Monday, June 3, 2013

Luck Favors The Persistent

It's such a busy time of year that I wanted to remind you of some business ideas to mull over.  The next two posts are reprints from ten years ago.  (I'm busy too)

It’s taught religiously in business courses, this idea that all visionary companies start with a big idea.  It turns out only about 25% start with the “big idea.”  The other 75% starts with something else. 

In 1937, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, newly graduated engineers, got together because they wanted to work together.  They had no idea what kind of business it would be.  Their beginnings were characterized by trying many ideas—including some that failed.  They didn’t have any plans when they began.  They were opportunistic, doing anything that seemed feasible to keep the company going. 

Sam Walton started without a big idea.  What he had was a desire to work for himself and a passion for retailing.  His overnight success took about 20 years and began with a Ben Franklin franchise.  J. Willard Marriott began with a desire to work for himself and an A & W franchise.  Nordstrom began as a small shoe store in downtown Seattle when he returned from the Alaska gold rush.  Merck started as an importer of chemicals from Germany.  Proctor and Gamble started as soap and candle makers.  Phillip Morris started as a small tobacco shop on Bond Street in London. 

Some of the most visionary of companies started with outright failures.  3M began as a failed corundum mine.  In the midst of the failure, they started making sandpaper.  Bill Boeing’s first airplane failed its Navy sea trails.  To stay afloat they made furniture for a time.  Walt Disney’s first cartoon series was a dismal failure.  Ever heard of “Alice in Cartoon Land”? 

All in all, very few of the visionary companies started with a big idea.  And they were far more likely to have had entrepreneurial failures.  It turns out that waiting for the big idea might be a bad idea. 

How does this bear on your company?  Chances are you’re not trying to be another Hewlett Packard, Disney or Marriott.  I think it applies to those of us who live beyond the sidewalk especially if we’ve discovered the original big idea might have some flaws.   

The smart strategy is to be opportunistic, like the above examples.  What products can you come up with that can grow your company, not necessarily grow your “big idea?”  How can you keep your company afloat and still remain your own boss with the lifestyle you want. 

Opportunism means looking for opportunities and taking advantage of them.  Next time I'll give you some examples of the opportunities farm entrepreneurs have come up with to increase their profitability—not to give you specific ideas but to inspire your creativity for your own ideas.   

Busting the myth of the “big idea” means that you need to look at this backwards.  Rather than starting with your farm (your company) as a vehicle for the big idea (goats or alpacas or horses or miniature poodles) you need to start looking at the big idea (all the ideas) as a vehicle for your farm.  The farm-company itself is the ultimate creation.   

There is a big difference between the person who can tell time and the guy who builds a clock that tells time even when he’s not around.  Builders of visionary companies tend to be clock builders, not time tellers.  Building a company that can weather economic cycles and product cycles is like building the clock.
Luck favors the persistent 

Mandy Evans lives near Palm Springs in the California desert, but there is a lake near her home.  She watches the Canadian geese show up every winter and leave for cooler parts for nesting in the spring.  But there is one goose couple who arrives every year in the spring.  They set about laying a clutch of eggs just as spring ends, and the heat of summer cooks the eggs and they rot instead of hatch.  Still, every year, in spite of their failure, Mandy watches it happen again. 

But this year, there was a late spring.  It stayed cool much longer and the geese finally had a gaggle of babies hatch out.  Persistence paid off.  

The stream of great products and services from visionary companies comes from them being outstanding, persistent organizations—not the other way around.  Be prepared to kill ideas that don’t work.  Be prepared to revive them, add to them or to evolve them.  But never give up on your company.  Be looking for opportunities because without looking for them, you’ll miss them.   

Just like the geese, persistence eventually gets you there.

No comments: