Remembering you are going to die is the best way that I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.
–Steve Jobs (cf. WSJ)
This past week we celebrated the last triple date of the century—12/12/12. Many of us are apprehensively looking ahead to the end of the Mayan long-count calendar: 12/21/12. Some of us are excited to experience a new energy in the new year.
Some are preparing—and profiting from—the “end of the world.” Mexico and several Latin American countries are promoting end of the world celebrations replete with fireworks, music and feasting. They are going out of this world with a bang, not a whimper!
Many others are celebrating a liminal season called Advent, the four weeks of preparation for celebrating the birth of Jesus. Interestingly, “advent” is a double entendre: Advent, the Anglicized version of the Latin adventus, or coming, is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Parousia refers to the belief of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. We hear echoes of this in that ominous business term, the “come-to-Jesus” meeting.
The kernel of thought behind celebrating the Nativity is the incarnation, immanuel, Hebrew for “God-with-us.” For the followers of Jesus, his life as a man is like an acorn that promises in its burial, the hope of not only an oak tree, but multitudes of acorns thereafter. All from that single acorn that “dies”!
What does this have to do with business? Like Steve Jobs, we all face death—whether we believe it will come on Dec. 21 or in the distant future. Perhaps we all need a 12/21/12 to get real about our lives and our business.
You’re probably accustomed to using SMART goals or a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) to plan your business. Oliver Burkeman explains the downside to these methods in his recent book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, as excerpted in the Wall Street Journal:
Research by Saras Sarasvathy, an associate professor of business administration at the University of Virginia, suggests that learning to accommodate feelings of uncertainty is not just the key to a more balanced life but often leads to prosperity as well. For one project, she interviewed 45 successful entrepreneurs, all of whom had taken at least one business public. Almost none embraced the idea of writing comprehensive business plans or conducting extensive market research.
They practiced instead what Prof. Sarasvathy calls “effectuation.” Rather than choosing a goal and then making a plan to achieve it, they took stock of the means and materials at their disposal, then imagined the possible ends. Effectuation also includes what she calls the “affordable loss principle.” Instead of focusing on the possibility of spectacular rewards from a venture, ask how great the loss would be if it failed. If the potential loss seems tolerable, take the next step.
The ultimate value of the “negative path” may not be its role in facilitating upbeat emotions or even success. It is simply realism. The future really is uncertain, after all, and things really do go wrong as well as right. We are too often motivated by a craving to put an end to the inevitable surprises in our lives.
Some believe that the Mayan long calendar is circular: it will begin again with the coming of an age we all inherently long for. Followers of Jesus likewise believe that the Nativity foreshadows a greater future Parousia celebration. Sometimes a little anticipatory pessimism can bring out the best!
Consider setting a “Come-to-Jesus” meeting with yourself as business owner to effectuate your business.
1. Set a date and time when you will have this meeting.
2. Ask yourself: What are my current resources?
3. Ask yourself: What are my greatest fears? What keeps me up at night?
4. Then consider: In light of these factors, what does “moving forward in 2013” mean to me?