Saturday, 20 March 2010

#11: The Cobbler's children.

Throughout Jan-Mar I've been posting the "12 entrepreneurial lessons I learnt from 2009" series.

Installments so far: Introduction,
Lesson : #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10
We're edging towards the end of the series, so I'm going to go out on a limb and assert that those of you running an enterprise started doing so because you believe you have a particular combination of knowledge and skills which make your business idea both conceptually accessible and practically achievable to you.

Great stuff. The world would be a better place if more of us could be clear and honest about the skills we have, and create ourselves a space where we are able to do that which we are best at.

And as you can tell from my last post, I'm a big fan of the mantra 'make yourself useful'. Such that it sometimes feels as if it can answer all things; that the best we can do to advance as people, entrepreneurs and small businesses alike, is to share our knowledge, utilise our skills for others, and provide a genuinely helpful product/service.

But as with all things, even the great ones, there's a natural limit above which this behavior does no one any good at all.
So the saying goes "The Cobbler's children go unshod".

Admit it. We're all guilty of this one: expending our greatest talents on others, solving their problems rather than our own.

I can't tell you the number of times I've volunteered to help out a friend with a task identical to one sitting patiently on my own 'to-do' list. I'm not blind to the irony that this blog is hosted on blogger when I advocate wordpress, or that it has an old ready-made theme I am not happy with when, in the last month, I have launched and re-designed 3 custom wordpress sites for other people. It's a ridiculous contradiction but a common one. So why..?

As far as I can make out, there are a thousand excuses but no reasons.

I'll do a better job for you than I would for myself because my positive and negative incentives are different. I both seek your approval (who doesn't want to do a good job?) and I am fearful of your judgement (we hate letting people down). Yet, I neither fear my own disapproval nor particularly feel a drive to try and exceed my own expectations.
There are countless excuses not to act. The only difference is, my excuses to myself are always acceptable.

One of the things that changed last year when Red Button Design began to take on minority shareholders, establish expected delivery dates and accept in-kind investment, was that my excuses to myself ceased to .. well .. 'hold water' with the rest of the team. It became clear that I needed to readdress my priorities. My time and skills needed to be expended on my venture, first.

Sometimes the last people we help are ourselves, but it makes no more sense to be utterly selfless than it does to be utterly selfish. We need to take care of ourselves and our own in order to retain the capacity to help others. So next time you're about to step in and do that favour, check that you're only making yourself useful and not making excuses to displace an ulterior task. You started this because you believed you had the skills and knowledge, so be your own incentive. You owe it to yourself and your team to utilise your talent close to home before you make yourself useful to the rest of the world..

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