Being 19, I was completely confident of making the trip and turning up in time for my grandparent’s Golden Wedding celebrations. Even though it was 1985, I can vividly remember standing by the roadside in the spring sunshine and being excited by the possibility of what lay ahead. The idea of failure just didn’t exist. In my mind I was going to be in Ealing before sunset and I was going to enjoy the journey too*.
Four Years Later
Before you get concerned, the subtitle above isn’t a reference to the duration of the London journey.
Moreover, in 1989 I had just set up my first business in York and was finding it extremely difficult to attract any real demand for my fledgling research and marketing agency in a recession economy. But there was no way I was going to give up, even though a diet of repeated rejection was hard to swallow. That said, without much work I did find myself with a ‘clear desk’ at 10am most mornings.
To help me through the problem a close friend urged me to ‘Read, read, read…’ otherwise he said, my mind would become ‘like a stagnant pond’. Having recently left university I can’t say I was desperate to bury myself in another text book, but I was discovering very quickly that I didn’t know as much about business as I thought.
Sir John Harvey-Jones was a maverick thinker, Britain’s first ‘reality TV entrepreneur’ (BBC Troubleshooter) and former chairman of industry giant ICI. In 1988, his first book ‘Making it Happen’ was published to high acclaim.
Based on the title alone I decided here was someone whose experience and approach to business might help me find a way through my own troubles. So I bought his book.
Very quickly I found myself liking the way he thought and the way he worked with people. His approach to business was unstuffy, pragmatic and often contrary to what the textbooks were saying.
For example, on the subject of planning, Harvey Jones said: “Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. And the nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.”
As someone who had written far too many business plans that quickly outdated, this insight and ethos was very refreshing.
Harvey-Jones also talked about the fact that he relished opportunities to get the best out of people; and he was quite frank about how he did this: “My own experience of trying to train and teach managers” he said, “is that it is extremely difficult to teach grown-up people anything. It is, however, relatively easy to create conditions under which people will teach themselves.”
The insight provided and resilience shown was invaluable and spurred me on. Whilst my circumstances had not changed one iota, I discovered a new desire, confidence and skill-set to make business happen, and in the process met more people, developed better ideas and critically won more work. Results were not instantaneous, but if I hadn’t spent the time reading, results may have been completely different.
It’s down to you
Increasingly employers want entrepreneurial thinkers who use their initiative and don’t just follow; and if you are going to start your own business such behaviours are essential since no one else is going to do the hard work and thinking for you. Whatever your pathway, honing the right mindset is crucial.
However, one of the fundamental problems of process driven education systems (a worldwide phenomenon) is that they often spoon-feed students and inadvertently create a culture of dependency on the teacher. As a consequence, it’s all too easy for students to leave the safe clutches of an educational institution without realising the full nature and crippling potential of their dependent mindset.
Yet, it is the people who know their minds and won’t wait to be told what to do who really make things happen and thrive, regardless of the situation. On that note, I highly recommend Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, a stunning and insightful book I refer to in the next article.
On reflection, I wish my early business confidence had been as strong as my teenage belief in hitchhiking. Ironically, I don’t think I would relish hitching from Northampton to London now; but back then one lift in under 2 hours in a white van was all it took to get me to my destination.
Key Learning Points: Whatever you want to do in life, get on with it and be the creator of change. Take time out to learn from other people and always read and gather new sources of information to access fresh perspectives and experienced insight.
*Further research has revealed that this was the precise weekend (25th May 1985) when Steve Jobs was sacked from his own company ‘Apple’. Ironic that this seemingly disastrous event turned out to be the inspiration for the maverick genius to make things happen, not just for himself, but billions of others too.