By Ron Baron

Presented to ELP Sandy 9/09/2011

As we grow up, the message that is hammered at us over and over, is that successful people work hard. And the really successful people work harder and longer. Well your parents and many others are wrong. That is a false message.

The Big Idea Comes… When?

Consider this question, “Have you ever had any Big Ideas pop into your head while you were busily engaged in work?” I’ll bet your answer is “No!” Big ideas, the kind of ideas that lead to successful businesses, never happen while you’re “at work.” Big Ideas come to you in the shower, when you are totally rested and not thinking of things you “have to do,” while relaxing in the lounge chair, when fishing on a calm lake, and when you’re idly staring at nothing. Your inner brain does its best work at these times, bringing “Big Idea” solutions to problems that have eluded your best efforts to consciously solve, pushing them to your conscious mind where they “suddenly appear.” You call this sudden understanding an “epiphany, a revelation, inspiration or a miracle.”

A Story that Tells a Tale

Once upon a time, I was a Supreme Work-a-holic. I was the CEO of my own 1200 employee company in the Boston area. I was a very hands-on CEO. I would go around to my people and tell them what to do to perform their job. My company was getting a consistent 1-2% growth rate in a tough market. I just accepted that low growth rate as a result of the market we were in.

I told my kids I was doing the work for them. I told my son I couldn’t be home for his birthday party because I had to work. I told my daughter I couldn’t go see her play a part in a school play because I had to work. And I continued to tell them I was doing it for them. Everything had to revolve around my job. I even brought the children to the plant on Sunday and put them in a big wooden box and ran them along the huge conveyer belt in the production area. That was their “roller coaster.”

Then one day I got up to go to work and promptly fell to the floor. I did this three times. Finally, I crawled to the bathroom to prepare for work. I even slid down the stairs, ate, and started to crawl out the door to the car. My wife said, “What are you doing?” I answered, “Going to work.” She replied, “There’s no way. You can’t even stand up. How are you going to drive the car?” I said, “I don’t know. I’ll figure out something.” “You’re not going anywhere except in an ambulance,” she stated. And she called one. I was wheeled out the door on a gurney. It turned out it was only an inner ear problem. After an hour and a half in the hospital, I checked myself out and went to work. When I got home, my wife said we are moving to Colorado.

I was a New Englander. I was born there, had lived all my life in the area, and I had a successful business  to run. I couldn’t move. But she put her foot down when I protested and said, “She was moving, and I was coming with her.” I had no choice. So we moved to Colorado. I worked on my business from afar through faxes and phones. I spent only 2 hours a day on the business. Something amazing happened. My business prospered. My employees “grew in ability” and took the reins, growing the business by 22% without my direct help. This 22 % growth continued for many years. I couldn’t understand it. I investigated and realized that close, hands-on management had been stifling my employee’s creativity and my business growth. Well, I knew a number of colleagues who were doing as I had done, and were losing their marriages, children, and health. I went back and taught them, for a price, what I had learned.

I could now attend an assembly at school, sitting on the multipurpose room floor with my son and his class, the only father there. I got my health back, much to the relief of my wife who had declared she would not go through another incident where I was wheeled out the door to an ambulance. And I was able to be there when my children were involved in special events in their lives.

Stop! And Smell the Roses and Watch Your Business Grow

You and I take road trips—short ones, long ones, extra long ones. Sometimes, we are in a hurry to get to our destination, and we take risks—like speeding. But then we do something strange. A needle on a gauge gets into a certain zone and we pull off the road and stop at a building with these strange boxes with hoses on them. Why do we do that when we want to get to our destination as fast as possible? “Because we don’t want to end up stranded out on the highway pushing our car and loosing more time.” Interesting! So even though we are in a great hurry to get to our road trip destination, we cannot do so without stopping along the way. So what would happen if we were forced, like I was in moving to Colorado, to make a stop in our life… ?

I wonder…  Take next Thursday afternoon off! Really, I give you permission to take next Thursday afternoon off. Life will still go on. In fact, I predict that your life will improve when you take next Thursday afternoon off. I have never encountered any negative consequences to my business by taking an afternoon or even a day off. What has happen, though, is that Big Ideas come during that time off. Some owners have so liked the afternoon off that they extend it to a full day off without negative consequences to their business. Others, in a position to do so, have even taken off Thursday and Friday.

Build Your Business, Don’t Work In It

And they can take off two days because they have an attitude of… “I can do better than I do.” They sit and listen for the Big Ideas during the four days “off”  and then implement strategies derived from them in the three days that they build their business.

Didn’t you go into business to make money? Then why aren’t you doing what you went into business to do? Wake up and do things differently… starting tomorrow. Ask yourself, “What am I doing with my business right now? Am I building the business or working (in) the business? Those are the two parts of a business. If you are working in the business, the business is controlling you and your time. If you are “building the business,” you are standing back and assessing what works best in building the business and putting your efforts into that. You are letting Big Ideas come that build your business in ways you never could while working at it.

What is a Big Idea?

A Big Idea could be as simple as changing how we define our business. Traditionally, we define our business in terms of the product line we sell. Stretch your business definition. Instead of saying you sell accounting services, market with the statement that you sell peace of mind—freedom from an IRS audit. Volvo, who markets quality cars, is again marketing the slogan, “we sell safety.” It was effective 30 years ago; it will likely be so with a new group of customers.

A Big Idea could be finding a niche to market where you are strong and your competitor is weak. When McDonalds first burst on the scene, they marketed to the family and kids. Everyone wanted to go to McDonalds, especially the kids. Then Burger King came along and slowly took McDonalds lunch by focusing on Burger King’s strength, quality grilled burgers, against McDonalds weakness, “cardboard hamburgers.” You need to look for similar opportunities. Take the time to list your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. Then list your strengths and weaknesses. Compare these lists. Find the niche or area where you are strong and your competitor is weak. Market your strength to your customers.

Implement Those Big Ideas

In your business, there are three divisions: the technician does the work; the manager decides what work to do; and the entrepreneur determines how to grow the business. Be the entrepreneur and take charge. YOU know what you have to do to be successful. The Big Ideas tell you what needs to be done. So go and do the uncomfortable things that will make you succeed. Call the person you fear to call. Walk into the office where you have to convince that secretary you deserve an information interview with her boss. Go ask for the money you need to produce your product. Do it over and over until you get what you need to succeed.

Avoid the workaholic syndrome by working less. Grow your business and empower your employees by working less. Take time off to be inspired by Big Idea solutions by working less. Follow the Big Ideas and direct your business into successful market niches left open by your competitors. Be the entrepreneur and take charge of you and your business by implementing those Big Ideas that lead to success. Then work less to give you time to go get more Big Ideas.