Fight To Maintain What You Have Or Ask The Big Questions

You can either fight to maintain what you’ve got or you can ask big questions about what’s next.

While some business owners continue to be business-as-usual, most are wrestling with these options right now (even if they don’t quite know it).

Even if you didn’t take a big hit to your revenue, cancel an important event, or deal with fallout from the kids being home, it’s hard to escape the reality that things are uncertain and unpredictable right now.

This is precisely while—for all its horrors—this time in our shared global history and specifically our history in the United States is potentially exciting.

While there are plenty of efforts to maintain the status quo (i.e. getting people back to work instead of using our resources to make them safe without them risking their lives for a job), we are asking big questions about what we want society to look like moving forward.

In the US, the Black Lives Matter movement went from tepid tolerance to overwhelming support seemingly overnight. Support for universal healthcare is rising quickly. And more and more people in the US are open to the idea of a universal basic income.

And while I could go on and on about the larger societal implications of this period of uncertainty, I want to talk about your business.

Because this applies to you (and me), too.

Once we’ve reached a level of success, our filter shifts from “trying to figure it all out” to “doing more of what’s already working.”

This isn’t a bad thing on its own. This kind of thinking can help our businesses grow and scale as long as most of the factors we rely on stay consistent.

But those factors only remain consistent for a short period of time.

The market can change and your customers will want something different. The technology can change and your distribution system can evaporate over night. Your family situation can change and your working hours can shift dramatically.

When big change happens, typically, the first response is to fight to maintain what’s worked.

When Facebook started to deprioritize content from pages, everyone tried to fool the algorithm.

When Gmail changed the way the inbox was structured, everyone tried to convince their subscribers to move their marketing emails out of the Promotions tab.

Or, more recently, when stay-at-home orders compelled us to stop traveling, everyone tried to recreate their in-person events in the online space.

In hindsight, we might be able to say, “Oh, that is never going to be the same again. Trying to recreate it was a waste of time.”

But in the moment, “How do I make sure this keeps working?!” is all we’ve got.

One of the challenges of leading through uncertain times is recognizing when the uncertainty in front of you is really a fundamental change in the variables as opposed to a small nuisance.

A small nuisance can be managed.

A fundamental change in the variables is an opportunity to ask big questions about how you’re going to move forward.

And for as legitimately scary as those big questions can be, they are also an incredible opportunity to make a big move.

It’s a chance to rethink the way you do business.

This is a moment for refocusing on what’s most important to you and the people you want to serve. It’s an opportunity to imagine new ways to help them solve problems and experience new things.

Okay, so how do you actually do that?

To lead your business into change, you have to first examine your assumptions.

What do you assume to be true about the way your business works? About the way it should be structured? About the people you work with?

What do you assume to be true about your role in your business?

Once you’ve examined your assumptions, you are in the perfect position to ask the big questions.

And, to my mind, the best big questions start with “What if?”.

Take every single assumption you’ve identified and ask yourself what if it weren’t true. How could things be different? What would you do instead?

You might not have big answers yet. But the big questions will start to open the door to new thinking—and that’s where you’ve got to take decisive action and build a stronger business.

Cover of What Works book by Tara McMullin

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What Type of Goal-Setter Are You?

What Type of Goal-Setter Are You?

I've explored goal-setting and planning with small business owners, creatives, and independent workers for over 12 years now. That means I've observed many different types of goal-setters. Some confidently choose a new goal and get to work. Others rebel against...

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