About 15 years ago, I started a 400-acre retreat center called Mount Soma.
My Master’s degree in Business Administration was of very little help. About 10 years ago, a business consultant volunteered to give me a free consultation. After reviewing my books, armed with a stack of documents: income/expense, cost/benefit, and cash flow analysis, he said I would be bankrupt in a year.
I knew he was mistaken. Understanding how I knew that is more valuable than an M.B.A. Some may call it common sense, vision, determination, or intelligence. More important than naming it is developing a feeling for it. Hopefully the following points will give you that feeling.
It’s All About People
Remarkably, “It’s all about people” holds true if you are a seven-year-old selling five-cent Kool-Aid or a world leader negotiating billion dollar deals. You have to understand people. That’s something you develop through experience. You have to get a feeling for the character and nature of the person you are dealing with. Making a respectful connection, meet them where they are. Try to understand their relationship with the world and how they think. Find a common ground with them.
Some people are all business; other people like to chat for a while about just anything. Some people are more salt-of-the-earth, grass-root types; others are more sophisticated and highbrow. Find respectable qualities that exist within that person.
This must be done in a genuine and completely honest manner. If you are at all disingenuous or manipulative, it doesn’t work. If you see potentially disingenuous or manipulative qualities in the other person, don’t ignore it. Understand it. It is a factor in the equation of who they are. If the liabilities are too great, choose to not deal with them. But nobody is perfect. So, in every case, when it comes to working with another person, you need to develop a feeling for their strengths and liabilities.
When I was in elementary school, I wanted a guitar. My father found a listing for a used one, and we went to see it. My father, who was usually very good at talking to people, just wasn’t clicking with the guitar owner. Even at that young age, I could see it was all about the relationship between the two men. My dad made him an offer, but the man wouldn’t budge. So, much to my disappointment, we walked out of the house empty-handed.
When we got to the car, I asked my dad to let me go back in and talk to the man. I told him I was sure I could get him to sell it to me at that price. With a bewildered look on his face, my dad said to go ahead and try. Five minutes later, I walked out with the guitar. My dad asked me how I did it. I told him I just felt like I understood the man, so I felt I could talk to him. It was really just a matter of making a connection that we both felt good about.
Incredibly, if you are talking about a $90 guitar or a billion dollar business, it’s all the same. You just need to learn to listen, observe, and feel the person you are talking to. It’s that simple.
If you are going to operate a business of any size, you need to build a team. First and foremost, strong teams are built upon mutual respect. Hire people you respect. You must also earn their respect.
There will inevitably be conflicts among members. You need to work with that. One-on-one, in a group, or whatever you feel the situation merits. This is what teambuilding means. A good team is composed of good people. Caring about the team means caring about the people.
For a team to work, every individual must respect, be committed to, and loyal to you and your vision. But such things are not mandated, they are earned. Don’t think for a minute that you can hide your motives or deceive other people in any way. Your intentions have to be noble. Of course, the desire for money can be there, but your nobility must first and foremost take the lead.
Theory of Induced Blindness
The Theory of Induced Blindness says that education becomes indoctrination, becomes limited thinking. Telling yourself to “think outside the box” is just another indoctrination. I’m talking about genuine creativity. It’s not a philosophy; it is a knowing that the solution is there, if you give yourself the space and time to find it. Indoctrinated thinking interferes with the process. Being a success in business involves far more than robotically implementing a set of principles you have been indoctrinated into following.
Emanuel Lasker, a former world chess champion, mathematician, and friend of Albert Einstein did not spend time memorizing opening repertoires as most chess masters do. He thought. He was creative. He addressed every chess position from a deeper place within himself. As he put it, “I spent the last half of my life trying to forget what I learned in the first half.” He understood the Theory of Induced Blindness, and that accessing his genius involved looking beyond such induced indoctrination.
That is exactly what I did that enabled me to make my business, Mount Soma, work. It started with a vision, an insight, an understanding, a commitment. Then I worked with principles of business to conform them to the direction I wanted to go. I did not allow them to dictate the direction.
Forward, Forward, Always Forward
Create a healthy relationship with the inevitable unknown variables that lie ahead. Many people are terrified to move forward in business (and life, for that matter) because they don’t know what is around the next corner. As a result, they freeze. Some even try to figure out what is around the corner before they get there, which is of course impossible. Don’t do that.
Let “forward, forward, always forward” be your motto. “Fortune favors the bold,” …but not the foolhardy. There is a balance between intelligently looking forward and knowing you can’t know everything that could happen. Find that balance, then move.
No matter how good you are at planning, sooner or later a huge obstacle will come your way. Knowing that, move forward. Acknowledge that you are resourceful. You have a brain. Every step of the way, there are a million options out there. If things don’t go the way you hoped, you will be able to adjust accordingly. If when you turn that corner, you see a semi-truck barreling down in your direction, you will have the good sense to step aside—guaranteed.
When we began construction of a community center at Mount Soma, we ran into quite an obstacle. All the designs had been completed by the architect, we had county approval, raised the funds, hired the contractor, and began the excavation. When it was time to pour the footer, the engineer came out to test the soil. Unfortunately, it failed the test. To build adequate support underneath the building was cost-prohibitive. It seemed the whole project was one big huge failure. Right then and there, I called out, “Everybody stop working. We are closing down the project.” This was no time to panic. I would figure something out.
It didn’t happen overnight. Over the next days, I spoke with the people financing the project, the contractors, architects, and engineers, determined to find a solution. The solution didn’t just fall in my lap. However, as with so many solutions to seemingly huge problems, once you find it, it seems self-evident. But until you find it, it seems like the Gordian Knot.
After many conversations and cost analyses, I realized I could dig 10 feet deeper and build an additional story under the building. That is exactly what we did. As we look back upon it, we realize how fortunate we were. As it turned out, we really needed that additional level.
I have been confronted with other seemingly insurmountable obstacles numerous times. And in business, you will too. If you give yourself time to reflect and sort things out, you will come up with a solution.
In closing, this article is not something to be read, understood, and then set aside. It speaks to skills that you must develop. It’s a little like lifting weights. Just because you have a set of weights, doesn’t mean you are suddenly buff. You need to work with those weights. You need to build your business muscles. That’s how you develop the inner business person.
The principles you learn in an M.B.A. are good. But what will make you a great business person comes from something deeper inside yourself. You have to be able to cut through the weeds of the thick stack of data points to find the business sense that lies deeper within you.
Author: Dr. Michael Mamas
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Markus Spiske/Flickr