The old man looked at me with worn, weary but bright eyes. “Here is the secret to everything you want to have fulfilled.” He paused in silence. I finally took the cue and sat on the chair in his air-conditioned office in Irvine, California.
“You will have to marry your soul with structure.“ he said.
I had been struggling for the last few months with my business – I was doing okay but felt that I could do better in terms of income and satisfaction. Both income and satisfaction at the levels I wanted in my life were missing.
But I had been resisting putting in the structure; the planning, the systems, the measures, the dashboards, and the accountability – I thought vainly that I was so close this time – so close to making my income goals, that I would not need to add the mundane tasks of planning, systems, measures, etc. to my game.
But I kept missing the goals – those objectives that my heart wanted so badly. It seemed like sometimes I missed by close margins.
My old business mentor continued, “The part of you which is older and wiser – from the genetics of our wiser ancestors – that part is the part that wants you to plan and structure this. The part of you that began this dream – the younger part perhaps – is also in our genetics probably and wants you to win. However, if you only nurture that ‘younger part’ – the part that loves the inspiration and the joy of dreaming, then you will neglect the part that will actually get you to the goal – the structure and the planning, etc.”
“You gotta marry both parts and let them live together,” he said.
Being hungry for success, I embraced the structure and planning and hit my goals for three months in a row – the breakthrough experience burned into my psyche, but what was more interesting to me was the manner of my celebration after hitting the goals.
It was that younger part of me that celebrated fully – the part that started the dream and was excited about it. That part still lives within me today at the tender age of 51.
Today, I face two types of clients typically:
- The ones who were like me and embraced the ‘younger’ side filled with dreams and enthusiasm and neglected the older side filled with strategic thinking and planning (Chaos)
- The ones who embraced the opposite – more of the rigid planning at the expense of spontaneity, innovation and breakthroughs (Rigidity)
What I advocate is the marriage of these two seemingly disparate worlds (Chaos and Rigidity) into one very workable world – Flexibility. Flexibility seems to be a good condition to have to create breakthroughs.
The ones who plan rigidly create unworkable calendars born in guilt and frustration – they give very little space in their week for the blank spaces of time-critical to innovation, daydreaming, the formulation of creative strategy, and high leadership abstractions.
The cost is typically not just innovation but a loss of their ‘soul’ – that soul or young part of our psyches that reaches for the stars and wants to create.
The ones who resist planning and systems live lives in chaos.
Flexible planning gives people access to the world of being true to themselves – to living a life based on the integrity of their deepest wants being fulfilled.
But like all ‘soulful’ journeys, there are some things that you will have to give up to make this marriage happen:
- Give up what you already think you know about how your business or life should go; this does not mean that you give up all rational thinking – it means that you are at least willing to give up what has not been working so far. True learning exists in learning what you don’t know.
- If you are worn and weathered by too many storms, and you are filling up time in your calendar with more planning and strategy with no visible return for a while – then it may be time to revisit your vision or mission – is the current vision or mission calling to the current ‘you’ or is it an old, withering fruit with no more life of joy in it any longer – or has it already been fulfilled? You may have to give up being so attached to your old game or vision or mission – time to create a new game?
- Give up the attachment to the ready answer and start loving the process of discovery.
The last point is a key one – many of us (myself included at times) fall prey to getting them ready and quick answer e.g. the ten thousand dollar marketing system that will get us 100 customers per day e.g. the seminar that promises solutions to your business problems, etc.
The world of business is strewn with the tombstones of many a failed business that gave in to these quick and ready answers. Sure – luck and timing play a big part in the success and to create your luck and improve your timing, you may have to patiently try many things before throwing in the towel.
Patient exploration and Flexible Planning in assessing the complexity of your life and your needs may be more fruitful in the long run when it comes to creating long-term business success.
Since 1991, I’ve been reflecting on, designing, and implementing methodologies and systems for bringing a transcendent, creative and innovative approach to critical aspects of entrepreneurship.