Recently I was listening to this program about the practice of fasting around the world and there were a couple of (not-so-surprising) takeaways:
achieving clarity was something different cultures and religions saw as a benefit of fasting
the initial hours and days of fasting are beneficial to the body, helping it to detoxify and function more efficiently
Naturally I started thinking about the business world and how we could all do with some clarity (of vision, objectives, etc.), detoxification (old practices/people/things/etc. that hold us back, for example), and efficiency in order to move forward and put forth authentic products that serve the needs of our users!
While I am not knocking fasting, I figured this blog post would be more useful if I didn’t suggest calorie deprivation as the only means to becoming clearer about our business objectives. So with that in mind I took a look at my own experiences, as well as feedback from those around me, to come up with practical suggestions for seducing the sometimes elusive Lady Clarity. Some thoughts:
Look at other industries
At its most basic, fasting is about not engaging in the usual habit of eating food. Our habits can often become crutches and excuses onto which we hang on for dear life, afraid to let go of them and try something new. But what if we did actually take the risk of letting go? Let’s say, for example, we took a break from always checking out what our competitors are doing? In the tech world, in particular, things move so quickly that we are often afraid of what could happen if we don’t keep up with the newest gadgets, the newest apps, latest acquisitions, and networking event. So we get overwhelmed just doing, not allowing ourselves the time to question if all this doing is in line with our objectives.
Another danger, I have found, with focusing too much on one’s industry is that it creates tunnel vision and “sameness”. It’s helpful to temporarily checkout of the tech world and peek into the cosmetics, organic food, music, or underwater basket-weaving industry (hey, it could happen! – this guy paints underwater) to see how people are approaching things. By seeing things from another perspective, you return to your main industry newly inspired, focused, and ready to go!
Go back to basics
The Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Rises. Aside from having been equally praised by critics and (most) audiences, these movies all have one thing in common: they started out as comic books. It’s hard to imagine, particularly as the first two movies don’t feature super heroes, and are basically studies of fathers thrown into extreme situations. But take a closer look and you’ll see that the “innovation” in these books is that they were built on traditional elements of good storytelling: plot and character development.
While comic books had always been commercially successful, they were always part of a niche. Writers like Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Rises) and Alan Moore (Watchmen, a personal favorite!) wrote books with fully evolved, complex characters, in the same way that Nathaniel Hawthorne, Agatha Christie, or J.K. Rowling would. They focused on the basics of captivating storytelling and for that they are hailed as legends and innovators, not just in the comic book world, but in the wider literary world. The works of these men and others like them even led to the birth of the marketing term “graphic novels”. But these guys didn’t reinvent the wheel. They simply went back to the basics. Something we should all consider when we feel stuck.
Chill with your people
I once worked for a CEO who was a major Mike Myers (Austin Powers) fan. This CEO was eagerly awaiting the release of Myers’ latest over-the-top summer comedy. One bright morning he came into the office and casually asked who’d like to go see the movie with him. Several people raised their hands, and just like that, close to ten people left, at 11am, to go see it. They spent the rest of the day hanging out and never returned to work that day.
I mention this because while things were far from perfect at this particular company, moments like these still left an impression because they allowed employer and employee to chill for a bit, pushing aside job titles and hierarchy. Sometimes when companies are stuck trying to get over a hump, it’s not because marketing or sales isn’t doing their job. Sometimes it’s, just be due to miscommunication or lack of communication between employer and employees. Opening up the lines of communication can shed light on a lot of things, as employees get a better understanding of the company’s vision. In turn, one can also find that the employees are bursting through the seams with good ideas that can improve product quality and sales.
So while you spend time getting to know your external audience (customers) don’t neglect the internal audience (employees). Nothing kills business quite like uninspired employees putting out uninspired products. And if you really want to bond and test the phrase “leadership skills”, then put your money and biceps where your mouth is: sign up for a SOT-G team building program. It’s run by former Navy Seal, Rob Roy, and it’s guaranteed to provide you with clarity of a special kind!
Mingle, mingle, mingle
Traveling is still, without a doubt, one of the best ways to get out of one’s regular routine and see things from another perspective. It exposes us to new sounds, new sights, cultural habits, new flavors, and the list goes on. As business people one of the best things we can do is get to know and understand people, because as obvious and simplistic as it sounds, we are making products and services for others. Not for ourselves (unless you’re Prince, who once declared that he listens to his music when he wants to hear something innovative. Right).
Before you say traveling takes time and money, let me say that you don’t have to go to Bhutan for inspiration. Just within your own city, you will gain plenty of insight by simply walking down a street you usually avoid or going to a neighborhood that doesn’t fit in with your usual social circle. The key is to get away from the usual “me, myself, and I” and connect with others. It will shed unexpected new light on the most mundane of things, leaving you with new inspiration that you can channel back into your venture.