Friday, May 29, 2015

Are You Lost?...

"If you find yourself in a hole... the first thing you need to do is stop digging"

                                      ~ Will Rogers

This past weekend was a three-day holiday so my wife and I decided to spend it up in the wine country of Sonoma. 

Most of the time was spent doing tourist type things like visiting the small shops in small towns that sprout along the Russian River. However on Saturday night, we had dinner plans with some new friends, Michael and Bonnie (more about them in a few weeks), who had invited us over to their house for dinner.

Knowing that their house was somewhat remote and not easy to find, Bonnie so graciously sent me a map leading to their house (to my young readers... a "map" is like GPS... only it doesn’t talk to you).

As we left the hotel, there was a crossroads.  Wrong WayI mistakenly turned right when I should have gone straight (the correct crossroad with the right-hand turn was still further down the road a bit).

After about 10 miles, the small country road began to widen and soon it became a full-fledged highway. 

Knowing that Michael and Bonnie lived far out in the country and as we were heading to the city, I instinctively knew that we were steering in the wrong direction.

We exited the highway and re-read the map and realized that I had made a mistake.

I immediately turned the car around and we proceeded to dinner (albeit 30 minutes late).

Later that evening as we drove home, I began to think more about the "wrong-turn" mishap.

As these surroundings were very unfamiliar to me, had the road not changed into a highway, it’s quite possible that I might have gone another 30 miles before ever noticing that I had actually made a wrong turn. 

Every minute we continued in the wrong direction, was adding two minutes to our journey time (the time going out and the time coming back to the starting point).

How many times in life do we unknowingly head out to our destination on the wrong path?

Just thinking about my own career path...

At the age of 8... I wanted to be a fireman (I think this is the secret fantasy of all 8-year olds).

By the time I was 13... I wanted to be a commercial pilot because I wanted a way to travel the world and make a decent living.

I applied to college declaring telecommunications as my major... because I wanted to learn how to become a record engineer.

When I found that I wasn’t accepted into the department... I backed into my second choice, becoming a business major... 

A year and a half later... I wanted to learn something more substantial and challenging... so I switched majors to computer engineering...

Upon graduating, I decided that I really didn’t want to design computer chips so I took a job as a sales-engineer, selling electrical equipment...

Seven years later, I left that position to become an entrepreneur starting a wholesale distributor...

Nine years later... I started OptiFuse... and 15 years later... I’m still there.

How many wrong roads did I have to take before I ended up on the right path to my ultimate destination?

Now I guarantee you that my story is not unusual.  Practically everyone has a similar tale.

The interesting thing is that about 8 years into my tenure at OptiFuse, things were not going all that well for me and the company.

The world was heading into the Great Recession... the company was not meeting sales goals... and the company was highly leveraged (which isn’t that unusual for a young start-up).

I began seriously considering if I was once again on the wrong road heading in the wrong direction. 

I also know that if I was indeed heading in the wrong direction, every mile I went down the road was going to cost me more time and money.

Maybe I should just stop and turn my life around and head in a completely new direction...?

What was it about this particular venture that made me keep going rather than stopping and heading off in another direction?

There are hundreds of examples of once great companies that kept on the road that brought them early success but now they missed the turn-off and were now heading in the wrong direction.

Big multi-national companies like Kodak, Xerox, Blockbuster, Circuit City, Blackberry, AOL, K-Mart, Radio Shack, Encyclopedia Britannica, and Borders have all failed by staying the same course when in hindsight, they should have made a turn.

It’s not that these companies didn’t see it coming... they did in fact... but unfortunately they couldn’t stop the law of momentum (velocity multiplied by mass).

These companies just had too much mass and too much velocity to stop and turn around... and by the time they did... they were just too far down the road to come back.
So what lessons can we learn from these experiences so we don’t end up heading in the wrong direction?

The first thing is clear... you need to be aware of your surroundings.

When I noticed that the country road had changed into a highway... I immediately stopped to get my bearings.  Going further down the road would have only exasperated my situation and made it that much harder to get back on the right track.

Every so often we need to take a moment to reflect on our current situations... are we dying or are we thriving?  If it is the former... then perhaps it’s time to make a course correction.

Secondly... it’s never too early to innovate or learn something new.  In only a few situations are we actually presented with a map.  Most of the time we need to be prepared in advance to move in a different direction so if and when the situation occurs, we can quickly change course.

The companies that didn’t make it... are the same companies that had virtually unlimited resources to add innovation into their game plan... but chose not to (until it was too late).

Companies like Google, IBM, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Walmart, and Southwest Airlines continue to add new innovations to their already successful recipes.  All of these companies are still doing the things that made them successful in the first place... but each has added new pages to their maps as they continue to extend their reaches.

Last but not least... we need to recognize when we made a mistake and quickly get ourselves back on the right track. 

The worse thing that we can do is to "double-down" when we find ourselves lost to make up for lost time. 

When we look for short-cuts or quick-fixes, most of the time we end up compounding our problems instead of just getting back on track.
I learned this lesson from watching the great golfers. 

Even the best golfers in the world are apt to hit a bad shot into the rough, or the water or even into the woods.  Instead of trying to make a next-to-impossible shot, they typically play a safe shot that gets them safely back into the fairway even if it means that they will lose a stroke in the process.

Understandably, sometimes it’s nearly impossible to distinguish whether we need to stay the course or its time to chart a new one.

In the case of OptiFuse, I decided to stick it out because I believed that the plan was sound and that it was simply a matter of hark work and patience.

If we continually are changing course, then we’ll end up going around in circles and never actually get anywhere.

Farmers recognize that after they sow seeds, it’s a matter of hard-work and patience before they can bring in their crop.  If they planted seeds one day only to uproot the seedlings before they ever produced fruit, then they would never successfully harvest anything.

There are no easy answers... do we keeping going... or do we turn around?...

...but that’s what makes life interesting and unpredictable... 

I once asked a mentor of mine how to avoid making mistakes... 

He replied, "Experience will help you to avoid mistakes".

I then asked him, "How does one gain experience?"

"It’s simply", he responded, "you make a lot of mistakes".

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we hope to see you on the road to success.

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