Companies only seem to go viral overnight. In reality, businesses go two steps forward and one step back. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Before your business or your career takes off like a rocket ship, there’s one thing I can absolutely guarantee. You’re going to get stuck. A lot.
The more you try to achieve, the more obstacles you’ll face. The more you push the envelope, the harder it’ll be to push through. The higher the stakes, the bigger the pitfalls you’ll encounter. That’s just how this sort of thing works.
If you read the bios of famous executives and entrepreneurs, you see what looks like a fabulous career full of notable accomplishments. What you don’t see are all the times they got stuck. I once worked with a start-up that took 15 years of ups and downs before finally taking off, going public and achieving a $1 billion market valuation.
Every company has stories like that. Every successful entrepreneur and executive does, too. I’ve been stuck so many times I’d just as soon not think about it. And that brings us to the first reason why everyone, including you, gets stuck--and how to get unstuck.
You’re not asking the right people the right questions -- or you’re not listening. All the rhetoric about mentors and coaches doesn’t even begin to cover the challenges that young up-and-comers face when it comes to getting feedback. That’s why active board directors, advisors and investors are indispensible. So are customers who are willing to take the time to tell you where you’re going wrong. If you ask, be sure to listen.
You haven’t found a big enough problem to solve. People generally get the whole innovation thing backwards. They focus on their capabilities, their technology, or their solution, when it’s actually more important to focus on the problem you’re trying to solve. If it isn’t big enough, if it doesn’t cause enough customers enough pain, you’re not going to get enough traction to take your business anywhere.
You don’t have a compelling value proposition. I have yet to find a more important business concept than the value proposition. It’s what you deliver to customers better than anyone else. If you can’t say it with a straight face or it doesn’t resonate with customers, you’re likely to go nowhere fast.
You don’t have the decoder ring. Every market, every business, every company, every discipline has rules. How things work. How things get done. They’re not written anywhere, either. While you’re desperately trying to figure them out, you’re bound to get stuck. Find someone who’s been around the block and pick her brain. Don’t be shy about it, either. If you feel guilty, buy her a nice bottle of wine or something.
You’re missing a big piece of the puzzle. Good companies spend valuable time and resources understanding what they need to be number one. What gaps need to be filled. It’s a really big deal. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is buying lots of companies these days, mostly focused on mobile. That’s a key gap she wants to fill. You need to do that too, whether it’s for your career or for your business.
You’ve lost your focus. For start-ups and entrepreneurs in particular, focus is huge. If it isn’t there, I can almost guarantee that things will not go well for you. There are loads of underlying causes. Perhaps you’ve lost your confidence or your business mojo. Or maybe you’re distracted by personal issues. If you find yourself looking for a quick fix or some sort of miracle, that’s a bad sign.
You’re not working hard enough. These days it’s popular to talk about five hour work weeks, the evils of multitasking, and the importance of workplace flexibility and work-life balance. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t change one immutable fact. In 30 years in business, I’ve never known a successful individual who didn’t work his tail off. That’s the God’s honest truth.
You’re on the wrong path. One of the hardest things to determine is whether you’re on the right path or not. If you do the same things for a while and the results aren’t what you’re looking for, maybe it’s time to change direction, do things differently, or at least pivot. How can you tell? Listen to the smartest people you know and, if they’re willing to talk, your customers. Then think it over and trust your gut. You’ll make the right call.
At the end of the day, this all comes down to one tremendously underrated quality. Perseverance. If you’re the kind of person who meets her commitments, who sticks with something through thick and thin, who never gives up and never surrenders, then I’m sure you’ll do just fine. Until then, keep this list handy -- for when you get stuck.