed. You’ll reach that finish line.
As children we learned the Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. In business, however, we see winners and losers and those that win don’t appear to play by the rules. Read articles on systemically poor treatment of workers by such commercial juggernauts as Walmart, Amazon, Enron, McDonald’s, and more. These companies received scathing press for treating the callous treatment of their employees, yet they remain potent and influential in the realm of commerce.
So it seems that nice guys (or gals) finish last.
CBS concurs. In their article “Want to Be Successful? Don’t Play by the Rules,” the subjectivity of societal rules affects how we see others and ourselves. However, self-limiting rules–those which we impose upon ourselves–says the article have unintended consequences. Such rules, opines the writer, are more about trying to exert control over one’s world; they don’t concern ethics, morals, or conviction. Breaking those self-imposed rules frees one to achieve success.
Beyond those self-limiting constraints we impose upon ourselves, how often do we fail to recognize that the perceived rules and assumptions by which we live are more subjective than we thought? An article on thinkbusinessgrowth.com relates the switching on of the proverbial light bulb in a graduate classroom experiment. The result? Students discovered that the rules by which billionaires play are flexible. Such rules may impose the same limitations as self-imposed rules, such as not asking for assistance unless the problem is serious and that independence is the truest sign of strength.
Liberarianism.org points to examples in sports where the common abrogation of rules occurs to prevent easy scores by opposing teams, to extend games, or to reduce the margin of winning by opposing teams. Like sports, many consider business a game with rules that govern transactions and guide ethical behavior. Deliberately unfair play gives undue advantage; however, those who use the rules to their best advantage without breaking them, says the author, are the most successful.
We can’t escape the morality of rules, legal, societal, or self-imposed. Marketing entrepreneur Tori Kyes observes that “if you read anyone who’s ever been successful’s memoir, you’ll find two common denominators: 1. They failed, at some point in their life. Probably a lot. 2. They didn’t do it the way everyone else did.” Kyes follows that statement with the example of a friend whose plan to launch a product contained three major flaws. The first, that person didn’t believe in his project unless someone else believed in it enough to dedicate a significant chunk of time, expertise, and effort into marketing it. The second, reliance upon an expert dumps one’s fate into the hands of others who may not have a vested interest in one’s success. The third, this friend held the conviction that effective marketing followed the One True Way, when, says Kyes, “you can do it any damn way you please.”
Doing it “any damn way you please” doesn’t mean shooting from the hip and taking a scattershot approach. It means analyzing what needs to be done and then figuring out the best way for your business to accomplish that within the available budget. That means–you guessed it–developing a process for implementation. That process should guide the effort and be adjusted as setbacks occur (and they will) and as successes follow through. It means taking calculated risks and investing cold hard cash in the success of your business.
So, what are the rules?