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Being smart is holding you back

May 7, 2009 - Business Skills, Leading People, Management, Operations
Being smart is holding you back

Intelligent business professionals often fall prey to gaps in their thinking that inhibit results. Common distortions include not having enough time, and the inability to get competent help in completing various tasks or jobs. Recommendations to navigate some of these gaps are provided.

“How did you get to be king then?” ~ Monty Python and the Holy Grail

One of the fundamental problems with small businesses lies, ironically, with small business owners. The intelligence and competence of a small business owner is one of the single greatest hurdles in overcoming business challenges. A smart business owner invariably creates gaps in their thinking which must be bridged in order to become a medium or large sized business. The same is true with managers making the transition to leaders.

The first gap: it’s all in your head – knowledge, skill, ability, discretion, experience. All of these things combine to create the unique capability that you present – and they are also why no one can help you do the things you do. It is why clients choose to do business with you and the core of what makes your business profitable.

The second gap: I can’t afford it:  it’s cheaper to do it myself OR I don’t have the time to do it.

Further compounding the navigation of these gaps is the nature of intelligence itself. Howard Gardener did some research in the late 20th century to help articulate what you probably know intuitively. Intelligence comes in many different flavors. There are quite a few proposed domains of intelligence out there. To learn more try the Wikipedia article on multiple intelligences: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intelligences.

The flavor of intelligence you possess also determines the where these gaps express themselves. Namely, artists don’t ask for help with painting, poets don’t collaborate on poems, accountants don’t find ways to improve or change the way they do accounting etc. Sadly, even though these gaps start in the domain of individual strength, they then migrate into areas where an individual is not strong. In this way, a talent for art becomes poor people treatment, or tax nightmares, or other forms of inequity caused by being great at one thing and not so good at many others. This is the way gurus become messiahs and how the mighty fall.

Your intellect put you on an island as a business owner – an island of your own creation where you and you alone end up as Gilligan, the Skipper, Mr and Mrs. Howell, Ginger, Mary Ann and the Professor all rolled up into one very stressed out individual.  Mercifully, there are simple things you can do to get out of the isolation that many business owners and managers feel as a result of being intelligent.

Step 1:  Apply more intelligence – You actually can think your way out of this!

Strangely enough, as a smart business owner, or manager, you are too smart to remain in these gaps once you’ve identified that they exist.  Simply use your sharpened intelligence on yourself and get the help you need. This can be in the form of consultants, friends, mentors, employees, or counsel. Not having money and not having time are both misconceptions. Wasting time doing the unimportant is the same thing as investing it badly. Stop investing your time in things that do not add value.

Step 2: Documentation – Get it out of your head.

Writing down “what you do” and “how you do it” is the second step. You need to get your subjective way of working into an objective world. Once your “thinking” becomes words on a page you can evaluate those words differently than you can when they are undocumented “feelings and instincts.” Almost without fail, instinct can be turned into a decision process that even a novice can follow. Everything a computer can do is based on a few logical constructs; your tacit knowledge can be documented and made consumable for employees and others.

Step 3: Fear is devious – put a label on it and then conquer it

Letting someone else watch your baby while you go out is frightening. Letting go of the reigns of control is risky. By documenting what you do, how you do it, and when to escalate, you create a situation that frees you to do the types of work you find engaging. Consider each time you give work or tasks to an employee or other third party a time to test your ability to document your knowledge. The first 5 times you get unsatisfactory results, check the way you wrote your instructions. Were there any judgment calls implicit between step one and step two?

“Idiot proofing” is a requirement for many reasons. Without heaping judgments onto complete strangers, it is safe to say that not everyone in the world shares the same intelligence. Making your instructions easy to follow is a courtesy to others and to yourself. It allows for faster processing and consistent results.  You also, instantly, mature your business approach – training gets easier, recruiting gets easier, everything gets easier when you start getting it out of your head.

Other upshot benefits include: Documentation becomes a knowledge product you can sell; you move from “manage by touch” to “manage by exception”; and you gain objective methods to evaluate vendor or employee performance.

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