As children, most of us learned that getting lost isn’t a good thing. It can present unseen dangers that we aren’t yet prepared to handle. We can get hurt, and in extreme cases, we can even risk losing our lives.
When we’re young our parents cautioned us not to wander too far. We’re taught how to place markers on our paths (the proverbial bread crumbs) in case we lost our way. The beauty of the bread crumbs isn’t that they keep us from getting lost, but rather that they give us the freedom to explore places we may never have experienced otherwise and then return safely home with a different perspective from when we left.
Business owners play this out in their businesses every day, and many have found their way into unfamiliar places they never imagined they’d encounter. As consultants, it’s frequently at this point when we receive a phone call asking for guidance.
A business consultant’s job isn’t just to guide clients in finding a way out of their current predicament (fix my cash flow; fix my sales; fix my hiring). My job is also to help owners become more comfortable with getting lost in the first place, helping them gain the understanding that getting lost is an opportunity for growth. Often, we must get lost—sometimes profoundly and painfully so—to discover what’s really important, to find goals truly worth pursuing, rather than the ones we thought we wanted or were told we should want when we started our journey.
Those of you who know me know that I’m a strong advocate of business planning. So, it might come as a surprise to learn I feel not having a business plan at the outset of a business isn’t always a bad thing. Why? Because I don’t think most business owners really know what they want when they start out. They know what they think they want (to make lots of money) or what they don’t want (painful experiences).
It’s only through the process of losing their way and then finding it again that they can truly discover what’s important to them. This happens as a business grows and ages just as it does when we grow and age. The things that are so important to us when we’re younger frequently change as we get older. The things we got so riled up about in our younger years sometimes relax as we age. Insults and grievances that were so offensive to us before often take on an element of truth as we get older.
Business consultants like me can argue that merely giving owners the answers to their business problems isn’t always the best way to serve them—that it’s only when we create a safe enough environment for them to risk getting lost that we’re serving them best and earning our pay. This doesn’t mean that we should ignore the business urgencies of the moment. It means that we can’t just keep dispensing a “magic pill.” We need to understand what’s causing the malady in the first place.
It often takes our businesses being in distress, our lives being in turmoil, or being physically exhausted to get to a place where we can reflect on what’s important to us, where we are at that moment with our businesses and our lives, and where we want to go with both. In other words, losing our way and then rediscovering our path.
As an advisor, sometimes the best advice I can give someone is to get lost.
Chuck Violand is the founder and principal of Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries.