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Don’t let the tail wag the dog: 12 good habits of entrepreneurs

November 4, 2013

When your dog bounds towards you with her tail wagging furiously, you’d naturally assume she was pleased to see you. Look closer, however, and that tail might be trying to tell you something very different.

While all dog tails wag from side to side, it seems they do so with a certain left or right bias depending on the message they are trying to convey. Researchers at the University of Trento in Italy claim dogs use their tails to deliver signals to other dogs that are hidden from humans.

According to scientists, a wag with a bias to the right signifies happiness, and a wag more to the left, fear. Because dogs move around so much, this often goes unseen by humans. Fellow dogs, however, are fully tuned into the subtle signalling.

The behaviour reflects what is happening in the dog’s brain, and that left-brain activation produces bigger wags to the right, and vice-versa. When dogs see another dog wagging more towards the left, their heart rates pick up and they begin to look anxious. Dogs shown wagging biased to the right stay perfectly relaxed.

Study leader Dr Giorgio Vallortigara, from the Centre for /Brain Sciences at the University of Trento, said: The direction of tail wagging does in fact matter, and it matters in a way that matches hemispheric activation.

Earlier research had revealed that happy dogs wag their tails more to the right (from the dog’s point of view), while nervous dogs have a left-dominated swish. But now scientists say that fellow canines can spot and respond to these subtle tail differences.

Last year a team from the University of Lincoln found that dogs turn their heads to the left when looking at an aggressive dog and to the right when looking at a happy dog.

My dog, Tess, a thirteen year-old golden retriever, bucks this trend, her tail wags gyroscopically in all directions with velocity at the merest hint of the word ‘food’, ‘walk’ or when you call her name – the one thing I’ll miss more about her than anything else when she moves onto the great kennel in the sky is the ‘thump thump thump’ of her tail when ever she hears her name spoken. A dog can express more with her tail in minutes than her owner can express with his tongue in hours!

Tess’ responses are predictable, she’s a classic Pavlov dog in terms of her eating behaviours and triggers, and habits too. In order to really enjoy and understand a dog, you don’t merely try to train her to be semi-human, the point is to open oneself to the possibility of you becoming part dog, and empathise with their habits to understand them. In fact, the more people I meet, the more I like my dog.

Of course we humans also have habits, a more or less fixed way of thinking, which results in good and bad repeated behaviours. Habitual behaviour can be a simple form of learning, as in repeated practice, or sometimes compulsory or addictive. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form because the behavioural patterns we repeat are imprinted in our neural pathways,but it is possible to form new habits through repetition.

The difficult thing about studying habits is that most people want to know the secret formula for quickly changing any habit. If only it were that easy. The problem is that there isn’t one formula for changing habits. Individuals and habits are all different, but that doesn’t mean it can’t occur. Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy, but with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.

As behaviours are repeated in a consistent context, there is an incremental increase in the link between the context and the action. If you’re trying to achieve an objective or target, getting consistently good habits is vital.

So lets look on the positive side, good habits shape good behaviours, which can help achievement of objectives and positive outcomes. Practice, focus and training yourself to ‘do the right thing’, so that habits become routines of behaviour that are repeated without thinking, will ultimately lead to success. So what are the ‘good habits’ of successful entrepreneurs that we can put into our own ‘mind gym workouts’ to help improve our business success? Here are my thoughts.

Habit 1: Always look forward Being a great business innovator is all about being bold and forward thinking, to go beyond simply following current market trends. You need to be a pioneer, even in small ways, always keeping your eyes open for new opportunities to create your own market space. This means taking chances, and if anything is a critical part of a good habit set, it’s a willingness to do just that.

Habit 2: Be customer centric Business success requires an unwavering commitment to the customer. You need to develop an obsessive habit and mind-set of living in your customer’s world. Understanding customers’ wants and needs provides you with a greater opportunity to earn their attention. Focus away from profit as the purpose of your business, focus on finding, winning and keeping customers.

Habit 3: Make decisions You have to be decisive. From daily operations to strategic direction choices, waffling with indecision just will not work. The ability to make decisions is directly related to your sense of confidence, so if you find yourself not knowing which choice to make, remind yourself that you are an expert at what you’re doing and trust your gut instincts.

