Whenever I think about preparation I can’t help but think about one of my all-time favorite basketball players, Larry Bird. That which made Bird so great wasn’t the natural ability of a Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, or Kobe Bryant, it was his focus on preparation. In fact, Larry was usually the first player on the court at Boston Gardens before every game. The parquet floor the Celtics played on had flat spots where the ball wouldn’t bounce quite right. Larry showed up early so he could bounce the ball on every inch of the floor, identifying the spots were the ball might take an awkward bounce and take advantage of that knowledge to make a steal or otherwise beat his opponent.
Preparation made him an awesome competitor.
The same is true for small business owners. Over the years I’ve noticed a number of traits successful small business owners seem to share:
- Their optimism doesn’t trump reality: Although small business owners as a group are incredibly optimistic people, successful entrepreneurs don’t look at the world through rose-colored glasses. They consider consequences, both good and bad, for every effort and allow for the occasional monkey-wrench in the works. Earlier this year my daughter and I took a motorcycle trip to the Grand Canyon. We’d been planning it for months. Although we expected good weather, we were didn’t leave our cold-weather gear home. It wasn’t long before the fluffy white clouds and crystal blue sky turned to ominous-looking rain clouds and eventually rain. In fact, the rain stuck with us for the first two days of our five day trip. Fortunately we were prepared for the possibility of rain and cold weather (often a part of early May in Utah) and had a great time despite the weather. Our preparation made for a good trip despite what could have been trip-killing conditions.
- They are always learning: I think it was Google who coined the phrase, “Fail often and fail quickly.” Although nobody likes the idea of failure, sometimes we learn the biggest lessons when things don’t work out as planned. Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He also said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Learning from mistakes is a hallmark of a successful small businessman or woman. After every project or major initiative, we always do a review or retrospective to discuss where we believe things went well along with where we may have stumbled. I once spoke with a woman who said they never did any retrospectives when her team completed a project because she was afraid her company didn’t have the stomach for mistakes and didn’t want people to lose their jobs. Mistakes are really only a problem when we don’t learn from them.
- They understand that today sets up tomorrow: It’s important to realize that what we do today has an impact on what happens tomorrow. With that in mind, we need to make sure that our short-term goals don’t supersede those things we should be doing today that will make a difference down the road. Elbert Hubbard said, “The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.” Successful small business owners understand that it’s important to continually invest some of our resources in the longer view, even if it doesn’t generate immediate results.
I think Tony Robbins is on the right path when he suggests, “The meeting of preparation with opportunity generates the offspring we call luck.” With that in mind, it was Niccolo Machiavelli who said, “Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.”