It’s never the process. It’s always the person.

Committment, not a cool product.

McDonald’s legendary “process-driven” business model is touted in Michael Gerber’s book, the E-Myth, as the central thing you need to succeed – a system will get you off the treadmill. Problem – 21.4% of SBA-funded McD’s fail. Huh?

We’re fascinated by “secrets”, “amazing”, “nothing else like it”, “three easy steps”, and other cheap parlor tricks to make us believe something great will happen if we have a special product, process, idea, great market, etc. It doesn’t work that way.

One out of every five SBA-funded McDonald’s franchise fails. Processes are incredibly helpful and I encourage Process Mapping as a standard business practice (much different than the McD’s or E-Myth model). But plenty of businesses have great processes and fail.

We’re always looking for something outside ourselves to fix our business. We spend thousands on complex business plans, layers of systems and process manuals, and buying every new marketing gimmick coming down the pike in hopes of fixing our business. But we’re not going to move the needle with these things. I put them all in the same category as “shelf-help” books – it all helps your shelf look good.

I’ve had countless conversations with people about what makes for success or failure, and almost invariably people point to outside forces to explain both of them. But the keys to success aren’t out there, their in our heads and our hearts. If we want to lead, succeed, and make more money, we must be transformed. There is no short cut.

I wince when I see franchises and multi-level marketing companies selling business opportunities by claiming you’ll make more money with them then with the other guy because they have the better product, better commission structure, better marketing, better financing, cheaper entry point, better process, etc. Then they trot out a few highly successful people to prove their point.

The problem with this is that you could take those same few people and put them in just about any other business and I guarantee you they would be successful there, too. Why?

Because it’s never about the process, or the product; it’s always about the person. People who are successful get there because they are relentless, not clever.

I’ve seen people be successful with good or bad products, good or bad processes, good or bad financing, and good or bad marketing. People who are successful will find a way to be successful in any business. People who aren’t successful expend an awful lot of time looking for the secret sauce, that great product, the perfect situation or anything else they can find outside themselves to distract them from the fact that they should be living conatively (with Committed Movement in a Purposeful Direction), not cognitively.

The keys to success are inside of us, not out there in the world. Put on your big boy pants, face the music, and figure out what you need to do to get where you want to go. Then stop blaming the world around you for not providing you the secret sauce, and get after it.

Create your own success. Gradually. Then suddenly.

Peacekeepers lose everything at once.

Gradually. Then Suddenly.

Don’t be a peacekeeper. It won’t do anything for you or for those with whom you are keeping the peace. Successful people are not peacekeepers.

It seems like a good sentiment – “Can’t we all just get along?” Peacekeepers invest a lot of energy into just that, keeping the peace. The idea is that if you can keep the lid on, there is going to be fewer problems, less dissension and more time spent on being productive.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Peacekeepers fool themselves into thinking that if there is no present external evidence of a problem, there is no problem. Or if there IS a problem, just give it some time and space, and it will go away. Time heals all wounds, etc.

We take this approach all the time by not dealing with high maintenance clients, uncooperative or non-responsive employees whom we’ve allowed to become indispensable, or business partners who are going a direction we don’t want to go.

To deal with these we employ one of two strategies:
1) The Random Hope Strategy – I plan to deal with it, but I’m waiting for the right time. I’m hoping the right opportunity will arise that will bring it up for me.
2) Time Heals All Wounds Strategy – I’m afraid that dealing with it now will create more problems, and things usually just work themselves out with addressing them.

Both of these strategies usually result in something much different than we hoped.

Border Skirmishes vs. World War
The real problem with these strategies is that our unwillingness to have a border skirmish eventually turns into a world war. That little thing we didn’t want to address piles up on top of a dozen other small things and eventually the whole thing spins out of control. We could have managed it when it was small, but by time it’s world war the best we can do is try to ride it out and survive it.

We need to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers. There is a very big difference.

Peacekeepers vs. Peacemakers
Peacekeepers avoid small issues until they blow up into world wars. Peacemakers are willing to deal with little things as they arise and as a result, they avoid the long-term intransigent issues that cripple us and our businesses.

Peacekeepers function reactively – waiting until an issue blows up on its own to deal with it; usually when it’s too late. Peacemakers function proactively – confronting small issues without emotion and before they become world wars.

All Successful People are Peacemakers
My Irish friend, John Heenan says, “A person’s success is directly tied to the number of difficult conversations they are willing to have.”

In Ernest Hemingways book, “The Sun Also Rises”, two characters have a very revealing conversation.

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

Peacekeepers lose control gradually, then suddenly. Peacemakers do just the opposite, they create success gradually by attacking small problems when they arise, not “later”. Later never comes.

A few years ago I invested the time and money to fly across the U.S. simply to end a business relationship. I could have simply faded away, or just talked to the person on the phone. But this difficult conversation was necessary for full closure and to leave no room for the issue to grow into something bigger. I fought the border skirmish to ensure there would be no world war.

Too often we see only the last stage of success in someone’s life, and we think they were “suddenly” lucky. The fact is that their willingness to deal with things all along the road create the gradual accumulation of good decisions that pile up and become what appears to be sudden success.

