CEO/Founders: Don’t Dare Dance with the Moonwalking Bear

Let me make one thing clear up front Mr./Ms. Entrepreneur – I’m your biggest fan!

Several years ago I started the Economy Heroes Movement with the goal to recognize and support those individuals that take the risks, innovate, and create the jobs that change our lives.  I am convinced that Economy Heroes are America’s competitive advantage in the world economy.

Economy Heroes pic 2

That said, I ask you to keep an open mind as I offer some observations that could be considered by some as a “burr under the saddle.”  The fact is, I’m committed to your success and it’s essential that I help you to get radically objective.

Watch this 2 minute video:

The technical term is “Inattentive Blindness” as identified and defined by author Christopher Chabris in his researched-based book, The Invisible Gorilla. Inattentive Blindness is a fascinating phenomenon that occurs when we miss the obvious because – we don’t expect it; equally important, we’re not looking for it.

We’ve worked with hundreds of the fastest growing companies in the country since 2008. They’ve all experienced rapid growth, increased staff, and enjoyed momentum for a few years. The counter-intuitive subtitle to my partner’s best selling book, No Man’s Land, is “When Growing Companies Fail.” All growing companies, regardless of industry or even nationality, eventually hit a wall as hard as granite and treacherous as quicksand. These companies don’t see the wall coming until they hit it; even though the symptoms are dancing around them like the Moonwalking Bear. Do any of these feel familiar:

  • The leadership team (inner circle) is out of sync on strategy
  • The leadership team is not accountable for performance
  • The leadership team members can’t articulate the same company Value Proposition
  • The CEO/Founder does not delegate responsibility effectively
  • The right (experienced) people are not in the right spots on the leadership team
  • The leadership team struggles to prioritize and execute effectively
  • The company doesn’t generate an adequate ROI in its investments
  • The company lacks an efficient economic model to forecast decisions and financial performance
  • The company does not manage risk effectively
  • The company lacks adequate capital to fund growth

No Man’s Land is a universal, inevitable, unavoidable Moonwalking Bear.  No Man’s Land has been proven, especially over the past 25 years, to stall over 90% of fast growth companies – industry neutral. The No Man’s Land transitions are as close to business “truth” as it gets; and there are three critical steps to capitalizing on truth when it’s available:

Know the Truth

Truth is elusive only when it’s not sought.  You can know the truth of what you will inevitably face in No Man’s Land, if you want to know it.  But you must know it in order to break through it.  There are reasons that 90% of growing companies either stall or fail at this stage; and most of those reasons concern a lack of objectivity, self-awareness, and the willingness to learn.

Embrace the Truth

It’s one thing to know the truth, it’s an entirely different step to embrace the truth; to internalize the reality of your condition and recognize The Moonwalking Bear. The famous Stockdale Paradox as defined by author Jim Collins in his iconic book “Good to Great” tells the story of Admiral William Stockdale, the highest ranking POW in the Vietnam War, and his answer to the question, “How did you and your cellmates survive seven years in a concentration camp?”

I didn’t say anything for many minutes, and we continued the slow walk toward the faculty club, Stockdale limping and arc-swinging his stiff leg that had never fully recovered from repeated torture. Finally, after about a hundred meters of silence, I asked, “Who didn’t make it out?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”

“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.

“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say,‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Another long pause, and more walking. Then he turned to me and said, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

To this day, I carry a mental image of Stockdale admonishing the optimists: “We’re not getting out by Christmas; deal with it!”

The truth of No Man’s Land is not easy to embrace.  It takes emotional intelligence and humility to realize that your “baby”, that thing that has become an inextricable part of your ego and identity, may be “outgrowing” you and your ability to control it.  But it’s much better to embrace the truth than to slide down the fatal path of the optimist.

Act on the Truth

It takes guts, focus, common sense, and often external expertise to act on the truth of second stage growth issues.  Hard decisions, prioritization, effective resource allocation, accurate financial forecasting, and additional capital are in your future execution plan if you take steps to act on the truth.

Question: Are you dancing with the Bear, or setting a trap for it? If any of these symptoms sound familiar, seek help now, not later. Know the truth, Embrace the truth, and Act on the truth of No Man’s Land. Don’t let the bear sneak up on you.

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