We don’t know HOW to get where we’re going.

Neither do you.

A few years ago the Fortune 500 CEOs were all surveyed and ask this question:

“What is your greatest fear?”

The #1 answer – “I’m afraid I will be found out to not know what I’m doing.”

I’ve started seven businesses. None of them have crashed and burned (yet), but I got out of a few because they were bad ideas that weren’t going anywhere, and in some cases barely breaking even. A couple made decent money and grew well, and we sold one to the largest company in that particular industry. Right now we have two businesses growing internationally, one of them on four continents that has the potential of changing the game for small and local business owners worldwide. It grew 392% in the last four years.

So it’s nice to be able to claim a decent track record: to date – so far. And yet I have to be honest and say that when it comes to getting where we want to end up, I have no idea what I’m doing. But I’m pretty comfortable with that, because I’m just as sure you don’t, either.

Utter Clarity by Groping Our Way to the Light
I do have a pretty sane assessment of where we are (most business owners don’t), and I know with Utter Clarity where we want to end up, but I have no grand plan to get from where we are to where we want to end up a few years from now. The journey is not mapped out and the path ahead is full of Intuitive Guesses yet to be made. It’s not going to be easy, and there is no such thing as going on auto-pilot and watching this business fly itself.

Just like the Fortune 500 CEOs, I’m making this up as I go along. But since I don’t have nervous investors, unlike them, I don’t have to pretend I know what I’m doing. I can say, “I don’t know” out loud.

It’s okay to not know how we’re going to get all the way from where we are to where we want to be. In the real world, business owners don’t become successful by a grand vision, a genius scheme, a fail-safe product, or a five-year business plan (also known as voodoo & fortune telling). As Bill Hewlett of HP said, they had no business plan in the early days when they got moving, they were just being opportunistic and doing whatever they could to grope their way to the light.

As We Go, Not Before – The Intuitive Guess
We will grow this business not by having it figured out, but by figuring it out as we go. We will not get to Utter Clarity by digging a canal, lining it with concrete and floating to our reward, but by a thousand changes in a thousand directions, relentlessly doing whatever we have to, adapting however we must in order to get to our ocean.

All we get to know along the way is where we are, where we want to end up (Utter Clarity), and an Intuitive Guess at what we should do next to get there. And we’ll be “wrong” a lot (we already have been)– that’s how we’ll find out what we should really be doing. We’ll get our maps when we’re done, just like any explorer.

You’re going to do it the same way. Welcome to building a business. Stop trying to figure out HOW to get all the way from where you are to where you want to be. Know exactly where you are, and get Utter Clarity about where you intend to end up, then make one short-range decision that you think might help you get to the end game. Take the feedback the world will give you from making that decision, and do it all over again.

A Thousand Little Hows, Not One Big How
Don’t waste time trying to figure out how you’ll get all the way from where you are to where you want to be – as if there is one big “how” that would answer that. Get Utter Clarity about where you want to go, then be comfortable asking a thousand little “hows” along the way to get there. You don’t have to know what you’re doing. You just have to know where you’re going. That’s enough. Anything more would spoil the adventure anyway.

Three magic words: “I don’t know”.
Use them often. They will guide you to the next little “how”, and all the way to where you want to be.

What the Christchurch earthquake teaches us about business.

Safety is not the objective.

We were in Auckland when it happened. Everyone there knows someone in Christchurch and felt the impact, if only emotionally. Among the business owners there was a single thread: life is full of risk and we’ll all just have to get back on the horse as quickly as we can. I think there’s something else in this tragedy for business owners as well.

In the early 1980’s, a mentor of mine was recounting to me his best friend’s journey to find the safest place on earth to retire. He told of how his friend and his wife researched and traveled the world for over two years and were overjoyed when they found a remote and bucolic set of islands off the coast of South America that seemed to fit everything they were looking for. They had no record of volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, pestilence, poverty, or even hard crime. It was indeed the safest place on earth.

They moved in and six months later the British invaded their paradise from the beaches on one side and the Argentinean’s invaded from the other. Over 900 people died in the Falklands war, and their dream of finding the safest place on earth was crushed.

Business owners should take heed.

Two things happen when we focus on the big three distractions from a remarkable life – 1)safety, 2)security and 3)stability.

First, no matter how much energy you put into avoiding problems and building walls around your business, you will never achieve safety, security and stability. It’s not in your hands to do so. In response to the earthquake, one New Zealander said: “There’s no guarantees. You could get run over walking across the street.”

Second, when we live to achieve the big three distractions, we ensure only one thing – nothing remarkable will happen.

The lesson from the New Zealand business owners I talked to? Fear the probable, not the possible. There are hundreds of bad things that COULD happen if you take a risk to build a business that works when you’re not. But our job is to figure out those very few things that are LIKELY to happen, and then plan for those while we take the appropriate risks to create success.

Want a business that makes it? Stop focusing on how to keep bad things from happening and be willing to take the measured risks to do something remarkable.

Fear the probable, not the possible. Get back on the horse. Take risks. It’s the only shot you’ve got.