Apr 25, 2013

Many new business owners rely on past experience to make decisions. How to break that pattern.

I live in Basel, Switzerland, which might have the best public
transportation system in the world. It is clean, fast, on time, and can
get you where you want to be. In fact, it’s so fabulous that I’ve lived
here for four years and still don’t own a car.

So, I was somewhat amused to look out the window of my tram this
morning and see at least 100 people, in business attire, with small
suitcases, waiting for taxis. (There’s a huge jewelry convention
in town.) The woman next to me on the tram noticed too, and we laughed.
Those people will be standing there at least an hour waiting for a taxi
to get them to their hotels. In the meantime, they’ll get cranky and
hot (most were wearing black and it’s in the mid 70s today), and will
arrive at their hotels far later than they would if they crossed the
street and jumped on a tram.

So, why wait for a taxi when it would be far easier to take public
transportation? I think the answer to this is indicative of problems
small business owners face as well. Here’s what I think is going through
their brains–and your brains–and how to fix it.

What is going through their brains: I know how taxis work. I
don’t know how the tram system works. I’d have to ask somebody what tram
to take. What if I make a mistake? I don’t speak German. Yes, I see the
big information booth, but if I walk over there I will lose my place in
the taxi line. Plus everyone else is in the taxi line. They will think
I’m cheap and not hip if I take a tram instead of a taxi.

Here’s what goes through the brains of new business owners: I
know how my old manager managed me, so I’ll manage people like that.
There’s resources to help people like me out, I think, but I’m not quite
sure who to ask or what to say and if I say it wrong, people will think
I’m stupid. Besides, by asking, people will think I don’t know what I’m
doing, so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing even though it doesn’t
seem to be working very well.
Why do we do that? Why don’t we just ask the darn questions? There
are resources out there, but sometimes they require us to step outside
our comfort zones. Sometimes they require us to say, “Hey, I don’t have a
clue what I’m doing here. Can you help me out?” Sometimes it requires
that we ask a question of (gasp!) a subordinate who has more knowledge
and experience in that particular area.
If you start asking questions, you’ll find that there are fabulous
resources. You’ll find that there are (probably) better ways to do
whatever it is that you need to do. And if you are lucky enough to find
out that you’re doing it the best possible way, you can go forward with
confidence.
If those people waiting for the taxis were able to step outside their
comfort zone just a little and walk to the information booth, they’d
undoubtedly discover that there was information available in a language
they speak, their hotel was less than a block away from the tram stop,
and that a tram ticket will cost about five francs instead of the 40 to
50 they’ll have to pay for a taxi.
What will you find out if you step outside your comfort zone and ask?