Habit 4: Avoid the crowds Conventional wisdom yields conventional results. Joining the crowd – no matter how trendy the crowd or ‘hot’ the opportunity – is a recipe for mediocrity. Remarkably successful people habitually do what other people won’t do. They go where others don’t because there’s less competition and a much greater chance for success.

Habit 5: Be opportunity focused Problems are a regular part of business life, be they staff issues, customer misunderstandings or cash crunches. To achieve business success, look at both sides of the coin – every problem has an opportunity. Being opportunity focused makes you more positive about seeing potential in every situation. The habit of a positive mind-set is key.

Habit 6: Always be selling I once asked a number of business owners to name the one habit they felt contributed the most to their success. Each said the habit and ability to ‘think selling’. Selling isn’t manipulating, pressuring, or cajoling, but convincing other people to work with you, to build long-term relationships. You don’t need to sell, you just need to communicate.

Habit 7: Start at the end Average success is often based on setting average goals. Decide what you really want: to be the best, the fastest, the most innovative, the biggest, whatever. Aim for the ultimate. Decide where you want to end up. That is your goal. Then you can work backwards and lay out every step along the way. Never start small where goals are concerned. The habit of thinking big, looking to the horizon and working backwards is vital to growth.

Habit 8: Be organised Sometimes having a head full of innovative ideas can lead to being a bit scattered. The difference between an ideas person who remains an ineffective and someone who achieves success falls on having an ability and habits to be organised enough to follow through with them. Keeping your meetings and deadlines on an organised schedule, and sticking to it, will be what sets you apart from other small businesses that fumble in disorganisation. Make it a habit to be disciplined.

Habit 9: Make small bets and make them quickly There is no guarantee anyone will buy your great idea. Your resources are limited and you don’t want to risk everything on one roll of the dice. Get out in the market fast and let potential customers tell you if you are onto something. Using the habit of adaptability allows business owners to respond to circumstances to change course and act. The habit of being flexible allows us to respond to changes without being paralyzed with fear and uncertainty.

Habit 10: …and they don’t stop there Achieving a goal, no matter how huge, isn’t the finish line for highly successful people, rather it just creates a launch pad for achieving another huge goal. Remarkably successful people don’t try to win just one race, they expect to win a number of subsequent races.

Habit 11: Don’t be afraid or embarrassed by failure James Dyson, creator of the famous Dyson vacuum, is no stranger to failure, in fact he embraces it. He made 5,127 prototypes of his vacuum before he got it right. There were 5,126 failures – that’s a lot – but he learned from each one – that’s how I came up with the solution he said. Dyson’s point is that if you want to create something new, you’re bound to fail a few times and that’s okay. The habit of being resilient and not taking no for an answer stood him in good stead.

Habit 12: Be true to yourself Steve Jobs succeeded by following his own ‘inner voice, heart and intuition’. He said Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition.  The habit of maintaining your self belief is vital.

All of the above habits are set in the context of having another good habit – having a vision, a purpose and strategy for your business – It’s impossible to grow a business when you’re always busy putting out fires, the net result is wasted time, wasted money and wasted opportunities to grow, so no matter how many of the good habits identified above you have, jumping to tactics without a plan is flawed – how can you decide where to go if you don’t know where you are?

In the end, when you get to the critically important discussion about how you are to grow your business, jumping straight into tactics is a bad habit. Without having a big picture, ‘doing stuff’ is letting the tail wag the dog – you’ll be chasing business, not leading it – chasing sales for numbers and not chasing customers, and consequently your cashflow is managing you and not the other way round.

But back to dog’s wagging their tails, and their habits. When most of us talk to our dogs, we tend to forget they’re not people, but over the years I have caught more ills from people sneezing over me and giving me virus infections than from kissing my dog, or letting her lick my ears. I think it’s fair to say that outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

Enough canine tomfoolery and their habits, in business terms, motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going – Just do it! first you make your habits, then your habits make you. Enthusiasm is the key to your business efforts, how do you get it? You act enthusiastically until you make it a habit, that’s what counts. And if you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then only giving her two.

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