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Gag Me With Your BHAG
May 6, 2019
By Howard Mann

Business is supposed to be fun to run. This core truth has been the through-line for most of my work and career. Through the ups and downs of businesses I have run and for the many clients I have worked with.

Just like in a marriage or relationship that has lost its fire, not feeling the love for your business anymore impacts your life, leads to flailing strategic decisions and leads to stifling resignation to just endure.

So HOW can you make business more fun, more fulfilling and capable of bringing you joy?  It is not enough to just want it or lament not having fun.  What can you actually do?

The typical prescription is to focus on growing revenue and, more importantly, profit.  In many cases, it was the best way to stop a business from losing money but it stops the bleeding without curing the patient.

I am sorry to tell you that the solution also will not be found in your mission statement, your purpose, your why or your big hairy audacious goal (BHAG, as coined in the book ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins).

You probably have done your BHAG exercise. You may have your 3-year strategic plan set and write out your quarterly rocks every month.

Bringing you any joy?  Fulfillment? Fun?  Yeah, I didn’t think so. Never did for me either.

Here is another good one, figuring out how you can only work on your business instead of in it?

This is the ultimate “If only” refrain from so many business owners I meet and the aimless quest of entrepreneurs around the globe.  “If only I could make my business a self-running” business.” Ooooooooh!  “I want to spend all my time working on my business and none working in it.”  Business nirvana!!

I am calling bullshit on all of it.

If any of you have actually succeeded at this, and your joy returned, it is because the truth is that you hate your business, are bored by it or have fallen out of love with it.  If your joy is derived from not being involved in the day to day then why are you in that business?  What I want to propose is what is really at play here is that you are not practicing your craft anymore, unless your craft is creating self-running businesses, or are unclear about what your craft even is.

Many months ago I wrote a shorter article about focusing on your craft.  To stop thinking about growth as the key measure of success. To not let your pride about what you think a business owner must know and do suck the joy out of your work. instead, be more like a great unknown chef in a kitchen the critics have not found yet. One who relentlessly focuses on their craft.  It is in the practice of their craft where they will always find their joy. It is what keeps them connected to why they chose to do what they do.

If you are an Accountant, focus on your craft so you are always working on becoming the very best Accountant. Geek out on obscure tax laws that save your clients money in ways other Accountants would not bother to do.

If you run a service business then spend all your time honing how to deliver every single aspect of that service with perfection.

It has nothing to do with what you do and please stop believing that craft is only for those in creative pursuits. If you want a visual example of people turning mundane tasks into their craft then simply watch this and this.

How much time do you spend practicing your craft?

When work is no longer fun it is because we are just involved in activities and not practicing our craft.  Everything has become busy work and fulfilling work should not simply feel like being busy.

What is your craft?  What, if you could spend all day doing it, would make you smile (Even if that smile is only on the inside)?  What would leave you driving home at the end of the day with real satisfaction about all you did that day?

You have a craft. Even if you just manage people all day, you have a craft that is worthy of perfecting.

To borrow from every infomercial… But wait, there’s more!  Changing your work into working in your craft does not mean you drop everything you currently have to do and only focus on your craft.  Every task can be drudgery or an opportunity to express your craft. Let me give you a recent example…

Last week I was walking with a client back into his office building.  An office building he had completely renovated and rebuilt. You see, he is a super creative entrepreneur who builds truly remarkable buildings. You might think he is in the real estate business but that is not his craft.  (Yes, I digress, but do so to keep hammering home my point until it is stamped on your brain).

Electricians were out in front of the building trying to decide where to install power outlets so the two electric cars my client had purchased could easily charge.  While they were going to just bolt the outlets anywhere on the side of the building, my client jumped in and sketched out a super creative solution that showed the electricians a better way to practice their craft.

We then walked into the building and one of the younger members of his team came running at him with a crisis and papers he claimed had to be signed in the next 2 minutes.  My client stopped and taught him how these deadlines really work and a different way to handle it.

Sounds like a typical day at the office? Not how my client saw it.

He turned to me and said “You see the stuff I have to get involved with?  This is why it is impossible for me to walk around my office and work ON my business.”

Nope! What I saw was someone practicing their craft.  In 5 minutes he had taught the electricians a more elegant way to install a power outlet and taught a key member of his team a few important lessons (He was a teacher and coach to each of them in the process).

If he can change how he looks at these interactions, he would see he was practicing his craft.  When I pointed this out to him, he smiled (Always a good indicator) and said he actually loves doing that type of stuff. Somewhere along the way, he had decided that doing what he loved was not the role of a business owner/entrepreneur.

Amidst all the marketing noise and mountains of business books, we have lost the plot about how we spend the bulk of our waking hours.

Was he working in his business and not on it?  Perhaps. More importantly, SO WHAT???  He was practicing his craft and doing so brought him joy. Many little things about his company were improving as a result. If only he could stop hearing the entrepreneurial echo chamber about needing to create a self-running business with a world-dominating BHAG.  Gag me with you freaking BHAG. Please.

What is their craft?

Now take this concept to your entire organization. What is the craft of every single person working for you?  Do they know what their craft is and are you encouraging them to perfect it?  Do you honor their craft?  When someone from your accounting department brings you a spreadsheet that took them hours to create, do you acknowledge the skills it took to create it?  When your head of HR/People deals with a tough personnel problem, do you tell them how you admire how they handled it?

When they fail to do their very best, and not treat their job as their craft, do you tell them they could do better and challenge/teach them?  Or do you say nothing or just tell them the work is no good?

Imagine your business filled with people that are continually attempting to do their job (their craft) with perfection. Do you think that the company could fail?  Do you think that the company would develop a reputation for being consistently excellent?  Do you think revenue and profits would grow?

How do you think it would feel to work in that kind of business, filled with craftspeople?  How would it feel to run it?  Consider all of the things it would become known for. Consider how it would translate to sales and marketing. The stories you could tell the market. Think about all the ways you would become memorable to your clients/customers.

In the same way that great chefs ultimately get discovered and become famous (and wealthy) so will you if you focus on your business as a craft instead of focusing on the goal of growth, wealth and fame.

What if you stood up in front of your company and told them you were a business filled with craftspeople?  No endless stories about 3-year strategic plans and organizational charts. What if those meetings became ways for everyone to share and perfect their craft?  To borrow from the chef analogy again, what if everyone was sharing their latest recipe/dish and getting feedback to make it even better?

To me, that sounds like a lot of fun.  A business I would love to work IN.

Yes, of course, you need to spend time working ON your business and you naturally will do so because you will not be able to evolve your craft without looking at what else is required to continue to be the best at it.

Want scale? Shift your focus to how to scale your craft vs scaling your business. There is nothing permanently exhilarating about thinking about how to scale your business. How to deliver the highest level of your craft to more people is the problem to enjoy solving.

Not every business can be Apple, Amazon or Google but every business can be one that delivers its particular craft with joy. Every business can be fun to run.

Want to be brave and put this into immediate action?  Fuck your pride and go to my contact form and tell me your craft. Tell me what you would do all day within your business so that it brought you joy.  By putting it all in writing, you will make it real.  If you are stuck figuring it out, a few back-and-forth emails with me will sort it out for you.

Better yet, share this post with the most senior person in your company or your business partner(s).  Tell them that you want to start spending more time working on your craft, describe it to them in detail (Usually it means getting back to what you spent time doing when you first were building the business) and you want them to do the same.  You want them to hold you accountable and to call you out when you stray.

Making your business your craft makes work fulfilling. It will make you smile.  It makes work less like work.

What is YOUR craft?


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