Why Thinking Small Is Key to Entrepreneurial Success
As an entrepreneur, you probably have a gift for big-picture thinking. You can set goals and plot a general path to achieving them; and you know how to shift course when challenges and obstacles inevitably pop up along the way. But, to be successful, you have to take a step back from big-picture thinking and cultivate the ability to think small.
Being able to make small improvements to the way you approach problems or tasks could very well make the difference between starting a successful business or, joining the 80 percent of new businesses which, as has often been reported, don’t survive past their first year of operation.
In business as in life, the devil is in the details.
I started my company using the same formula that most entrepreneurs use: In short, we identified a major pain point that wasn’t being addressed by current technology or resources. In our case, that meant the pain of modern renters, who make up much of the American population. We thought we had some smart solutions, but we also knew it would take more to create a movement. It’s taken serious hard work and daily positive microshifts to make our idea real and profitable.
You’ll need to put in the same effort and focus on incremental improvement to make your own business successful, regardless of the industry.
Put some power in the process.
Long ago, Nike gave us a tagline that might as well have become the tagline for all entrepreneurs: “Just do it.”
Since then, motivational speakers such as Tony Robbins, Gary Vaynerchuk and countless others have reminded us to focus on our goals and work hard to make them real.
The problem is that these motivational speakers are often just pitching the end result. They get us amped up and inspired to go out and “just do it,” but very quickly, we run into a huge question: How?
The answer is pretty straightforward. Each day, we make a series of decisions, some of them quite small, that will affect our future. In fact, the decisions any of us made last year, last week and last night have all determined who we are today. Rather than focus on the end goal, we need to place a heightened focus on those smaller daily decisions -- whether to make a phone call, take a meeting, tell someone no, eat right, get more sleep, read more or separate ourselves from a toxic person.
In other words, we need to focus on the microshifts that must take place for us to get closer to reaching our end goals, whatever those may be.
Just microshift it.
As entrepreneurs, we all face many of the same daily choices, even if we work in wildly divergent industries. Here are five microshifts all entrepreneurs must make -- consistently -- to be successful:
1. Stop trying to convince others of your worth. You are looking for believers. They’re out there, and the sooner you stop wasting your precious time trying to convince others of your ability to create change, the sooner you’ll start attracting the people who already share your beliefs and want to help you win.
In your business and your life, the people you surround yourself with matter. If you’re surrounded by negative, cynical people, you'll find it harder to believe in yourself and your ideas when you need to the most. In contrast, by hanging out with people who are positive and supportive, you’ll be able to achieve greater self-confidence and higher levels of creativity. Plus, you’ll be happier. And, according to a Harvard study, happiness is contagious, so you’ll attract more of these types of people into your life and business.
2. Stop making excuses. Excuses are lies we tell ourselves to avoid action. If you’re spending lots of time telling stories about why something isn’t working, you’re avoiding the truth. Netflix did this in 2015 when it blamed the introduction of the chip card versus the swipe card for its low U.S. subscriber growth.
Other companies, like Macy's and J. Crew, have made similar excuses for their poor sales; such execuses are a well-established habit. But instead of coming up with stories to explain your failure, work on being "present." Fully dive into the experience you’re having right now, no matter how boring or mundane. That's all that really matters.
3. Refocus negative energy immediately and often. A 2016 study by Georgetown University found that a consistently negative co-worker affects co-workers up to seven times more than a positive one. You don’t want to be that negative co-worker -- but you also don’t want to be the miserable person stuck with a negative coworker.
Remember: What you choose to focus on will ultimately consume you. Rather than focusing your energy on pity, retaliation or procrastination, focus on making small changes that can move you in a positive direction. Focusing on the positive often means cutting out the negative, such as toxic relationships, clients or habits. This can be hard, but it’s absolutely critical.
4. Be a relentless self-promoter. You should always be your best friend and biggest cheerleader. No one will ever promote you as well as you can promote yourself. Why? Because no one cares about what you’re doing and who you’re becoming as much as you do. So stand on a rooftop and yell, write a blog post or publish a press release. Of course, do it tastefully. Be like all those YouTube influencers: The way they make it to the top is through self-promotion, but promotion that's authentic and relatable.
5. Celebrate your tiny wins. Take time to acknowledge even the smallest wins. You cleaned out your inbox today -- win. You made an appointment 10 minutes early -- win. You went to the gym or a yoga class for the first time in months -- win. Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor, analyzed thousands of diary entries by working professionals; she was searching for a common thread that made some more likely to succeed than others.
She found it and later reported that experiencing a sense of progress is essential to cultivating long-term creativity and productivity. Small wins can lead to a huge difference in performance over time.
Microshifts work only when you're fully aware of their power. You can work tirelessly day in, day out, plugging away at your business and never really feel successful. This perceived lack of success happens because we tend to dwell on the negative -- an angry client email or rejection from an investor -- when the reality is, we’re moving forward all the time.
By taking small steps every day to acknowledge the positive elements of our lives, we can microshift our way toward realizing this reality. It took me 20 years to become an "overnight success." Each day of those two decades was filled with challenges and failures, but through them all, I remained focused on the small steps forward. You should do the same.