Running a business is child’s play?

Forget management training courses, maybe the best way to hone your business skills is to go on holiday with a young family?

A soggy summer in North Cornwall with two under-eights was a surprisingly enjoyable experience – not least because we British know how to cope with bad weather.  It’s ingrained into us after years of experience.   It was this experience gained from previous trips that made sure we took jumpers, coats and wellies on our beach holiday, and yes, we used them all.

I’m constantly trying to help my two little ‘uns get the most out of life – if I can save them going through some of the more embarrassing or painful lesions I learnt, then that’s got to be a good thing.  Although sometimes even my decades of experience leave me dumbstruck by my four and a half year-old, “Not four and a half, Daddy, four and three-quarters!”  Sorry.

‘Come on sweetheart, of course you need to wear your coat.’

‘Why?’

‘It’s raining!’

‘I don’t understand…’

‘Otherwise you’ll be wet and miserable and whine all the time.’

‘No, not why do I need to wear my coat, but why does God make it rain on holiday?’‘

Oh…’Even on matters of religious rhetoric, being a passive receiver of information just isn’t enough.  Understanding it and learning from it is what matters.  Learning is the key to everything – gaining that thing they call experience. The thing that sets humans apart from lesser life forms – the ability to observe a situation, learn from it and make behavioural changes based on your observations.  It’s this that makes us better at what we we’re doing, stops us making the same mistakes again and again, and ultimately makes us more efficient.

When I recruited staff, I always probed deeply into a candidate’s so-called ‘experience’.  Two hopefuls may have served the same time in a similar position, but the amount that they had learned, the experience that they had gained and therefore the contribution they might make to my business could be very different.  It depends on the individual, their attitudes and the support that they received from those around them.

The last part is very important.  We all need the help of others, like colleagues, friends, mentors, parents, partners and, dare I say, critics to provide us with the alternative viewpoints and opinions that we can’t get on our own.  The fresh pair of eyes, that different perspective can be critical to gaining experience, rather than just going through the motions.  Thinking about what we might learn now, in order to help us in the future.The kids never seem do that.  They live in a bubble of time that only exists in the present.  What happened in the past is largely forgotten – and as for the future, well anything farther ahead than half an hour is largely irrelevant – except for when that all-important birthday is, of course.

Sadly, we adults can’t live like that, and we certainly can’t run our businesses like that.In the business world, I’m finding a lot of owners and managers don’t always have the resources – time or staff – to be able to see the full picture and take time to learn from their experiences.  We’re often happy with how things are going now, nice and busy doing the daily work that brings in this quarter’s cash, but unable to seriously think where next year’s profits are actually going to come from.

This is where our friends and advisors are really important.  Their viewpoints, uncluttered by the daily details that are so important to us, often bring simplicity and clarity of thought.  If we listen to this and act on some of their observations, it may just save us from making the same mistakes again.  And you never know, we may just find our lives are richer in more ways than one.

There are plenty of self-help books and published information, but as we all keep telling our kids, there’s no substitute for listening to someone who’s either done it before, or who’s quickly able to spot the key issues within a situation. 

And the most important lesson I learnt this summer is that ice cream solves everything, even in the rain.  ‘You see Daddy, I think God needs to make it rain for the flowers, and in order to say sorry to us for the rainy days, he created ice cream too.’ 

If only everything in life were that simple.

One Response to “Running a business is child’s play?”

  1. Dave Barrett says:

    Very true, Skip.

    Mmmm… Ice cream..!