Coaster Blog

Taking a leap, not a step

Just about anywhere we go, when we meet someone new there is one question we'll be asked - the seemingly straight forward "so, what do you do?" For many people this is a simple question with a straightforward answer. For some people though, it is more difficult to give the "I do this and work at" answer people expect. 

I'm in the latter group. Trying to sum up what I do and where I want to take those things inevitably leads to a much more in depth conversation, about what my skills and background are, where and how it earns money and so on. It can get quite difficult trying to make a different approach to work and career compatible with the way most people approach it. People are usually interested, but there is a logic gap which makes it hard for them to follow some of what you tell them. 

To me a big factor in the gap in understanding comes from the way we are brought up. Through our schooling, parents and just about everywhere we are taught about climbing the ladder - in our education, work and career and life in general. The rhetoric is always about taking steps, starting at the bottom and working your way up. For many people this works and it is a useful way to instil perseverance and work ethic.

The thing is, some people just don't think that way, and don't work their best trying to fit that mould. Climbing the ladder defines something potentially not intended by many people who use it as an analogy. It is a linear process, implying one thing happens before the next. Even without a time scale, this causes issues if your focus isn’t on a traditional, single destination goal.

To me the incremental climbing of a career ladder stifles a lot of creativity. That isn’t to say there aren’t things which need to be learned from experience, not at all. Personal experience isn’t everything though, shared experience can be much more beneficial to an organisation and individuals.

Some people, and I include myself as one, are not made for the 9 to 5 switch on, switch off work mode. Personally, I work best when I’m constantly changing what I’m doing, where my focus is and what I am delivering. If I don’t I become unmotivated and my ability to be creative and problem solve changes.

The solution for me became very clear - to set myself up to focus my energy and ideas on new, creative and sometimes a little bit crazy ideas. The only problem for me is describing what I do in a concise and accurate way.

Part of the problem is that the term entrepreneur has become so common it is almost overused. The serial start-up business, new market and disruptive side of the entrepreneur has become diluted by part-time small businesses and hobbyists. While I think there is definitely a place for any one and any idea which is viable, there is a difference between starting a new ladder, or working on multiple ladders at once and throwing away the ladder all together.

What I have boiled it all down to is one basic notion - what is it you want? Are you climbing the ladder or taking a jump into something completely new and different? 

If you are taking the jump it is most likely going to be because you want to change something, either about an industry, a market or yourself (or any combination of the three). To really change you need to take a leap of faith, in yourself and what you're doing.

So how am I going to start introducing myself?

“I’m Andrew and I jump on ideas and see what can be made of them.” 

~Andrew

A lot of running to end up standing still

 

Like it or not, we're in the midst of a revolution. The way business is done and services are delivered has to change, the systems we have been using were never designed to support the numbers we now need to. 
 
There are analysts and researchers everywhere telling us this. Graciously, many of them don't a offer solutions, they instead place the responsibility on the "entrepreneur". I don't disagree with this, I think for the most part that is the group of people best equipped and most motivated to make the change. 
 
There's a problem though, because it seems there always is. No matter how much entrepreneurs as a group seek to change the world, there is a large, unmoving object in their way. The established order, whether retail, manufacturing, health care, government or anything else, doesn't really want to change the way things are.
 
In some ways it's understandable, in some it's even fair. These entities stand to lose a lot with new, efficient competition. I think there are three ares they need to look at in order to make the most of the revolution and not be left behind.
 

Learn to evolve. 

Nature shows us that if something fails to evolve to its changing environment, it will eventually become extinct. The same is true for any organisation. Every new threat is an opportunity as well, as long as you are willing to turn it into one.
 
The really successful organisations over the past decades are the ones which have added, changed and removed products and services they offer. A lot of customers are innately loyal. As long as they are getting value from you and you offer them the things they want, they are much more likely to stay as your customer than they are to go elsewhere. 
 
To get and stay on top the core offerings of your business or organisation have to satisfy your market, when they change, so do you.
 

Listen to everyone, not just the people who like you. 

Communications and PR people have been saying this for years. It's obviously really important to listen to the people who like you, they're the most efficient future customers or users you have. It's also vital to understand the people who don't like you. 
 
