Entrepreneurs must continually adapt to survive. We're always searching for new ways to reach potential customers, to expand our relationships with current customers, and to get the most productive and creative output from our employees.

The entrepreneurs we know (including ourselves) fight the urge to become complacent with their Way-Of-Working (WOW) by constantly asking, "What can we change so we do even better next time?"

The Tiger Woods Example

With his win at the Memorial Tournament, Tiger Woods tied Jack Nicklaus for second place in all-time PGA tour wins, trailing only Sam Sneed. While Tiger has faced significant challenges in recent years both on and off the course, he has certainly strung together a remarkable career. He appears to be near the top of his game again heading into the US Open in a couple of weeks.

Yet during his career Tiger has changed his playing style and equipment several times. He has had three different swing coaches and four different swing styles. Some of these were driven by a need to improve his all-around game, others by his changing body dynamics.

Each time Tiger faced "don't mess with success" criticism for these changes. Even now, it is not clear whether his new swing can take him back to the top of the leaderboard on a consistent basis.

Yet our belief is that Tiger's adaptation and evolution of his WOW has been vital to his career success and longevity. In our own careers, we have significantly evolved our WOW.

Messing with Success

Developing a WOW often takes a big investment, as well as focus, determination and investment to adapt and persevere if initial results are disappointing.

As a result, we often risk becoming wedded to a particular WOW. After all, we have invested a lot of physical and mental energy into a WOW, and if it creates some positive results, why change it? However, the "don't mess with success" mentality leads to some potential pitfalls:

  • Early successes do not prove out a WOW. A WOW must survive through many trials, often for several years, before we can consider it a proven success
  • Even if a WOW is successful, in our experience there is always room for improvement
  • As we and our team learn and grow, our successful WOWs need to adapt and grow with us.

A 5-Step Process

The most straightforward way to evolve your WOW is to test-and-learn: Try a lot of different approaches, and learn from successes and failures.

For example, we have used roughly 20 different routes in the last few years to reach potential new clients: newsletters, entrepreneur conferences, business school reunions, this column, client events, personalized letters to C-level executives, offering free or discounted work, etc. Here's our general method for experimenting with these WOWs :

1. Begin with a brainstorm.

"Hey, what if we tried X, I bet it would improve our success rate." We play it out in our heads a bit, see if it passes the sniff test–namely, the leap of faith or logic we have to make to believe in a new WOW is reasonable.

2. Find an opportunity to test the new WOW.

We look for a client situation where we feel very comfortable taking the risk (i.e., we have a very strong relationship with the client), or where we have nothing to lose (i.e., we are testing WOW prospects that are unlikely to materialize into relationships using our current approach).

3. Set preliminary goals and a timeframe to meet those goals.

4. As the initial timeframe expires, check the results to determine whether:

     a. We have achieved our initial goals with flying colors and are ready to scale our WOW and add it to our permanent arsenal.

     b. We have achieved some of our goals, but need to tweak the WOW and try something new. If so, set a new timeframe and some new goals, and check again then.

     c. We have not seen the success we wanted and need to discard the new WOW.

5. Lather, rinse, repeat.

With so many different approaches, we have no choice but to discard those that are not working. We simply do not have the time to become overly attached to any particular WOW. If it isn't working, fix it or discard it quickly. If it is working, scale it and tweak it to get bigger, better results.

This approach has allowed us to become a quickly evolving, entrepreneurial organization. We are very pleased with our successes to date, but still feel we have so much to learn and grow. We will undoubtedly have a very different (and, we hope, more successful) WOW two or three years from now than we have today.

Have you successfully evolved your WOW? Please share your story with us in the comments below or send us an email at karlandbill@avondalestrategicpartners.com.