Almost a half-century ago, a list of rules really caught on. Without the benefit of the Internet, email, or social media, but with no less an endorsement than syndicated newspaper oracle, Ann Landers, “Ten Rules For Being Human” quickly circulated around the globe.
Initially, the author’s name didn’t make the trip, resulting in attribution to “Anonymous.” It remained that way even when Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen included The Rules in their original Chicken Soup For The Soul book in 1993. Still attributing it to “Anonymous,” they somehow didn’t know that the wisdom of The Rules came from their long-time friend, Dr. Chérie Carter-Scott.
Chérie has been my friend since she first told that story to my radio audience over two decades ago, as she launched her first book based on The Rules, If Life is a Game, These are the Rules. Using Chérie’s numbering, here are five of the ten Rules that are handy for small business owners any time, but especially so just now. And, of course, each rule is followed by my thoughts.
Rule Two: You will be presented with lessons.
There are two basic kinds of lessons: Expensive and free. Too often the expensive ones become valuable only after you’ve turned some form of an investment into a mistake/failure. And it’s quite likely that you think the second kind is free only because you didn’t write a check today. That’s right – the free ones are usually dividends from an expensive lesson that you already paid for.
In my long career, there has never been such compression of disruptions and paradigm shifts since we were visited by COVID-19 and associated shutdowns. Many of these have yet to fully develop and, post-pandemic, shifts, changes, and disruptions are going to continue at this pace.
Now is a good time to conduct an inventory of expensive lessons already paid for, adjust for the post-pandemic reality, and forecast how they might become handy (free) and productive (ROI) as the pace of change picks up this year. In life and business, the trick isn’t to avoid lessons, it’s to pay for them only once.
Rule Three: There are no mistakes, only lessons.
The world is beholden to risk-takers. My definition of a risk-taker is someone who doesn’t care if it breaks. It’s not that they want something to break, it’s just that they believe they will a) be able to fix it and b) successfully discover the breaking point.
In aviation, breakpoints create what’s called an operating “envelope.” As long as you operate your aircraft within that envelope, you can expect to be safe. But envelopes don’t create themselves. To define that envelope, the quintessential risk taker – a test pilot – had to push the aircraft operation over the edge.
For at least the rest of this year, there are going to be moments when the post-pandemic marketplace will demand that you push your business’s operating envelope to the breaking point. And you’ll only pull off this test flight if you’re willing to risk what you know (paid-for lessons) for what you might learn (new lessons/investments).
Risk-takers – entrepreneurs and test pilots – value discovery more than they fear failure.
Rule Six: “There” is no better than “here.”
One of the most valuable lessons anyone can learn is to not wish your life away. Business owners celebrate this lesson when they discover they’re having fun, whether struggling with a challenge or cashing in on an opportunity.
If your pandemic endurance test seems more like long-suffering, be careful to not wish for “this” to be over. Perspective isn’t possible if you’ve never been off the mountain top. And when you’ve learned that lesson, you’ll appreciate Blasingame’s Law of Small Business Perspective: “Earning profit is more fun than having it.”
Rule Seven: Others are only mirrors of you.
If you don’t like what you see in someone else, check your position to make sure you aren’t seeing a reflection. Alas, most of us need a little help with this kind of introspection, because it can cut a little too close to the quick.
The solution is to have special people in your life who can be at once critics and safe harbors. Not only do they care about you, but you never doubt that whatever they say – whether you take their advice or not – is in your best interest. My friend, Noah St. John, calls them “loving mirrors.”
Self-analysis is the most powerful personal tool any leader can have, but sometimes “self” needs a little help. Post-pandemic, your new orbit will find a marketplace more nuanced and customers more sensitive than when you were pushed out of orbit a year ago. As a customer, you’ve no doubt noticed this in yourself.
When approaching, selling, and serving customers, expect their nuances and expectations to be a reflection of your own.
Rule Nine: All the answers lie inside of you.
When you have a session with a psychologist, who does most of the talking? Of course, you do. This can be a maddening method, but eventually, you realize that you had the key to your solutions all the time, you just misplaced it temporarily.
There are people who wander around life without learning lessons, continuing to make the same mistakes over and over. But I’ll bet you’ve never met a successful small business owner who fits that description. If you don’t learn, you don’t last.
This is the Rule that delivers on Rules Two and Three. You’re the screenwriter, director, and star of your own movie. The rest of the world is just a supporting cast and props. When you create a hit, you get the Oscar. When you don’t … well … you get another valuable lesson.
Thanks, Dr. Chérie Carter-Scott, for these lessons.
Write this on a rock … Success in games, life, aviation, and business requires that you understand the rules, even if – especially when – you’re bending them.