The reason they don't like you might be easy to fix and open you to an inexpensive group of new customers. It might also be fundamental. They may simply dislike you. That's ok, in fact in some cases it's good. Polarising a market often means you have very passionate supporters and very passionate adversaries. As long as you're generating the numbers you need to, having people who don't like what you're doing probably means you're doing something which solves your customers' problems in a close to ideal fashion.
 

Be less scared. 

New things are scary. Well, they are if you don't want them in the first place.
 
The reason businesses modelled as start ups experience a really quick rise in customers and revenue when they launch something new is because it is new. It's exciting, different and shiny.
 
Customers like that, because they like to feel special and unique. They also like things that solve something in their lives. If you have an established product or service your customer may actually need it, they may not be able to live their life as they wish without it.  That is great for business, it's stable, reliable and predictable.
 
If you don't continue to innovate that though you risk a new competitor entering the market and stealing your customers with something which adds new "wanted" features on tool of your needed ones.
 
Being afraid to change can mean you watch yourself slowly decay as someone new takes your market from you. 
 
 --
There is always talk of what should happen, there are also fantastic innovators out the who dedicate everything they have to changing the status quo. They're willing to get it wrong, to take the chance on something new in the quest of finding what's next. They do the leg work. 
 
The problem is there are too many people taking their legs away. By stalling what they can achieve the future evolution of their work and its contribution are cut short. 
 
Let people innovate. Let them succeed. Then we will see what we can all do next.  
 
~Andrew

Is it really about the future?

The Federal Budget is set to be handed down tonight in Australia, and Treasurer Wayne Swan has said this budget is "about the future".

Unfortunately, I don't think we are going to see some areas key to securing the social and economic future of the country addressed. As someone running a small business operating in non-traditional industries and markets, trying to do something a little bit different, my take on things might be fairly specific - I do think it is worth considering.

It doesn't matter if we like it or not, the economy affects all of us. Simply, a strong economy is good, a weak one is bad and one on the way down terrifies the market, making things unstable and unpredictable. No matter your political leaning, ideological perspective or opinion on where things are heading, there is one thing which is very difficult to argue. A strong, profitable private sector is a stabiliser and safety net. Giving the private sector it's best chance to grow, and not penalising it when it is successful, is key to our financial future.

From what I have seen in other countries and the people I have spoken to, I don't think we are good at that here. Our private market and start-up environment is very immature. So, in my opinion, what is it this budget should look at that it probably wont?

Innovation

We need to support private innovation. Australians produce incredible ideas. Unfortunately many of them end up going elsewhere to be successful. I was astounded recently to realise first hand how many Aussies have taken their ideas to Silicon Valley, becoming American companies, to be able to make them happen. As a nation we need to support private enterprises, large and small, to conceive, develop and produce their innovative ideas.

Our venture capital market is so immature compared to other economies and risk averse it has become negative. The government grant systems are good, but many require dollar for dollar matched funding and all require too much paperwork and time spent away from the innovation. Businesses and innovators are penalised for developing an idea and realising it isn't viable or turning it into something else. That's part of the path to creating great things - remember Rome wasn't built in a day. It is simply too difficult and expensive to develop an idea in Australia right now.

Growth

There needs to be more support for private sector growth. At the moment as a business it is difficult to think of an area of business where there isn't a government fee or tax associated. I appreciate the need for government to raise revenue to fund public programs entirely, this isn't a comment on that. The fact is though that in their current form many of them discourage growth until it becomes vital. Very rarely will you hear a business say they are going to employ more staff to try and expand their business, more staff are engaged when it becomes absolutely necessary to do so, there are just too many costs associated otherwise.

Business profits are also penalised. Profits are always reinvested. Whether directly back into the business or through dividends and into retail markets and so on. The more a business stands to earn the more, ultimately, will be returned to the economy. Structures and systems which make it more cost effective to remain at a smaller size as a business stifle potential economic growth. Especially in terms of export potential.

Encouraging business to grow results in more people employed and more money in the economy, along with fewer costs in government benefits.

Entrepreneurs

It needs to be instilled in our society that it is ok to take a different path. Entrepreneurship has born many of the revolutionary products, industries and ideas which are now incorporated in our everyday lives. Unfortunately Australia still holds on to its "tall poppy" mentality when it comes to this area. We need to encourage people to take a different line, to risk their own security and position to try to create something they are passionate about. We need to do it as a society and we need to teach the value of it in schools and tertiary institutions.