We don’t fail suddenly or succeed suddenly. Both roads are worn very gradually by a commitment to either peacekeeping, which eventually leads to failure, or peacemaking, which eventually leads to success.

Don’t wait until it all happens to you. He who makes the rules wins. Take control of your business and your future and become a peacemakers.

Life is too short to be little. Play big – be a peacemaker.

If you haven’t been arrested in Tanzania…

…you haven’t lived.

Building a business is a lot like my trip to Tanzania. I was supposed to be there for seven hours just to meet a Congolese Chief. Five days later I was still trying to get across the finish line and get home.

The trip seemed to be over at least 20 times.

At the outset, my visa and passport didn’t come back to Denver from the visa processor in NY. The day before I left I set up two one-way flights to NY and DC to get it, and then canceled them as the passport ended up in DC. I got it 30 minutes before they closed the doors for my flight to Africa. I raced through security and walked on as they closed the doors.

I needed to be in Tanzania to honor two chiefs, who were going to do business with us for years to come. Even though we had competent employees there, it would be an insult to not meet an owner for their first export shipment. Two days both directions on an airplane for a few hours with them was well worth it.

The visa snafu was only a warm up. They were supposed to meet me at the airport in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. When I got there Wednesday I learned they hadn’t been able to get across the border into Uganda from the Congo yet, but would arrive the next day, Thursday. I lost my non-refundable ticket home and bought a one way for the next night.

I had no hotel, no contacts, no knowledge of Tanzania. English is the written language but I was having trouble finding anyone who spoke anything but Swahili. I got a cab, a hotel, dinner, and went to sleep.

The next three days were spent trying to figure out how to get the Chiefs from the DR Congo through Uganda to Tanzania. It was excruciating, and at least twice I had to have the airline call the gate to release my seat with just 90 minutes or so before the flight, so I could get my money back and schedule one the next day. The third day I took a long walk. That was a mistake.

On that walk I took a picture of a street with nice trees and a tall wall down one side, and was quickly faced with three policeman in fancy uniforms who let me know it was the President’s house behind the wall, and I has just taken an illegal picture. As they confiscated my iPhone and were walking me back to the guardhouse I realized my passport was back at the hotel, a big no-no, and my one-day visa had expired three days ago, a bigger no-no.

I was in the country illegally.

I decided to employ the adage “He who makes the rules wins”. So I grabbed my iPhone back from the guard, showed him how I could delete pictures, made small talk with a few simple phrases I’d learned in Swahili, then made a bold move. After asking his name, “Jina lako ni nani?”, I told him mine and said, “Nafurahi kukufahamu” (pleased to meet you). Then with my iPhone in my hand, I turned around and started to walk away.

He let me go and I didn’t turn around to ask why. It could have cost me my iPhone, my computer (which I had in my bag) and a few thousand shillings in my wallet. I slept real good that night.

On Saturday, four days after I was supposed to leave, only one of the Chiefs arrived with our employee. The other one was still stuck in Kampala, Uganda. I changed my flight again at the last minute to leave Sunday. By this time I had frozen up two credit cards with what looked like suspicious activity in Tanzania (the card companies didn’t know I was there). The third and last card worked.

We spent the next 24 hours doing everything we could to get the Chief there. He needed money via Western Union. My third card was now locked up and so was my ATM debit card because I had hit the limit getting cash to buy them hotel rooms, dinner, etc. We had someone wire us money from the states, but when it came two hours before the Chief’s flight, they spelled Marian (our employee), as Marien, and Western Union wouldn’t give us the money. After all this it looked like an ‘e’ was going to wreck the whole five day ordeal. We headed back to the hotel wondering if it was all for nothing.

At the hotel, exhausted and out of options, I tried my ATM card one more time. It had come out of its 24 hour max, and the machine spit just enough money to buy the airline ticket. We raced back to Western Union but learned on the way there that the Chief was 10 kilometers from the airport and needed $6 to get a cab to get there. With only 45 minutes left before his flight, it wasn’t going to happen.

We went back to the hotel and Marian talked to the Chief. He decided we had been honorable in trying to get the other Chief here, so he would sign the papers for both of them. We signed, took pictures, and with 10 minutes before they closed the gate for my flight to the U.S., I walked on the plane. Had I missed it, I wouldn’t have had enough money to even get a hotel.

I got back in Denver at 1pm on Monday, changed in a hotel bathroom and facilitated a workshop from 4pm-6pm. That evening I took my first hot shower since the Monday before and had a great night’s sleep.

The point?
Honestly, this is how you grow a successful business. You have a clear goal in mind, you get moving, and then the world begins to interact with your plan. And from that point on it’s nothing like your fancy business plan said it would be.

It’s like a stream running downhill, winding all over the place to get where it needs to go. Those that get tired of hitting and overcoming beaver dams will quit. Those that are able to clearly keep the goal in mind will keep going, pay the price and push their business over the top to profitability. Those seven days were like a compressed microcosm of what it was like to build the seven businesses I’ve started over the last 25 years.

Want to be successful? It won’t happen because you have a great idea, big financing or slick marketing. It will happen because you know exactly what the goal is, you never lose sight of it, and you become a bulldog, doing whatever you have to in order get across the finish line, even if it means making your own rules.