There is no shortage of advice in this world. People give it freely and often, regardless of whether or not they truly understand the circumstances. Some of this advice can resonate in the moment. And much of it goes unheard or misunderstood. But every once in a great while, someone unleashes the perfect advice at the perfect time. You'll hear an insight that you'll carry with you for the rest of your life. Once heard, people carry that one piece of golden wisdom that changed them forever. And they remember vividly that moment they got it.
My most powerful piece of advice was received in a classroom in 1999. I was in a program called Birthing of Giants, which was produced by Inc., the Entrepreneurs' Organization, and MIT Enterprise Forum. The speaker was a brilliant futurist named Watts Wacker. He simply said:
"Don't fix the present. Create the future."
Every day since, I've woken up and tried to do just that. Wacker's advice gives me perspective to creatively solve problems beyond a temporary fix and to use my brain and effort to create a positive impact on the world around me.
Here my Inc. colleagues share the most powerful piece of business advice they have received:
1. Know the importance of understanding expectations.
I am amazed at how often a simple phrase or insight shared from a mentor or fellow entrepreneur can fundamentally change my thinking on how to approach "business." While working on a difficult negotiation recently, a longtime mentor of mine shared this:
"The breakdown in all human relations is unstated expectations."
Which is true in business. Every business is a reflection of the human relations that it embodies, and our inability to effectively communicate our expectations with one another causes great issues. I see this when two partners disagree on the company's future plans, when employees don't understand a compensation structure, or when salespersons don't take the time to fully uncover their customers' needs before they attempt to close a deal. To be successful at business--and at life--you and your organization need to take the time and build the processes necessary to effectively communicate, document, and meet expectations. --Lean Forward
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2. Choose a preferred future.
Like a lot of small-business owners, I spend too much time letting the market take me where it wants, serving clients in different industries with entirely different work. So when Kevin Daum asked me about a year and a half ago:
"Who do you want to be when you grow up?"
It was a valuable reminder. If I don't think about where I want to be in five years and what I need to do today to get there, I'll just go on forever, satisfying customers but not building my dreams. Yes, I have to satisfy customers every day, but I also need to keep my big goals in sight or I may get bogged down doing work I don't love. The trick is to find the balance between the two. --Start Me Up
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3. Don't do it alone.
My first business was an independent coffeehouse with a drive thru, conference room, live music, and lots of stress. I sold many, many cups of coffee to keep those doors open, and I'd never felt so alone and overwhelmed in my life. I know my stress was visible at one point because a regular asked who my business coach was. My what? He just shook his head and said:
"No successful entrepreneur does it alone."
So I hired my first coach and felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders. I'll never forget the experience; the insight continues to serve me well. --The Successful Soloist
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