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Katie! Focus on your business of tomorrow, and stay hungry, stay foolish

March 26, 2013

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Steve Job’s view on how he hoped his future was shaping up is one of his most memorable quotes in a legacy brimming with inspirational thinking. Today is my daughter Katie’s 18th birthday, her future is now shaping up, she has everything before her, dots and all!

There is something special about being young, something magical. I recall my own 18th, well, just about. All the things you looked forward to when you were first a teenager are finally starting to happen, as the world opens up in front of you. Going out with your friends, partying until the morning. First boy/girl friend, first drunk party, feeling free, feeling like you know it all, feeling like the centre of the world, feeling on top of the world, feeling untouchable. It all stays as good memories later in life.

I think this is a period in life everyone should enjoy to the fullest. There is a time and place for everything. Larking about belongs in your youth. Ok I’ve extended this a bit personally by over 30 years, but this is the period in life that starts shaping you as a person, the time we go through so many experiences. There is something so thrilling about the words my first – mostly because you only get to say it once. There is something exiting about the first time you try something new, all the adrenaline going through your veins.

But if you don’t do anything stupid when you’re young, you won’t have funny things to laugh about when you’re old. When you’re young you’re not afraid of what comes next, you’re excited by it. To be old and wise you must first be young and stupid. I’ll act my age when I’m 80. So for now, Katie just lie back in the sun and count every beautiful thing you can see.

When we are young, we are the most agile and energetic. I’ve become much more aware in recent years how little joy there seems to be in people’s faces the older they get compared to the young. I get the impression the rot starts somewhere between 25-30 once responsibilities kick in big time.

I noticed this yesterday evening, as I walked my dog. I passed the cheerful girl who works in the local mini-market with the dyed blonde hair with fluorescent red and blue streaks. She seemed so happy with life, chatting away on her mobile as she danced down the street. I don’t imagine she has two pound coins to rub together, but she was carefree.

Walking on, we got to the pub, which was full of grumpy old gits like me. Everywhere I looked it was as though they had been practicing their expressions to match that of a sulking boxer dog. Then on the way back, we stopped at the chippy and a group of young lads came in. Happy as Larry, shouting the odds, messing around like playful tiger cubs and it restored my faith in the world.

So let’s capture this exuberance and energy of youth and imagine we can take it into our business thinking, day after day, as we get a little older. If you had the vitality, the naivety and swagger of youth, what more could you achieve? You’d be hungry, eager, always looking forward, never resting on your laurels, curious, restless and bold. This would make you alert, full of beans and unafraid to try new things.

Our ability to act early and quickly in today’s competitive landscape is essential. Insights and agility in our constantly changing world are key to business success. By realising tomorrow’s challenges today, we can formulate a strategy ahead of our competition to find a faster way to the future.

I think many people miss pivotal business opportunities because they have come to accept and expect the status quo. Inertia is almost a version of complacency, acceptance of where you are. They expect nothing better and even refuse to entertain thoughts of the new opportunities out there.

Don’t allow complacency to keep you in mediocrity. Don’t grow comfortable where you are and use that as an excuse. Be agitated and restless.

For Katie today, her best years are ahead of her, and there is nothing much to look back on at this time aside from some glorious school friendships and escapades, and great family moments. As we get older, we spend a lot of time looking back over our shoulder with fondness for the good times past, but looking back in business can be a trap that hinders you.

We tend to spend too much of our business time lamenting over the past – lost customers, lost projects, failure to execute ideas, regretting the lack of discipline to get things done.  We want to fix our bad habits, which is essentially the same thing as wanting to change the past.  Whatever you did yesterday is gone. It is over. There is nothing you can do about it. The spare change you’ve lost down the back of the sofa is gone forever.

This tendency to continually and obsessively rehash and analyse the past isn’t helpful, you get lured into constantly looking backward, stuck in your past instead of looking forward and building your future. Ah you say, we can learn from our mistakes. I think this is overrated, focus more on not making mistakes in the first place! Live in the business of tomorrow, don’t try and fix what’s broken today, make some new stuff.

Looking forward is the key to a better future for your business. We often go about breaking the bad habits in our business in completely the wrong way.  We tend to try to guilt ourselves into doing better, by replaying in our minds how our bad habit has caused us problems in the past.  This is not the most effective strategy.  Instead, you should develop a future focus of a compelling vision of how your future will improve once you’ve changed. Developing a strong vision of the future that pulls you forward is a much more effective strategy for breaking bad habits than trying to coerce yourself with the past.

Katie will create her fortune by anticipating future trends and envisioning her own ambitions. She knows where she is going and how she is going to get there. Rarely do youngsters rest on their laurels or allow themselves to bask in the security of today, so adopt this attitude to your business.

Markets constantly shift and flux, consumer demands change and competitors innovate: planning for the future reduces your risk and enables you to capitalise upon new opportunities. Your challenge is to lead two businesses, simultaneously – your business of today, and your business of tomorrow. Long-term vision shouldn’t be scuppered by short-sighted, short-term actions, future orientation enables you to stay ahead of the game. I really don’t think that you can ever plan the future by the past.

Some businesses aren’t doing well, and fear the future. But we are not here to fear the future, we are here to shape it. The future is always more important than the past, you have to believe this, or why get put of bed in the morning? The future is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned to ‘keeping the status quo’.

Katie has boxes and scrapbooks filled with mementos, newspaper clippings, postcards, concert and plane tickets, old letters, and trivia. There is nothing wrong with this, but if you want your business to succeed, your mind must focus on where you are going, not on where you have been. It would be more productive to make a scrapbook with pictures of where you want your business to go and what you want to be in the future.

Job’s reflection you can’t connect the dots forward, only backwards came from his famous 2005 Stanford speech.  As much as we try to plan ahead in advance, there’s always something that’s completely unpredictable.  So how should Katie and business owners interpret Job’s words about looking for her future?

  • Listen to the voices in your head – what do you mean, you don’t hear voices inside your head, is it just me then? Jobs was a restless man in a hurry, a man with a plan. His plan wasn’t for everyone, it was his plan. Whatever the voices tell you, trust them and your instinct, and go for it.
  • Expect a lot from yourself We have heard stories of Jobs being an unreasonable man to work with, a perfectionist.  The bottom line is that he was filled with passion and wanted the best from himself and everyone else. He just kept pushing to a better future, and there’s not much wrong with that, is there?
  • Don’t care about being right, care about succeeding Jobs used this line more than once, and I think it’s a great guiding principle for anyone, as a person or business leader.
  • Anything is possible through hard work, determination and a sense of vision Steve Jobs was just another bloke. He was a husband, a father, a friend – like you and me.  But he had a vision of his future, of Apple’s future, and made it happen. That’s what made him a stand-out person. Do the same for yourself and your business.
  • Stay hungry, stay foolish The closing lines from Jobs’ Stanford speech captures a sentiment that seems somewhat flippant. However, when you reflect a little, it’s a statement about keeping your ambition and being adventurous, never taking yourself too seriously, and keeping the zest and attitude of youth.

Alongside Steve Jobs, I think these words from JRR Tolkien in The Hobbit are inspiring thoughts to guide your personal or business future, as you wrestle with reality of today and future ambition:

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said
The chances, the changes are all yours to make
The mould of your life is in your hands to break

Einstein said that common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18, allowing us to find our own way is a vital learning, yet big thinking precedes great achievement, the future belongs to those who see possibilities before others do, so thinking outloud, big and bold, is good. If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise. There is a light that never goes out from our youth, so keep that alive in your business thinking. The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it. So Katie, stay hungry, stay foolish

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