I had an interesting dream last night. I was wading across a stream when suddenly I got swept away in the water. At first it was kind of fun as the water gently flowed along, and I didn’t fight it. But then I saw rapids up ahead and realized I was in trouble. I started to swim, but quickly realized I couldn’t fight the current, would become exhausted, and drown. I thought “Maybe I can just float along, keep my head above water, and perhaps the current will take me to the other side.” Sure enough, it wasn’t that hard to float along, even in the rapids, and soon enough the rapids took me close to the other side where I was able to grab on to the shore and climb out. I realized that had I fought the current it would have been useless due to the strong currents. I would have been paddling in place and wasting my energy. The current would have taken me where it wanted to go anyway. Far better to ride with the current, use my strength to keep my head above water, and hope for a lucky break.
After I woke up, I started wondering how this dream might apply to my life, specifically in business. I’ve been reading Geoffrey Moore’s book Escape Velocity, and just listened to an accompanying podcast as he spoke to students at Stanford, in which he reiterates some obvious wisdom which is that category trumps pretty much everything else. That is, if you’re in a business category experiencing high growth, that’s more important than management team, intellectual property, patents, etc. Not that you can’t fail while in a high growth category due to a failing in one of those other areas, but even the best management team with amazing everything else isn’t going to achieve 20% growth, or even 10% and probably not even 6%, in a business category where average growth is 3%, while a mediocre management team with mediocre everything else can at least achieve 10% growth in a category that has 20% growth.
So, am I in a high-growth industry? Search engine marketing is forecast to grow 15-20% this year. Add social marketing to the mix and the growth rate is even higher. “High growth” typically means above 15%. Ok, it seems like I can check that one off.
What about my business? Is MWI going to grow 20% over the next 12 months? Well, if we just held static, then yes, we would, because we just landed a new client that increases our revenues by 15-20%. Check. What about profits? Yes, check. What about my personal income? I just paid off a large business loan, the company is becoming more profitable, and there are some new initiatives that are low-risk/high-reward about which I have a high degree of optimism, so hopefully I can check that one off as well.
The thing with all this stuff is it doesn’t feel like anything where there are rapids or I’m keeping my head above water. My life is pretty comfortable right now. So that brings us to “the deal”. Those who know, know what I’m talking about, and if you don’t know, you won’t get any details here because a deal’s not a deal until the money is in the bank, but if this deal goes through then things will get a bit more interesting for me, and perhaps a bit less comfortable, but in a good way since it would be substantially more fun. After all, a white-water rafting trip isn’t comfortable, but it is fun (or so I hear, I’ve never been on one).
My philosophy with this deal is to go with the flow. It’s worked out for me in every other important area of my life, and whenever I’ve ignored this philosophy it has been near-disastrous, or at least extremely painful. Some examples:
1. Dating and marriage. I was completely infatuated with my first girlfriend and desperately wanted to marry her, or perhaps more accurately, I was desperate to get married. I fought tooth and nail to make it happen, but it didn’t. No offense intended to my ex, but I’m thankful it didn’t work out. We weren’t a match, and I would have known that had I not been struck with buck fever. I was somewhat on the rebound when I met my future wife, but rather than “rebounding” to her, I decided to take it easy. If it was meant to be, things would fall into place. I went into the relationship very relaxed, determined to not act like the idiot I had before. And it did work out, and I thank God for it because we’re a perfect match and I know I’m much happier than I would have been with anyone else I ever dated (again, no offense to anyone, I’m quite sure you’re happier wherever you are than you would be if you had married me–nobody but my wife could put up with me).
2. Selling my first business. In 2002 I had the opportunity to sell my business. I had taken on a partner in my business with whom I didn’t get along (again, no offense to him, we just weren’t a match in business), and plus a company that came along was waving big dollar signs in front of our faces. A mentor of mine advised against the deal, but I ignored him. I didn’t shop our business around. I didn’t do any research. I just pushed forward and sold the company, and it ended up costing me a lot of time, headache, heartache, and about $30K. In the end, I effectively paid the company to take my profitable, debt-free company off my hands.
I haven’t tried to sell my company since then, and I’m not looking to sell it now, but the deal I’m looking at has similar dynamics to each of the above situations. It’s a deal I could easily get emotionally wrapped up in, and I am to some extent. I’m certainly putting a lot of effort into it. But at the same time I’m going with the flow. I’m not trying to force what obviously doesn’t fit. If it doesn’t work out, I won’t be heartbroken, although I’ll be disappointed. If it looks like it will work out, but not in as good a way as it should, I’m prepared to walk away.
The dream seems to fit a bit more with this part of my life. I’m entering some rapids at the moment, and I could get swept up into some interesting situations, and I might be tempted to fight against the current, but perhaps I should just go with the flow and I’ll safely reach the other side. Perhaps that means the deal goes through, perhaps it means it doesn’t go through. I hope it means the former, but if that’s not where the flow goes, I’m not going to force it.
Perhaps someone else would find my attitude deplorable. Isn’t there something to be said for fighting tooth and nail to get what you want? Sure, and I’m not saying I’m not fighting, working hard, or taking risks. I’m doing all those things. But I’ve found in my life that there is a delicate point between working hard for the right thing, and fighting a hopeless battle. I’ve found that when I’m working for the right thing, things seem to work out. Not without any effort, but things work out. When I’m working towards the wrong thing, nothing works out, no matter how hard I fight for it. I get no breaks whatsoever. And deep down, I’ve always known when I was fighting a useless, hopeless battle, I just didn’t want to admit it. So I’m going with the flow. So far in this deal it’s taken me a good ways, beyond where I thought I’d get. If history is any guide, it’ll take me a bit further.
What about you? Have you had similar experiences where things magically worked out in your favor? Have you had experiences where things didn’t work out no matter how you tried? What lessons did you take away from those experiences?