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Demosthenes was a great 4th-century B.C.E. orator. His power to conate (act purposefully in the same direction) to perfect his craft are legendary. He spent endless hours developing his skills in diction, projection, and gesture. In fact, because Demosthenes suffered from a speech impediment, he purportedly sharpened his skills by learning to speak with stones in his mouth, forcing him to enunciate.
In order to succeed, we all adapt to speaking with stones in our mouths so that we can be “heard” in every situation. Unfortunately, we keep many of these stones in our mouths long after their usefulness has ended. Let’s examine the stones that may yet remain in our heads.
You may have first put stones in your mouth as you adapted to the Corporate Way. Your corporate ascendancy depended on learning the competencies that not only served the corporation but also your personal and professional goals. In the early 2000s, a key competency was mastering a .NET framework but now it’s mastering the Ruby on Rails framework. Before, a key competency was learning to align with the top-down departmental strategy, reinforcing corporate silos; now, it’s building cross-divisional, collaborative virtual teams. In the rapidly changing corporate landscape today, companies evolve quickly and often leave behind those who have failed to continually adapt.
For those who left large companies (voluntarily or involuntarily), some of the stones bear messages like:
- “My company left me behind”
- “ They treated me like ‘deadwood’”
- “I remember the ‘good ole days’ when…”
- “I want to get back to security.”
You could still be trying to talk through stones that shaped your speech into a role you no longer have.
Do you find yourself instead on the Entrepreneurial Way? For both better and worse, our companies reflect who we are as business owners. The stones you’ve put in your mouths have shaped the diction of you as entrepreneurs. What are some of those stones?
One of the stones of the Entrepreneurial Way is the stone of Fear—paralysis by over-analysis. Delaying hard decisions to hire/fire, invest, or cut costs is a sure sign that our basal ganglia, our lizard brains, are driving our behaviors. We decouple from our cerebral cortex and our ability to be intentional when we talk around and surrender to this stone of Fear.
A second related stone is Greed. It shows up as the fool’s gold of taking action to maximize revenue without counting the cost—taking the “Fire, ready, aim” approach to building a business. This stone keeps us from asking the hard questions like: how will chasing this shiny object of revenue today impact my firm’s capacity? Cash flow? Current customers? Employees?
A third stone is the stone of Busyness—hyper-activity without focus. This stone keeps us believing that if we’re busy putting out fires, we’re being effective but such activity is just keeping us on the treadmill. We hope something good will come of all that activity but we don’t know where we’re heading. We’re not regularly stepping back to make sure our activity is building long-term value into our business.
Force yourself to recognize which stones are still in your mouth. Take the Liminal Way by spitting them out! We can identify the stones of our past corporate or entrepreneurial life, spit them out, and even regain our power as we rename them.
When you pass through this liminal dimension to renaming stones, the stones that have outlived their usefulness can empower you with their new names:
1. The “Corporate Outsider” stone becomes “Ms. Insider” stone. As a business owner, you create the boat to take you wherever you want to go. That boat is created from what’s inside you. You can rename the stone of “Outsider” a stone of “Insider” and with gratitude, take with you the skills, experience, and relationships garnered from that corporate experience.
2. The Entrepreneurial stone of Fear becomes Faith. You can choose to rename that Fear stone a Faith stone by asking: What act of Faith can I take today to move my business forward?
3. The Entrepreneurial stone of Greed becomes one of Gratitude. As long as we believe in the uni-dimensional economic model of “business as the battle over the allocation of scarce resources,” we retain that stone of greed in our mouths. What if we were to spit it out and rename it gratitude?
What else could you do once you spit out these stones?
Collect a bag of smooth river pebbles or rocks from your garden.
- Identify the stones figuratively stuck in your mouth. What are your corporate or entrepreneurial stones?
- Now rename those stones, writing the new names on sticky notes. Attach one to each stone. Keep these renamed stones on your nightstand or desk.
- Pick one stone a week to focus on. Consider, for example, how you will choose Faith over Fear this week. Look for opportunities to either put that stone back in your mouth or leave it out on your desk!