[ A verion of this article first appeared in the June 2009 issue of Corporate Report Wisconsin.]
(This could be titled, “How John Lost His ‘Blink Factor’ … and How He Got It Back Again.”)
Like the cat that always lands on its feet, some entrepreneurs consistently seem to stroll through the mine fields of potential disaster and come back with juicy, successful deals every time. These are the people who always land on their feet, for whom the bread always hits the floor jelly-side-up … always. I have seen them. In fact, I used to be one.
Is it luck? Instinct? Intuition? Forget luck. No successful SBO can count on the coin flip for consistent success. Sure, luck helps, but that’s just the cherry on top of the sundae … nice if you get it, still just fine if you don’t. You will waste more time waiting for luck than you will gain by going out and seizing an opportunity.
No, ongoing success is the result of a combo of instinct and intuition. But here’s the rub: We’re talking about educated instinct, learned intuition. Successful entrepreneurs don’t just decide arbitrarily what will work and what will not; they decide based on a ton of background research, keen observation and focused attention.
For me, it was nothing more mystic than relentless focus. I’d decide what I wanted and then I’d become something of a mini-expert in the field. Then, once I’d done massive research, I’d make an instinctive decision that felt right in my gut.
For example, a few years ago, I decided I wanted to acquire property that would give me cost-free office space and that would also be a good investment. I did my homework and learned everything I could about investment property and local property values. I also spread the word that I was in the market.
Voila! I was approached by a property owner eager to sell. I ended up buying a large, two-story building for $18,000, relocated my office in it for four years (thereby eliminating my rent payment) and actually earning rent from a tenant. I sold it four years later for $95,000.
This is what Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book, Blink. As Gladwell points out, there are things we know in an instant, in the blink of an eye (the concept is technically labeled “rapid cognition”) that can defy months of painstaking research. It’s about things that your mind or some inner part knows before you realize it. For example, the author talks about some supposedly-ancient statues a museum purchased. After months of investigation into their authenticity, they declared them real. However, after the fact, two other experts looked at them and immediately – in the blink of an eye — declared them to be fakes, which they were.
That’s how it can be in business. I could look at a deal and – in the blink of an eye – tell whether it was worth pursuing or best left untouched. Yes, it was a gut feeling, but based on a whole lot of research and background.
Then I lost it. How? Two things happened: First, I began to think I had some intuition, some uncanny instinct … so I stopped doing the research. Bad decision Second, I began to listen too much to advisors and others who had other agendas. In other words, I began to attempt to accommodate other objectives into my research, and I lost my focus. Super bad decision. And, yes, I did get it back by returning to what I had known/learned long ago.
The point: Set crystal clear goals, become a mini-expert in the field, and then keep your eyes open for that opportunity that, when you see it, makes your heart flip and your gut say, YES! That’s the entrepreneurial instinct.
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