How I Overcame Stupid

I can be a shiny object kind of guy. You know, the one who’s drawn to the newest or most recent thing I’ve seen or heard. My wife has learned to just yeah-yeah me when I start talking about something I just heard but for some reason I must pursue, right now. She knows that most times like this I start off hot enough to melt butter but that it won’t be long until before I abandon the start, and the butter I melted quickly congeals into a blob of gross.

This tendency is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it makes me continually curious. The curse is that it can make a big mess that others have to clean up (and I’m not referring to dishes, pots and pans). Plus, it can make me unproductive, which I hate.

By far, the biggest challenge I’ve faced as an entrepreneur / manager / leader has revolved around figuring out what I should be doing and doing only that. I know that might sound crazy because who really needs to think about what they should be doing. After all, between the emails, phone calls, meetings and general fire-extinguishing, the work just comes. And when it comes, it needs to be done. Right? Of course, Pretty Simple. Duh!

Stupid is Easy For Me, And Wrong

For much of my career, and even to this day when I slip up, I made it my mission to do all the work that came my way, and then some.  My belief system looked something like this:

  • The more work I do myself, the better
  • Invite people to give me work
  • The longer my list of things, the more important I am
  • If I ask for help, people will wonder what’s wrong & why I can’t do it myself
  • I’m better because I can do more
  • Weekends are for what I don’t get done during the week

The amount of time that I put in and the more things I touched was how I kept my internal scorecard and how I assigned value to my contribution to the company (and myself). As you might imagine, my self-scorecard always had a high number. I was the epitome of success, the poster child of how working harder and controlling everything I could led to being the most needed person on the team. An Irreplaceable Rock Star, wouldn’t you say?

Not so much. Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong. Only an idiot would think that this approach was what makes a great entrepreneur, leader or manager. I was, and still can be from time to time – or more often depending on your point of view – an idiot because I failed to understand that my value had little to do with the number of things I worked on, or the amount of time I worked on those things. Instead, it had everything to do with only working on the most important things. The things that made the needle jump forward the furthest. The things that I was uniquely built to do. The things no one else on the team was built to do as well.

Important is Hard For Me, And Right

For me, the road from having this realization to making the changes (and having the courage to make the changes) was long. Most hard things are that way, I’ve come to find. It required me to change the way I defined my worth, along with a lot of other changes.

The challenge was figuring out what were the few, most meaningful and important things for me to work on, and then committing to doing a kick-ass job moving those things as far down the progress path as possible. It was easy; very easy, to take what came at me and allow it to consume me. After all, that happens without any thinking. What’s difficult was getting rid of all that stuff, the stuff that others can do as well or better than me, while also identifying the 1, 2 or 3 most important things (yes, the number can be that small) that I do best, that no one else can do as well as me (stop laughing) and that push, or pull as necessary, the rest of the organization in the most productive way possible.

Committing to doing the most important work I could do reminded me that Inertia is a powerful force that I could not overcome without very intentional understanding, and deliberate action. Being around many successful people has helped convince me that confusing busy with important is a widespread and, largely, misunderstood construct.

I believe that every company or organization (even every family) is filled with enough inertia to trap any entrepreneur, manager or leader on a hamster wheel of activity that looks and feels like work but does not produce the results we’re in those positions to generate. Couple that with our naturalwillingnesstohelponeanother-opendoorpolicy-nosetothegrindstone-postcardmaking(insidejoke)-shinyobject-“squirrel”tendencies and, well, you know what the ‘and’ is.

If you’re in a position of leadership, any leadership, I encourage you to think about where you create the most value – value no one else may be equipped to provide the way you’re uniquely equipped to – and work toward narrowing what you do each day to those, and only those, most important things. Hopefully, these are also the things you like doing, or there could be a bigger problem to solve, or perhaps an opportunity to create (the Ying and the Yang). Imagine and get comfortable with your responsibility to make the most major impact you can in your company.

It’s not easy, but once I determined what the most important things for me were, it made it easier to get rid of the rest of the things I was doing, and the excuses. It was a far from perfect process and I cheated and fell off the wagon from time to time, which is fine. It’s the getting back on and staying on for as long as you can between falls, that made the difference for me.

Maybe it will for you as well.

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3 thoughts on “How I Overcame Stupid

  1. “confusing busy with important” is a great line. It seems to be a way of life these days. Thanks for the clarification.

  2. I enjoyed reading the title of your last posting. I might even check out the bold print stuff later.

    – The postcard-making Squirrel

  3. “How I Overcame Stupid” might be the best article you authored, and I’ve had the good fortune to read a lot of the stuff you wrote. You’re a passion driven person and it shows up here. I think most people learn more from things they didn’t do exactly right than from the things they did right. Identify and correct is a key to success. Thanks for the article Mike.

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