I think it was Ben Franklin who wisely advised that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For sure, I've yet to encounter a problem whose cure was less expensive than what it would have cost to avoid it in the first place. Some organizations consciously choose not to invest in that "ounce of prevention," believing their resources are better directed elsewhere. Others neglect to invest because they are unaware of either potential problems or preventative measures. Whatever the reason, problems ultimately result, and we then have to invest in a cure.
Or do we?
One of the unique values my firm provides in serving the distinctive needs of the "main street" entrepreneur and small business owner lies with providing our clients that proverbial "ounce of prevention" across several functional areas of their operations. One of the areas to which we devote a fair amount of attention is the structuring of workflow and institutional knowledge. Where there's workflow and knowledge, technology is not far behind.
I recently read an article directed to project management professionals in the world of information technology (IT). For the uninitiated, IT folks are the guys and gals at work who get excited about technology and data. We like doing things to improve the quality of information. We like doing things to improve access to that information. We get especially excited about creating tools and processes that manipulate and analyze that information to provide useful insights.
The article mentioned above was apparently one of several the author had written on the subject of "information silos." For us geeks (and some executives), these silos represent significant obstacles to achieving the things we are passionate about (see previous paragraph). In pursuit of our raison d'etre, it's easy to lose perspective. We're not alone here. What I liked about this author's perspective, however, was her admitted transformation into adopting a more holistic approach to her particular role:
"Whether it's information integration or automation, companies too often start bulldozing to build a new solution when they should first... learn more about the existing solution... [then] they might realize that while the current approach might not be eloquent or perfect; it works – and that's no small thing."
In essence, she has recognized that what represents a monumental problem for one business role (IT) , does not equate to a monumental problem for the business as a whole. This takes real perspective, and is one flavor of how good business folks maximize impact and minimize risk.
When it comes to positioning new ventures and small businesses for success, there is little margin for error. Put simply, these organizations cease to exist if they invest time, money and energy in efforts that fail to produce swift and substantial results for their operations. If you're going to succeed, you quickly learn which problems need to be solved and which don't.
So the next time you're facing a "monumental" problem, think like an entrepreneur or small business owner. Though this problem may loom large for you, is a solution really critical to achieving the bigger picture? Yes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That ounce may only be of value, however, if the cure is truly necessary.
One of the first businesses I helped launch appealed to a personal passion -- gastronomic delights. I'm no culinary DaVinci, but learned early in life that at the core of every great dish is a blend of quality ingredients. Creating a successful business is really no different, and here's my take on the 5 essential ingredients the business "chef" must incorporate into every masterpiece:
1) BLEND PRACTICALITY WITH PASSION
If people are hungry enough, they'll eat just about anything put in front of them. Take away that hunger or lead them to a smorgaasbord, however, and they quickly gravitate to what they need and want most. This behavior is very practical, and holds true for business.
The successful "business chef" understands this need to satisfy the practical, but gets his / her "dish" to stand out from all the others by being innovative or different in a meaningful way. They get there from the passion they carry for what they do, by empowering their employees (instilling a sense of "ownership" in their roles) and never, never compromising on their standards.
2) START WITH ADEQUATE RESOURCES
A good chef understands you can't create a dish for 12 when you only have enough ingredients for 6. A creative chef might be able to eke out an additional serving or 2, but if 12 is the number, he or she will head to market to get what's needed (or welcome that last minute cancellation).
Business is no different. Effective bootstrapping is like the great chef eking out that extra serving or two. In the end, it's no substitute for having enough ingredients on hand.
3) MIX IN MARKETING & CUSTOMER FOCUS
You're going to have to come up with the food analogy for this one! Successful businesses understand that top-line revenue generation and customer focus go hand in hand. The most difficult and expensive part of building a customer relationship lies in acquisition. Successful businesses will "advertise" for impact. They understand the distinction between "lowest cost" and "highest value." They find ways to be memorable in the minds of their target customer. This might mean being first, being different, or being daring.
Once their customer is acquired, these businesses are expert at building repeat business. They are expert at cross-selling other goods or services. They are expert at leveraging the good will they have built up through these relationships to acquire more customers through word of mouth. At the core of each is a customer-centric culture that naturally builds and sustains top-line revenues.
4) SPRINKLE IN THE COMPANY YOU KEEP
Even the Iron Chef can't do it all (you'll have to check out the Food Network if you don't understand this reference).
Successful organizations hire selectively. Recruiting and retaining smart, reliable, coachable, and trustworthy individuals that "fit" into your culture is absolutely essential to your success. On the flip side, nobody's perfect. Being able to quickly recognize a hiring mistake and removing those who don't fit the bill is equally critical.
5) PLATE FOR PRESENTATION (ATTENTION TO DETAIL)
Culinary masterpieces not only taste exquisite, but are often visual works of art. Great dishes assault all the senses.
Successful businesses pay similar attention to every detail. They publish and enforce “Operations Manuals." They operate under strict internal financial controls, monitoring and forecasting their cash flows religiously. They never settle for "good enough" or compromise on their standards.
The specialty food store and café I helped launch contained all of these ingredients (some more than others). We ultimately adapted our vision to respond to the needs of the marketplace, and successfully sold the operation to a new owner. This new "master chef " should have been better suited to growing the business in the direction the market was taking it. He stopped using several of these key ingredients, however, and recently ended his story on a less successful note. The moral of the story? My vote is "stick with the recipe." What's yours?