Working on my business, not in it

Back when I met regularly with my mastermind business support group in Shanghai, we asked each other this question on a regular basis: “Are you working IN your business, or ON your business?”

Working in the business means that you’re doing a job. If you run a restaurant, you’re cooking something, or doing the books, or serving customers. If you’re running a blog, you’re writing articles or recruiting new writers, or cropping pictures, or sending out payment reminders to advertisers who forgot to pay their bills.

Working on the business means that you’re improving the whole company. You’re taking a step back, and looking at how the jobs are getting done, and looking for opportunities to improve them. It also means asking the tough questions like, “Are we in the right line of work?” and “Does anyone even care that we exist?”

There are two books that I recommend most often here. One is Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited, which talks about what happens when entrepreneurs get too caught up in the day-to-day operations of their business, and what to do about it. The other one is Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles, which I’ve often used as inspiration for weekly mastermind group activities.

Values and personality

Canfield’s book starts out with values exercises, and I recommend that everyone do a values exercise before making any other major changes to their business. Values change. Your personal values change as you move through life, and a company’s values change as it interacts with the world and as it brings on new management staff.

For example, ten years back my top concerns were my family and global economic development. As a result, I spent a lot of time working from home, to be close to my children, and spent the rest of my time traveling around China and the rest of Asia reporting on economic transformations.

Ten years before that, my concerns were human rights and international journalism, and I reported from civil wars, and wrote a book about the Geneva Conventions.

Now, my children are mostly out of the house, and my experience covering technology has changed my focus and values yet again. Today, the most important thing to me is how technology is transforming the world for the better.

There are a lot of values exercises out there if you search for them. Some simply have you make a list of things important to you. My favorite exercises come around to values from the back. For example, the exercise I just did is from the Find Your Why Workbook from Live Your Legend. One of the questions asks you to think about what makes you most angry about the state of the world, then to connect that to your work.

The next step for me is doing a personality assessment.

I’ve written about it before, in the post What kind of entrepreneur are you? In that article, I have a link to a free, fast and easy online personality assessment test. The results can vary a little bit from person to person, as your experience and interests shifts your focus over time.

For example, last time I took this test, I was 67 percent extroverted (versus 33 percent introverted) and 53 percent sensing (versus 47 percent intuitive). This put me firmly into a “manager” type of job function — like a Jack Welch or Meg Whitman or Steve Ballmer. This kind of person puts the company first, and focuses on it running smoothly. And this made sense, since I had recently run a large news bureau where I was focusing on building processes and helping employees grow and develop.

This time, though, I was up at 92 percent extroverted (just 8 percent introverted) and 76 percent intuitive (just 26 percent sensing). That puts me into a “star” type of job function — like an Oprah, Paul Newman, or Richard Branson. In this situation, a leader’s personal brand is what’s important, and they can use the power of their personality to promote their company or their causes.

I love being a guest on Metaverse Week in Review.
I love being a guest on Metaverse Week in Review.

My original intent for Hypergrid Business, for example, was to build a publication that many people contributed to, that was more than just a personal blog, and I chose a generic name that focused on the technology rather than on me, personally. But, over time, I’ve come to take on the role of a visible spokesperson. I give speeches, I write personal columns such as this one, and people refer to me by name. This is rare for technology journalists — sure, there are some brand-name writers out there, but for the most part when I write an article for, say, Network World, nobody calls me up or emails me personally to talk about it. The closest I get is usually a fake-personalized pitch from a PR company.

Now, the way to maximize your effectiveness in business is to figure out your strengths, and then go to town on them. Let other people handle the stuff that you’re weakest in — ideally, people for whom *those* are their strengths.

In my case, this means doubling down on the brand, and extending that brand to other products. The way that Richard Branson has extended his personality brand from music to cell phones to airlines and, most recently, to space travel. Or the way that Oprah extended her brand to a magazine and then to an entire television channel. Or the way that Paul Newman started out in the movies, but branched out  into salad dressing, pasta sauce and popcorn.

Aligning strengths and values

Once you’ve identified your values, and figured out where your strengths are, you can can take a look at your business — or your future business, if you haven’t started it yet — and check that everything is in agreement.

For example, if what’s important to you is curing cancer, and your strength is in creating back-end processes, than hosting a talk show promoting smoking is probably not in line with either.

So, my core value is promoting technology — specifically, immersive 3D technology. But my writing is currently serving mainly existing users of OpenSim. That needs to change — I need to broaden out to people who might be interested in this who are not current OpenSim users. Do more articles for newcomers, for example. And I need to be writing more for other publications, as well, promoting this technology.

My strength is my personal passion and visibility. My branding is not really in line with that. To start with, my name is almost impossible to pronounce! The only decent pictures of me were taken almost ten years ago, in China. I give a lot of speeches, both in person and in virtual settings, but I don’t really promote them anywhere. And I’m not actively building up my social media followers, just letting people find me on their own.

In fact, when I first started doing this, I was a little embarrassed by being too visible. I wanted the content to be front and center, not me. This was stupid — my passion is one of the things that’s most useful about me. Trying to tone that part of it down is like cutting myself off at the knees, helping sabotage the project before it even starts. It’s like telling a programmer: You can start your business, but don’t spend too much time coding because it’s too self-serving — focus on stuff you don’t like and aren’t good at, instead.

Is there anybody else out there in the same boat as me? Paddling with one oar because they don’t want to seem too pushy or too aggressive or too self-promoting? Email me! We should get together and compare notes. Maybe form a support group — as soon as we can figure out who gets to talk first, of course!

There’s a human tendency to assume that on the inside, everybody is just like us. If you’re a liar and a cheat, you see liars everywhere you look. If you’re loud and outspoken, you think other people, are, too — they’re just more polite about it. So you feel bad by comparison. But one thing that I learned from the business groups I’ve been in — and, most recently, from a leadership event that I was part of organized by the Society of Professional Journalists — is that everybody is different. Some people prefer to be in the spotlight. Others actually prefer to be working behind the scenes. They don’t mind being recognized for what they do — nobody minds that! — but they’d rather not be out in front of the public, making speeches.

So if you’re a person who likes working behind the scenes, who likes creating systems and developing products, and isn’t that great at the promoting and marketing side of things — drop me a line. Maybe we can work together. As a team, we’d get more than twice as far as either one of us working alone.

Maria Korolov