Monday, June 6, 2016

Go to War with the Army You Have, not the Army You Want

As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time. - Donald Rumsfeld (Source) 
I'm not a fan of Secretary Rumsfeld, as he led us into the worst military engagement since Viet Nam, but this quote is a great quote.

It is great because it is educational in two ways. First, it teaches you to focus on the problem at hand rather than what went wrong before. Second, it teaches that now is when you are acting, not some time in the future.

The Past is the Setting
On a recent episode of Open For Business on WBLQ, I interviewed my wife Amy, and one thing that we discussed is that a key to doing business with a spouse is the ability to deal with the situation that is before us rather than cast blame or fault. There is certainly a time for analyzing what errors were made, who made them, and how to avoid them in the future.

However, in the event, while the action is happening is not that time. At a certain point, the clock is running, the ball is in play, and worrying about the past is counter productive. The only thing that can be done at that time is to deal with the situation before us. Fight the war with the army you have, not the army you might wish to have.

How many times have planning teams wasted countless hours as the clock wound down to the event worrying about who did what wrong. I know I have certainly been guilty of this in the past. Knowing who is at fault does not fix the problem nor does it get you closer to your goal. Worse, not only does the process waste time and energy, it also creates animosity. It breaks down the team dynamic making the team even less effective going forward.

Unless we are talking about a solution serious enough to warrant eliminating someone from the team or a dramatic strategic shift, the thick of the action is not the time to deal with it. Deal with it in after action analysis.

The Future is Irrelevant
For most people, their response to challenging shift in circumstances is to batten down the hatches and hunker down, waiting for it to blow over. In an economic shift, either loss of job/loss of income or sudden increase in expenses, most people become more conservative. Holding tightly to what job they have and becoming completely unwilling to take any kind of risk, even to the extent of turning down a clearly better job for fear of losing their existing job.

Think of the character in the movie clinging to the branch on the side of a cliff, to terrified to let go in order to grab onto the rescuer hanging from the helicopter.

They are waiting for some time in the future when things are better to take their shot. "We can barely pay our bills now, how could I possibly take a chance on my project?"

And certainly, one should be sure to properly analyze the downside risk before taking any chance. If you are in debt to your eyeballs, it's probably not the time to quit your job and try something completely different. But, that may be the ideal moment to take on a side project, that is a smaller risk. Yes, it may take a small investment, and it may feel like you are betting the farm to invest $200 in something, but if it is a project that you have confidence in, then there is a credible chance it will earn that $200 back and more.

When I was 18, I took a shot with Vector selling Cutco knives. I needed to invest about $200 in the sample kit. I certainly didn't make a fortune, but I earned a bit over $1000 during the summer I sold and I got invaluable experience. Remember, if you invest $200 and you make back $201, not counting the value of your time, you have come out ahead. Just because you didn't make millions doesn't mean that the project was a failure.

Stupid Yesterday, Less Stupid Today, Do It Now Anyway
When I look back on things I did in my youth and things I thought in the past, I often find myself shaking my head and wondering how I could be so stupid, so ignorant. How could I not have known that. Well, I didn't know that then because I hadn't learned it yet. The world is complicated and there's a lot to learn.

One of the greatest pieces of wisdom I ever came into was about four years ago when I realized that if I was so dangerously ignorant five to ten years previous, then there must be thing today that I will look back on five years from now and be shocked by. Indeed, there are things I look back six months at and wonder at my foolishness.

Every day, ask yourself, "what am I doing and thinking today that I will look back on in the future and marvel at the idiocy of?" I guarantee you there is something. You will always make mistakes in life. Just make sure that they are different mistakes every time.

This fact can lead us to feel that we should hold off on doing something until we are more "ready." We don't know enough yet. We are not prepared yet. Guess what. You won't know enough or be prepared enough next month or next quarter or next year or next decade.

If you have specific milestones you are waiting for, that's another story. If, those milestones are actually relevant to the task.

Waiting to finish you degree to get started on your business? Do you really need you degree to start or is it just a reasonable sounding excuse for procrastination?

Waiting for your child to finish daycare so you'll have more available funds? What if new expenses appear in the future to replace day care expenses?

If the milestones you wait for are important, do you have a specific plan to achieve those milestones in a timely fashion or are you just waiting for the stars to align and the omens to be just right? Because if you don't have a specific plan to achieve the milestone that you are using as a reason to wait,then you don't have a valid reason to wait. You have an excuse to procrastinate.

The longest journey begins with a single step whether that step is an investment of resources or just selecting a reading list to educate yourself.

Where do you want to be in 5 years?
Are you taking steps to get there, or will your 5 year goal be the same 5 years from now as it is now?
Need help developing your goals and a road map to get there? Email me.

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