The Middle Ground Is Where Businesses Fail

As a manager, avoiding and/or solving the middle game problems is the important skill.  Ideas, even good ideas, are about 50 cents a dozen and dreams don’t matter until they are fulfilled. 

In the beginning there is an idea or an insight or the general expression of a dream.  For most of us the second step is to understand what fulfillment of it means.  Call it the dream package.
Both the beginning and the end are clear and most motivation specialists will talk about imagining what you want and role playing the success or at a minimum, visualizing it in detail.

Probably works in theory, but out here in the real world it is the root of failure.

The problem is execution.  All of the little annoying things that take an idea and make it fulfilled.  Like capital, space, processes, people, accounting, taxation, regulation, labour standards, other laws and bylaws, unions, landlords, leases, equipment, repairs, breakdowns (including your own) bad debts, unreasonable customers, unreliable suppliers, unforeseen events, economic change, government intervention, foreign competition, theft of intellectual property and about 100 more.

Someone has claimed that a variety store in Ontario is subject to 133 regulations. I doubt your dream package mentioned that.

You can think about the middle as two-part solutions.  A) Selection of tactics.  If you can, better to use a prepackaged solution while you gain experience.  And then B) logistics – the actual doing of it.

Frequently that initial vision is either found to be impossible or it is lost while the day-to-day detail overwhelms your resources.

You are stuck in the middle.

You are not the first or the only.  President Obama is learning about it.  Ideology, no matter how persuasive or even how good, does not fulfill itself.  I cannot imagine how many details he has that must be tended to for success.  Judging by his performance and his history I think it is safe to say that his dream did not include an execution phase.  He is making a lot of the amateur leader mistakes.  Surrounding himself with idea people instead of do it people.  Not admitting failure soon enough.  Borrowing for the idea not noticing the practical reality that debt diminishes future growth and productivity.

Many American cities are stuck in the rut too.  The most troubled see higher unemployment and thus the need for greater social services.  At the same time, their capable and in-demand people are moving elsewhere for new opportunities.  Cities with rising costs and falling revenue go broke.  There is no realistic way to save the finances of places like Detroit.  And there are dozens more.  Eventually some states will go the same path.

The middle is a deadly place.  You cannot grow your way out of the problem because the resources that you need are disappearing.  You cannot cut the services because the need is greater.  Governments have bigger problems than businesses.

The best defense for a business is to quit doing ineffective things sooner.  Try many things and stop some and use others forever.  It is a bottom up pattern that is sound.  You cannot plan everything unless you know everything and how everything is changing.  You do not.  Neither do governments.

The more mistakes you make the faster you learn.  But you must quit the mistakes early, else your limited time and money resources will be consumed.

Be a little cautious in the beginning.  Dreams are exciting and logistics are soul stifling.  Try to anticipate both so there can be balance.

In case you need more motivation to scope out the doing part of the problem, keep this thought in mind.

No one has ever lost much money with a bad idea that failed.  Only good ideas cost a lot.  The reason is that you cannot get much money to pursue a bad idea.  Like poker.  The only expensive hand is the second best hand.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.  |  Twitter @DonShaughnessy  |  Follow by email at moneyFYI

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