Being a fantastically skilled person in any organisation, doing great work, is a wonderful thing, and many people want to do a good job and go home. There are those people, though, who want to be the people who set the challenges for others to meet, to try something completely different. We need them in our country too, we need to show people the value of that way of thinking.

The next wave of private sector growth will be vital to Australia's future. I truly hope we see a budget tonight that acknowledges that and takes active steps to support it.

But I fear we won't.

~Andrew

Belief, conviction and purpose

I'm not going to pretend for a second the road to achieving the things you want will be an easy journey. The more you choose to take on yourself and do on your own, the more difficulty there will be. The payoff for all that is that when you do reach your goal the reward and satisfaction will be far greater. 

 
I'm lucky enough to know and be surrounded by many people making their own way. These people are a constant source of motivation and inspiration to me, and I am proud to call many of them friends. Something I've noticed lately is that each and every one of them faces other people in their life who get in the way of what they are trying to achieve.
 
It can be through lack of support, throwing obstacles in front of them, criticising or outright sabotage of their efforts. Whatever the case, people close to them in both personal and professional capacities are preventing them from achieving what they hope to and are capable of.
 
In some cases I've noticed fantastic momentum and achievements grind to a halt because of negative influences getting the person down. It can be really difficult to remain motivated and keep on top of everything required to make things happen, especially in the early days when there is a lot of juggling of responsibilities, other work and fairly limited financial capacity. To have people making that harder for you can do more than slow you down, it can verge on being heartbreaking.
 
Sitting on the side of the fence where I am in the process of building projects, the support of others is invaluable. I have learned that for some people it can be difficult to see the other side - for the most part we are raised with a very limited understanding of the working and business world. For someone who has gone into and begun succeeding in the traditional 9-5 environment the paradigm shift to the self driven, entrepreneurial style can be almost impossible to understand.
 
For those of us who are trying to build something for ourselves there are a few things we should keep in mind:
 
- know what you really want to achieve and the path you want to travel to get there
- the people in your life might be threatened, wary, critical and dismissive of what you think and what you want to achieve
- relationships and support are vital to being able to achieve what you're looking to
 
Personally, I have realised from my recent experience that the people in your life can make or break you. It can be a very hard thing to do,but when the people in your life now are holding you back, if you are truly dedicated to reaching your goal you may need to make the tough decision to reduce that person's influence, or remove them from your life altogether.
 
On the other hand, where you find people who think like you, understand what you're doing and want to help and support you - hold on to them as tightly as you can. Everyone needs support at some point, and the relationships you form with people who think like you and understand you might surprise you with how much you offer the other person too.
 
Everything you're doing is going to take tough decisions. If you can be strong enough to evaluate your relationships and change them when they need changing, you will be more supported and the chances of success will be much, much greater. 
 
~Andrew

Does business face months of waiting for the flag to drop?

 

Today's Federal election announcement brings with it a wide range of factors which will impact on business and productivity throughout the next year.
 
Up until the 14th of September we will see commitments to change the financial, taxation and regulatory environments from all sides of politics as they campaign. Each will impact on business and industry differently, depending on where, what and how much the business produces or sells. 
 
Regardless of the politics itself, there will be new policies introduced by the party which forms the next Government. At this point we have little idea what those will be and we are unlikely to know the full picture until very late in the campaign. 
 
Calling the election this far out does create a sense of certainty, removing the speculation associated with possible dates. It is my opinion though that having such a long campaign period adds an extra four to six months of stagnated activity in the private sector. In competitive markets and environments, with conditions as tight for many as they presently are, for many businesses the most pragmatic course of action will be to continue until there is certainty surrounding the outcome of the election.
 
To not do so could put many businesses, especially SMEs, in a position where they lose significant investment by acting now, only to find conditions are different come October.
 
In the present global environment it will be interesting to see how Australian business fares. With our economy out performing many at the moment it seems to me a risk to bring added uncertainty to the already competitive market as fueled by the high dollar. 
 
While there are undoubted benefits to knowing the election date this far in advance, and the political discourse in that period will allow for a robust campaign, I can't help but question the cost. How many opportunities will be lost in the private sector as businesses seek to hedge their bets and minimise any financial impact the result may bring? Or will this encourage more Australian businesses to move operations offshore to where conditions are more predictable?
 
Both of these options risk the strength and growth of the sector.
 
~ Andrew.