If you're an entrepreneur who is struggling with average results, there's a good chance you're stuck in "the middle." You don't want to be there. By the middle, I mean you're probably too focused on the minutiae, the 99 percent of the stuff you encounter every day that has nothing to do with what you want out of your business and is not part of the hard work it takes to get it. These distractions include office drama and politics, or fretting over an unsuccessful pitch for new business. Being in the middle means becoming successful only to a certain level, and then staggering or stalling. It means being average and risking that your business will go stale. Instead, you need to ignore the middle and take a healthy dose of what I call the "clouds and dirt."
The clouds are a metaphor for strategy. They're the high-end beliefs that are at the heart of everything you do, everything you want out of your business. For me, it's the idea that growing my business will lead to the happiness and health of my loved ones (and owning the New York Jets). Understanding your clouds will give you the perspective of what all of your actions are meant to lead to. The dirt is the low-down subject-matter expertise that allows you to execute to reach those clouds. The dirt is about the hard work you need to put in as practitioner. My dirt is knowing my craft. It was using email marketing and Google AdWords to put Wine Library on the map in the early 2000s. Today, it's VaynerMedia's using Snapchat as a major marketing platform for reaching the 16-to-24-year-old demographic.
This is the approach I've used to build and scale my companies. Know the philosophy. Know the details on how to get there. Ignore everything in the middle.
When people ask me for advice, they're usually seeking the dirt when they should be in the clouds. They ask for a winning tactic without realizing that it's actually the big-picture strategy that will put them in the best position to succeed. I get tactical questions like "Gary, how exactly can I use Facebook to make a trillion dollars?" But a tactic will take you only so far. Instead, think about the bigger picture: How are people behaving and communicating in a Facebook environment? Then, how can you take advantage of what people are paying attention to on Facebook? More often than not, the answer to a dirt question is a clouds strategy.
Another problem people have is forgetting to raise their heads while they're in the dirt executing. Too much dirt time will leave your business without a connection or purpose or strategy, putting it in a vulnerable position. You need to pause and look at the macro trends, your competitors, and the marketplace. In 1996, I had a grasp on where e-commerce was going and put Wine Library online, ignoring advice that the internet was just a fad. Before starting VaynerMedia, I anticipated that sites like Vice, BuzzFeed, and Thrillist would be potential competitors. This broader perspective allowed me to see where the market was heading and the changes I could make to the dirt of my business to realign with what was happening outside of it.
The best way to avoid getting marooned in the middle is to create a system to keep yourself in check, one that allows you to periodically assess what you're focused on. Whether this means taking a quick break from work, meditating, or having a one-on-one meeting with yourself, take the time to realign with your clouds and dirt. This will give you the self-awareness you need to ask the right questions and ensure you're properly oriented. It'll also put you in the right headspace to answer these questions correctly. Start pushing on both the dirt and the clouds. Start digging deeper into your craft. And raise the bar on your philosophies.