Flying by the seat of your pants!

Steve Afshar provides some thoughts on the stresses and strains of running a business

5 Key Steps to help you understand why you maybe experiencing difficulty in your business

  1. Ask yourself the question “What is my business like?” You are looking for a metaphor for your business

  2. Open up the metaphor by observing what is to your left, right, behind and ahead.

  3. Also observe what you are standing on and what is above you

  4. Scribble down a rough drawing of your metaphor

  5. Think of as many idioms for as possible for each direction of your metaphor (Idioms are phrases that relate to the content of the metaphor – See example at the end of this article)

There are many “get rich” tips, tricks and techniques out there, but lots of people see their investment disappear. Why? Because they don’t work. Many would be entrepreneurs are also obsessed with outcomes and objectives, when their failings could well be down to the internal structure of their business. This can be a major contributor towards the stress, strain and frustration that they experience.

In part, this is because although business “gurus” are continually telling us how easy it is to get rich, many business people have little idea of the many hours of frustration they will experience in gaining business success. I believe one of the primary areas that contribute towards a business owner’s frustration is paying attention to the identity of their business.

From the ground up

Entrepreneurs often say that they are building a business. For example, how many times do we hear expressions such as “I’ve constructed a website.. We’ve built a webpage… We have a blueprint… We have a design…”? These terms allude to “construction” of some kind, but perhaps shipbuilding may be a more suitable metaphor, for example: “having people on board, setting sail, launching”.

Owners will commonly say such things as “it’s our blueprint of a business, it’s built on solid foundations, I’m building the business up”; but think about this: buildings don’t move, they are solid and static and stand the test of time. It’s something that endures an economic climate.

Some Young entrepreneurs or instant start-ups who are trying to get their business off the ground will say things such as “we’re blasting the profits skyward, a rapid rise to success, a quick launch, a rising star”. These comments come under a metaphorical business structure of “rocketry”.

Shipping out (transportation)

Shipping and construction metaphors are perhaps the most common in the UK and problems can arise because they tend to pull in different directions. There is building the business, getting ready to launch the business and getting people on board the business. But this is not the same as sailing the ship, running it or getting it moving. The person who builds it is not necessarily the captain.

There is a major difference between constructing a building and constructing a ship. If the business is like a building, the finance, money etc has to come to it; but a business built like a ship, with the right people on board, has places to go.

If you are experiencing stress and frustration from being in business, especially where you have a partner or board involved then it maybe due to not paying attention to how each perceives how the business is. For instances, one of you may believe that you are constructing the business to be like a building, the other thinks that the business is like a ship. One is probably going to complain that the other “is not going places”. Their partner may think that the other “is going overboard”.

Making these types of assumptions of ourselves and our business colleagues is very common. This creates many different reactions relating to how we perceive each other and our perceptions of the business and thus that is where the stress and frustration can arise. The paradox is that many business people will use the same descriptions such as “having a blueprint, having it well designed, getting the right people”. These scenarios are found in all sorts of business. In essence, some people are static and some people are going places.

An agricultural approach

Another metaphorical business identity I have recognised is agricultural terminology. These are commonly businesses with seasonal variations to their products and services and can very well only have seasonal workers. This type of business may well be affected by the economic climate.

The type of employees in this kind of structure will invariably be on an hourly wage rather than salaried. They may be low skilled, yet are often very involved. These businesses are often involved in production or manufacturing and have production lines.

In these types of business we may find owners saying things such as “planting seeds for new business, growing a business, expanding organically, sowing new ideas, taking a product to market and moving on to pastures new”.

Anthropomorphication

Here, entrepreneurs talk about their business as though it is their baby and it has a life of its own. However, if a business does have a life of its own, how much control does the proprietor have? Probably not as much as they would like.

These are the kinds of businesses that get out of control quite quickly.

For those who use this metaphor, the question of control is unimportant if the business is making money. But if their “child” is ailing and is unprofitable, can the proprietor be dispassionate or will they, as the “parent”, press on regardless and attempt to nurture it by pumping money into it. If the business is not growing, could that be the fault of the owner for not letting it “grow up”? Have they become over protective and are thus the cause of its immature condition?

The business battleground

Finally, other entrepreneurs use warring or gaming metaphors. How many of us have heard business owners saying things such as: “Our advertising campaign requires military precision… This is a hostile takeover… We are engaged in a marketing campaign… We’re moving in on out competitor’s territory… We’re going head to head with competitors… It’s a minefield out there… We need to rally the troops…”.

War and games can overlap because there are many games that we play as mock battles: football, rugby and chess, for example. War and game metaphors massively map together. Business people who use warring and sporting metaphors will want to keep on running because, as far as they are concerned, there are winners and losers in this game. It’s going to be a “cut-throat” business. There will be things such as “hostile” takeovers and high levels of aggression and competitiveness.

Whenever there is a sports team or a military type of structure there will always be conflict. All the businesses under this category will have teams and these tend towards conflict; no matter how well they perform.

If the metaphorical business structure is along the lines of an army how is the hierarchy organized in terms of the flow of information? Are employees prepared to talk to managers on an equal footing or does the hierarchical structure work against this? This tends not to be seen in Anthropomorphication structures although they may exist in “ships” and “buildings”.

Attention paid to the internal workings of a business may provide the “a-ha” moment that is so desperately required to get the business off the ground … oops there I go again.

So how do you establish what your own metaphorical business structure is? By carefully answering the following question…

What is your business like?”

By focussing on a metaphorical description you may surprise yourself at what passes your lips. It could well be one of the structures mentioned earlier or it may be something different. What-ever it is pay attention to it and begin to create as many idioms as possible (a descriptive phrase that relates to your metaphor)

For example one business owner said he felt lost at sea, floating aimlessly in the dark depths of the ocean. Now idioms for this could be ‘you feel supported yet you lack direction’ or ‘you are just about keeping your head above water’ or ‘you are trying to keep you and your family afloat’.

Often identifying the metaphor for your business can be enough for you to shift your attitude and therefore the subsequent sets of decisions and behaviours required to achieve better outcomes.

Just be certain in yourself that business is not easy otherwise everyone would be fabulously successful. However it can be made easier if you pay attention to how you actually talk about it, because within it is a gem definitely worth uncovering. And like any picture, your metaphor is worth a thousand words.

For more information about Steve Afshar of mindcraft, contact him on 02392 984252 or email at steve@mind-craft.co.uk.

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