News & Opinion

O is for Optimism

Sally Haldorson

August 17, 2011


"D" words are being used quite liberally these days. Double Dip. Dollar.

"D" words are being used quite liberally these days.

Double Dip. Dollar. Down. Debt. Debate. Dissent. Downgrade. Desperation.

Dum...dum...dum (that's the sound of impending Doom.)

Despite all of the bad financial news that is inescapable every time you turn on the radio, tv or Internet, there are plenty of entrepreneurial folks out there who are trying to make their small businesses take off or at least sustain life despite the harsh economic climate. Kudos to those who maintain a brave face and clear, moderate goals (hang on!) while they ride the roller coaster--it's not easy. A new article in Inc. magazine asks the question, Will Small Business Optimism Ever Recover? and reports that "[i]t's a tie between small business owners who think the economy and their businesses will improve—and those who think both will tank...."

This is a pretty sharp departure in tone from the distinctly hopeful and encouraging "leave the grind behind and set out on a quest to small business success" stuff that we have been reading over the last five years or so. That's not to say that success isn't possible. And by being lean, fast, and focused, you increase your chances of creating a company that peaks at just the right time. Small business owners are, after all, optimists. Optimism is not optional when you take the kinds of risks that small business owners take. Ah, "O" words! So much better than the "D" words. One new book coming out in September will have you focused on yet another great "O" word--obsessions--to help you reinvigorate your optimism.

The Method Method by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry

From the bright and bubbly cover to the subtitle, 7 Obsessions that Helped Our Scrappy Start-Up Turn an Industry Upside Down, it's pretty hard not to smile when you pick up a copy of The Method Method. After all, part of what makes the Method brand so appealing as you stand in front of the shelves at Target is the style. The style of the bottles, the quirky descriptions, the atypical colors. (I'm personally a big fan of their toilet bowl cleaner Lil' Bowl could you not be?) It's all quite deliberate as The Method Method, described as "an irreverent, candid firsthand case study", explains. From establishing a very specific corporate culture ("Building weirdness into how you operate as a company isn't as difficult as it might sound--as long as you start at the beginning with whom you hire.") that includes Monday Huddles, Come Clean surveys and corporate events where everyone is given a cape or celebrating Corndog Appreciation Day to staying committed to risky strategy plans like Kick Ass at Fast that requires "balance between long-term thinking and short-term innovation and speed...", Method is determined to do it their way. But their way is really about doing it your way, about creating a customer experience that will "transform mundane chores into pleasurable experiences" while also creating a "formula [that] is gentle enough to be safe on the skin yet powerful enough to stand up alongside its mainstream competitors." Why the focus on customer experience? "After all, products can be copied, but experiences are one of a kind." As is Method. And The Method Method will help you: "Find your own obsessions. Discover what drives you. Bring a higher purpose to your career and your life."

While The Method Method will certainly inspire you during these somewhat dark times, and is one of the most enjoyable reads you will have in the small business sub-genre, perhaps you also feel the need for a more scientific approach to "penetrate...uncertainty about what customers will ultimately embrace, and discover a path to a successful business." Eric Ries' The Lean Startup is that book. Ries presents "a set of practices for helping entrepreneurs increase their odds of building a successful startup."

Looking for an even more basic primer that will help you make your dream of being an entrepreneur into a reality, a reality that requires learning business basics, establishing best practices, getting things done, and managing your company? From Idea to Success: The Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network Guide for Start-Ups by Gregg Fairbrothers and Tessa Winter is an absolute must for your bookshelf.

But let's say you have a successful business and you are being "bombarded with a flurry of "advice" on how to grow fast, be more profitable, and imitate other successful start-ups" and, well, you don't want to! How do you create a business that is sustainable, but that is, to paraphrase Goldilocks, just the right size for you? Enter The Big Enough Company: Creating a Business that Works for You by Adelaide Lancaster & Amy Adams. These authors take a somewhat different look at small business ownership, encouraging readers to "[build] a business you enjoy running without caving under the pressure to grow." How? By focusing on what you want from your business, what its purpose is, when your work and your company's work feels its most authentic, learning how to do less and sometimes say no, and how to engage with others so that what growth you do welcome can be supported instead of self-sustained.

And while this book might not seem like an obvious choice for small business owners seeking guidance, it is a book that will show you that anything is possible, that "there are lessons in Israel's example that apply not only to other nations, but also to individuals seeking to build a thriving organization: Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle by Dan Senor and Saul Singer

Opportunity. Optimism. Ownership. Obsession. "O" words are much better words. (Though maybe in this volatile economic climate we need a little "Om" too.)

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