Business and Family Communications

Should Entrepreneurs Learn Rock-Climbing?

Published: 2008 01 07 | Views: 1642

My daughter has always had a strong independence streak.  Recently, over a quiet dinner, Kirstie announced that she had selected a university ‘some distance’ from home at which to continue her education.  Almost as an afterthought, she added that she had started a new hobby: rock climbing.  One evening, I went to watch her at the climbing wall and decided that, despite the safety harnesses, this was not a sport for her height-challenged father, for whom a step-ladder invokes trepidation.

More recently, I have been advising a client whose business needed to undergo significant changes in order to take advantage of international market opportunities.  The ‘to do list’ was extensive: product enhancements to conform with export regulations; new distribution channels; hiring experienced managers; new financing; etc. etc.  The entrepreneurial business founder was impatient to get started, concerned that the growth opportunity would disappear.  However, his son and daughter, both very active in the business, advocated a planned and phased approach, which would allow the current business to continue to flourish and generate cash.  Their father, used to making decisions on his own, was frustrated by what he perceived as ‘planning paralysis’ and tensions within the family were rising.  I was asked to help the business – and the family – to move forward.

At a meeting with the father, son and daughter we quickly identified all the aspects of the business, which required some form of change, and the appropriate sequence/priority for making these changes.  Of course nothing was black-and-white: many of the changes were inter-dependent, and there was little consensus on priorities.  However, there was a strong desire among everyone to start taking action soon, and to be able to show fast progress.

An image of Kirstie on the climbing wall flashed into my head.  Everything she was focused on involved making progress,  vertically.  She had four potential points of contact with the wall (two hands and two feet), but she would only advance one contact at a time (e.g. her left hand), while maintaining stability and safety with the other three contacts.  Once her left hand was secured, another contact would be advanced and the process repeated.  It worked!

At our meeting, we discussed this analogy and discovered it had merit in the business situation we were trying to resolve.  They could take quick action and make progress in one area, while maintaining focus and stability in all the other areas; specifically these areas would not be allowed to deteriorate in performance.  For each change area progress metrics were defined, a family member was assigned responsibility, and a preliminary schedule was agreed upon.  All three family members found they had strong consensus on a plan to exploit the export opportunity,  without jeopardizing the financial health of the domestic business.

Several months later, my client has not only made significant progress in realizing growth through exports, but also reported the success of making several ‘course corrections’ as the implementation plan evolved –  much as Kirstie changed hand/foot holds on the climbing wall for a more secure ascent.  This business family has also learned to explore ideas more openly, which bodes well for continued business prosperity and family harmony.

As for me – my feet are still rooted to terra firma!

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