When we think about working within constraints, we often think about startups without investor funding. There are dozens of articles written about founders and how they used their given resources to build a successful company.
Learning to work within constraints is a necessity regardless of your profession. Although we live in the most abundant time in human history, we encounter limitations every day. How we learn to manage these constraints and overcome challenges can become an invaluable trait.
The root of the matter is your perception of the challenge. Do you wait for something or someone to find a solution or do you problem-solve? How we elect to manage, these challenges will determine the success of our business, organization, and life.
Strategies for the Top Four Constraints
In my office, I have a small poster with an ocean view. Written at the top is a quote, “Time is life’s most precious commodity, use it wisely.” The source is unknown. We often forget during our busy day that time is a non-renewable commodity.
Three years ago, I read the book, The Road Less Travel, by Dr. Scott Peck. He talked about how our parents, teachers, and peers can directly or indirectly influence how we value our time and ourselves. This influence becomes evident when we reach adulthood and must manage our work and professional life.
Each day, I think about how I spend my time. Not, which appointment to schedule next or which task to add to a list of busy work. During my morning runs, I mentally allocate where I will use my time and energy for next 12 – 18 hours. Each day, running, writing, and enjoying “just being” are priorities, not an afterthought.
I follow Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp and his life and work philosophy is similar. As I wrote before, “being busy” or “slammed at work” is not a badge of honor it is a misalignment of priorities. Busy work accomplishes nothing.
If you are a startup or have worked for one, you know about financial constraints. Every day, the founders and key team members worry about money. You worry about sales; you worry about reaching your hurdle rate. As a small business owner operating in a sea of regulations and growing competition, worrying about cash flow is a constant stress. There is no escape.
Last year, I read an article in Inc. Magazine. A successful business owner was a guest columnist and wrote, “Looking at your sales every day and how much money you’re making or not making will drive you crazy. It’s a marathon, what you earn over a 12 month period or longer.”
He went on to talk about how it is important to be aware of where the company is from a big picture perspective for cash flow, but the constant worry will do more harm than good.
I have thought of about his advice. I believe when we become hyper-focused on the lack money, we send out negative energy.
If you believe the sales and customers will support your business, then this faith in yourself and the business comes through. Most people do not like to work or buy from businesses or organizations that are collapsing or believe they are failing. People can sense the negativity.
Recognize financial constraint is a given. Develop a system to keep tabs on the cash flow without becoming consumed with daily worrying. If you are too focused on this constraint, you will most likely miss an opportunity.
Leadership is a combination of innate talent and skills developed over time. Leadership is difficult and cannot be learned in a two-day seminar. We often write and talk about leadership, yet it tends to be a mouthpiece to satisfy something that has no meaning. It requires a unique combination of skills and a certain personality. Most businesses and organizations do not have the luxury of having a strong and gift leader.
In these cases, employees and team members will need to determine how they create strong leadership at the bottom without insubordination. Which isn’t easy either, how do you create leadership within the ranks while continuing to support an ineffective leader?
This is when creative problem-solving becomes curial. I often tell my son that to be a good leader; integrity must be at the core with an understanding of coaching people with grace. When I say or write, these words people’s immediate reaction is that the approach is too soft, which is incorrect. This approach involves structure with empowering team members. Leadership is about building effective proactive teams. These teams can work to achieve the organization’s goals even when dealing with unfavorable constraints.
Constraints we encounter to do our work and run our business is constant. For my business, I need to upgrade the computer system. The operating system is dated which creates problems with the software programs I use for client work.
An entrepreneur friend, once said, “Don’t make any large purchases or hire employees until the pain is absolutely unbearable.” Based on his advice, I continue to develop a work around to delay purchasing a new computer. There are some of you who may disagree, and that’s fine. Between working for startups and being a small business owner, I’ve learned to protect the second most valuable resource – cash flow.
Of three constraints I’ve discussed; I believe where most people fail to placed importance – is time. For us, time feels unlimited as we get up each day and do the same thing again. It’s only when we start looking back at how we spend our time do we realize its real value.