Every entrepreneur has a vision. Whether it’s world domination or a local charity, it requires a plan and time to make that plan happen. Ask anyone you know if they’ve ever had what they thought was a marketable idea. Chances are – they have. Now ask them if they’ve ever done anything about it. Chances are equally good that they haven’t, although you might be surprised by the number that have. So why didn’t they go anywhere with it?
Before we answer that, here’s another scenario we’re all too familiar with: You’ve got a great idea, and others think it’s really good too. You realize it’s potential worth is extraordinary, and so do others. You get a team together and you enjoy some great synergy…for a couple of weeks. Then it fizzles. Your associates suddenly disappear because of family obligations, their “day job” is taking more time, sickness, “the other half” is upset with the time it takes, and any number of other excuses. Quickly a single excuse becomes a series of excuses, and you realize you’re a one-person operation with a lot of dead weight and no progress. Why don’t the others keep at it when you do?
I have a theory about that. Have you ever sat in your own wonderland, imagining what life would be like with 5, 10, even 50 million dollars? Or if running a benevolent organization, have you thought of the day that your labors could improve the lives of everyone? Of course you have. It’s our nature to dream of something better. If you’re running a business, it’s your obligation to know where your business can go, and what it can ultimately accomplish. So go to your future “happy place” for a moment. Visualize it. Feel it. Enjoy it. Now come back and let me ask another question: Have you ever imagined in detail all of the long hard days, the sleepless nights, the constant rejection, the uphill battles, the family tension, and the frustrating delays that will have to happen along the way? I didn’t think so.
Unless we can bridge the gap between “now” and the future joys that await us, few of us will ever get there. After a few bumps and bruises, it’s more pleasant to just dream about what might have been than to endure the beatings along the way. The future payout just doesn’t carry the same weight after a while. We tire out and surrender, while using any excuse that is convenient. Then we let another promising idea capture our imagination, and the cycle repeats. In many cases, this cycle is mislabelled as “serial entrepreneurism.”
So how do we bridge that gap, be realistic about the problems along the way, and still remain motivated? And for that matter, how do we keep others motivated when everyone has a different motivation? How do we “eat the elephant?” You have to identify relatable value – identify what they can identify with. Break it down to familiar sizes. To “eat the elephant,” you have to stop looking at the whole elephant, and just focus on going in for the first bite. You may not know how to eat an elephant, but you know what it takes to bite something.
If I say I’ll give you $20 to write any quote on a whiteboard, you’ll probably do it. It’s a no-brainer. You know what’s involved, and you know what $20 means in your current life. For $20, the simple task is well worth the money. You’re not going to fantasize about the $20. You’re going to immediately do the task. Why? There’s nothing to fantasize about. $20 is an amount we already intimately understand.
Let’s try another one. If I offer you $500 to write a meaningful paragraph describing basic calculations of magnetic induction coils, would you? Could you? A physicist would jump at the 5-minute task, but most of us would turn it down. The work is beyond our understanding. The money isn’t the problem – we’ve all had $500. And we’re not illiterate; but for most of us, we can’t relate to the topic.
Here’s a tougher question: If I were to offer you $1 million to scribble out a 600 page book on your favorite subject within six months, would you? The task is doable… about 3.3 pages a day. You know how to write, and most people could ramble on forever about their favorite subject. The money is certainly enough, but you’ve probably never seen what $1,000,000 does in your personal life. In the next 10 minutes after the offer, where does your mind go? To the fantasy of the money, or to the immediate breakdown of the book? Give it an hour. Give it a month. Have you surrendered?
The failure comes because a person doesn’t break down the task and reward to relatable sizes. Instead of triggering our “do it now” response, $1 million engages our fantasies because we’ve never experienced it. If I tell you I’ll pay you $415 right now to crank out a single paragraph on your favorite topic, I’ll bet you’d have it to me in ten minutes. That’s what one paragraph of our theoretical book is worth, by the way. So what happened here? It’s the same task, and it’s the same money, but now we’re doing it. We broke down both the task and the value to terms we’re very familiar with. We now have a high value for something we easily understand how to do.
When taking on the monolithic task of planning and executing a business plan, you must break it down to relatable milestones. If you want to keep the energy going, you have to do that for the ones you work with too. They have to feel that they understand the task ahead in small chunks, and in rewards that are also familiar. Don’t say “we’ll give you 3,000 shares of stock.” That doesn’t mean anything to them. If you’re using stock, say “we’ll give you 3,000 shares of stock, which is currently worth $500.” They understand $500. Make sure that the motivation you use is the motivation they need. What works for one doesn’t always work for another.
When you hit the milestones, step back for a minute and look at what you’ve accomplished. Ron Baron teaches that we should look at what we have accomplished just as much as we look at what’s left to do. We have to recognize our progress and enjoy our successes. It’s fuel to get to the next accomplishment.
So if you’re having trouble keeping motivation, or have team members with the same problem, take a moment to consider whether the task is small enough, clear enough, and if the reward is enough for what that person needs. A word of caution though: many people are just unmotivated in life. Changing their rewards can sometimes put you in a bad spot. Before adjusting compensation and tasks, consider whether you have the right person doing it in the first place. Always wait for the right person, not the “right now” person.
Now go eat that elephant!
By Contributor, Stephen Ellis, President of Visible Divers