Dear Norm, I was interested in your response to the restaurateur who had become bored with his core business right when he acquired the mastery necessary to use it as a platform to build a much larger company. As a result, he went to the “new, new thing” too soon and ran into trouble. I completely identify with him. What should we entrepreneurs do when we get bored with the successful business we’re in the midst of building?
--Michael Spraggins, owner, Spraggins Inc., Orlando
As I’ve noted, boredom is an occupational hazard for entrepreneurs. We tend to be a restless lot and need constant stimulation.
Boredom becomes problematic when it leads to bad decisions. But even then, mistakes can teach us quite a bit about who we are and what we want. That kind of self-knowledge is crucial to having a long and successful business career.
Michael Spraggins, the author of the question above, is a classic example. His company distributes and installs products such as cabinets, countertops, and flooring to homebuilders and apartment developers. He took the company over from his father about 20 years ago, when it was 10 years old and had 14 employees. Today, it has 65 employees, does $20 million in sales annually, and is growing rapidly.
His boredom problem surfaced about 15 years ago. By then, he’d figured out the business and was itching for new challenges. He proceeded to open several locations and launch two businesses. After losing a lot of money and creating a lot of chaos, he realized his mistake in trying to grow too fast and do too much. Fortunately, he pulled back before the damage became irreversible. In hindsight, he realized it was boredom that had gotten him into trouble. He wanted me to suggest what he should have done differently.
That’s very hard to say, if only because Michael learned a tremendous amount about himself and the business from the experience. For example, he realized that he’s a “new thing guy,” as he calls it, who likes to innovate and launch ventures but then needs to put other people in charge. “I think of myself as kind of a strategist-coach, not really a team leader,” he says.
With that new bit of self-knowledge, he decided to hire a president to run his main business full time. When he later founded a not-for-profit that franchises clinics and hospitals in Africa, he hired a full-time executive director to run the show. Michael spends about a third of his time on the not-for-profit. “It runs really well and is growing like crazy,” he told me. He says the same about the for-profit business.
In fact, I was struck by how happy Michael seems to be. He’s married with three kids and says he has all the time and money he needs. The recession was brutal to his business, as it was to all construction-related businesses, but his company has bounced back and is well on its way to recovering.
Would Michael be in such great shape if he hadn’t gone through that period of disastrous overexpansion? I don’t think so. Some of us need to get whacked in the head before we can discover deeper truths about ourselves and make the necessary adjustments. If we’re lucky, we learn more constructive ways to deal with boredom and maybe even ways to avoid getting bored in the first place. I needed to pass through the dark night of Chapter 11 to see the light. From that perspective, I’d say Michael got off easy.