Growth Strategies

The Business of Being Great

For the best entrepreneurs, good just isn't good enough.
  • ---Shares

As an entrepreneur, the independence of running your own business can be a double edged sword: You are solely responsible for your company's success. While most entrepreneurs strive for greatness, some fall into the realm of just good enough. But the truth is the more you learn about achieving greatness, the more likely you are to stretch outside your comfort zone. Michael Bungay Stanier, author of Do More Great Work: Stop the Busywork. Start the Work That Matters, shares some ideas on how to get from good to great.

Great work, is the flame that burns inside most entrepreneurs. It's the work we care most about, that excites and challenges us. It's work that has meaning and creates impact.

It's also the work that helps your company survive. Great work is the work of innovation and strategic differentiation. This is where new products and services come from and where the long-term growth and survival of your company are to be found.

So great work matters at a personal level--work that is meaningful and that makes us happy--as well as at a strategic level. In fact, a good strategy can be considered as the right mix of good work and great work for your company.

Good is the Enemy of Great
Jim Collins said it first, and he had it right.

Bad work is, of course, something to eliminate. Let's take a leaf from the playbook of Richer Sounds, an electronics and home-entertainment company in the UK. The company has been in the Guinness Book of World Records for many years for its high retail sales. Richer Sounds also has a Cut the Crap Committee: a group of high-potential managers who look for the bad work that inevitably arises in any organization.

Good work is an even bigger problem. The steady churn of productivity, the meetings and e-mails and the day-to-day getting things done means it's often easy to be seduced by the comfort and familiarity of good work and to never quite get around to doing enough great work.

So how do you manage the busywork so you can do less good work and more great work? Here are two simple and powerful tips:

  1. Begin with the Great
    Ever get to the end of a week, a week where you've worked long and hard, and be unable to remember anything you've actually done?

    It's because most of us start each day by jumping right into the good work stream and never getting out. We dive into and start processing our e-mails, and then the whirl of meetings and phone calls begins. Before you know it, another day has passed.

    There has to be time set aside for great work; protected time where you can focus on great work without interruption.

    For most of us, the sooner in the day you can get to it the better. Your great work requires you using your active brain, your prefrontal cortex. That's the source of creativity, your problem-solving, your strategic thinking. And that part of your brain gets tired easily, whether doing good or great work. To put it bluntly, using your great work brain power answering e-mail is a waste of your best strategic asset. Block off time early on in the day for great work.
  2. Find Great Work Allies
    Great work is difficult if not impossible to do by yourself. You need people to help. When gathering your great work allies, you're looking for two types of people.

    First, find people who are extraordinary in the work that they do. In this hyper-connected world, you can find the best person in the world to help you with your challenge, not just the best person in your part of town. Find extraordinary contributors, then keep them close and nourish them.

    Second, find people who will provide the encouragement and support to keep you focused on great work. It might be a coach, a mastermind group or friends you have the occasional drink with. You're looking for tough love, encouragement and support when you're going through the inevitable dips; a reminder of your blind spots and familiar patterns when you're spinning your wheels; and a willingness to push and provoke you a little, too, when that's required.

An Apple a Day...
Steve Jobs said this: "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. . . If you haven't found it yet, keep looking, and don't settle."

And of course, he's right. The secret is not to settle.

As entrepreneurs, we've a better chance than most to do great work. Our challenge is less about finding great work, which is often what got us to where we are today. Instead, the challenge is to avoid the seduction of good work while we continue striving for the great.

Michael Bungay Stanier is the senior partner of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work. His new book is Do More Great Work: Stop the Busywork. Start the Work That Matters. You can see a short animated film on Great Work at www.GreatWorkAlchemy.com. You can also follow Michael on Twitter at @boxofcrayons.