From coaching entrepreneurs in my little town to observing one my personal heroes die with grace and dignity, I’ve learned that it preparing for success is far more interesting and productive than predicting failure. [more]
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
That’s the inscription on a paperweight I like to gift at graduations.
That thought occurred to me while working with our incubator businesses in a workshop last week. The work we do is a pilot on a street in my home town of Ashtabula, Ohio. The town has been devastated – long before the recession – by industrial flight.
But what we do have is Lake Erie and many other physical gifts which bring lots of visitors in the summertime.
A year ago, when our work began on Bridge Street, I asked our retailers what they do during the winter months. They said, “We simply die down here – there’s no one on the street when the snow flies”.
Their prediction was certainly correct – and obvious – and so I suggested that instead of just predicting, let’s start preparing for the winter of 2010.
Fast forward to last Monday when I asked each business in attendance to tell the group what they were doing to survive the next 90 days.
A couple of the gift shops said, “We’re taking our work to shows.”
Another gift shop said, “We’ve established a website to sell our handmade work”.
A restaurant said, “We’ve developed our catering leads.”
The coffee shop said, “We’re selling our wholesale beans (they bought a roaster) to the restaurant and office trade this winter.”
See, the way I view things, anyone can predict the obvious. Fewer prepare, especially if the prediction is negative.
In 1988, when I was out of work and considering opening a consulting firm, there was no shortage of friends who could tell me that 9 of 10 new businesses – particularly consulting businesses – fail. Like the paperweight says, they thought I couldn’t.
But I decided to prepare, pretending that I could.
So I prepared for the worst. That is, Alice and I knew exactly what we’d do if we failed. But of course we also prepared, and worked our bums off for the less likely outcome of success.
We built a database of every person who we knew who might help connect us to buyers.
We created a unique positioning for the consultancy that would attract those buyers.
We priced our service based on deliverables (value), particularly versus the other consultants.
Then we started sending our message in a friendly little newsletter called Marketalk every month to every person we knew. And every day I forced myself to make 6 phone calls and send 6 hand written notes to new prospects.
It took 19 years but the prognosticators, while right about the market, were wrong about us.
The theme prepare vs. predict is perfect for people looking for a job right now, too. That is, I say to them “Yes, the market is horrible, but you only need one job so let’s get to work at preparing!”
As an old boss told me once, “When the plane’s going down anyway, why not grab the joy stick and push as hard as you can against it?”
Here’s the most amazing story of preparation over prediction I’ve ever experienced. This person, Jan McCoy McCarthy is my inspiration in life and business.
In 1985, Jan and my brother learned she had Sarcoma, a rare and terminal form of cancer. At best, her doctor said, she might live 5 years but most cases terminated in 2 years.
After the shock of his prediction subsided, Jan began to prepare.
She set up her home with her bed in their living room at the center of the family action.
At the time, she had a college girl, a couple of high schoolers and an 8 year old son. I remember her saying “I doubt that I’ll be around that long but I’d sure like to get Danny (the 8 year old) through high school so I’m going to prepare as if I can”.
And for the next eleven years, she not only mothered her baby boy brilliantly but she also continued to pursue many of her other loves, including selling real estate through a partner, putting on family dinners, parties, weekly meetings and church services at her house.
Most inspirationally, she counseled and uplifted people like me who came to visit and take care of poor Jan. Alice and I often remarked when we left Jan’s that we felt stronger and more optimistic about life. She had that kind of effect on people.
And ultimately, she witnessed each of her kids graduate from college. And she saw her youngest son, Danny, graduate from Cleveland St. Ignatius High School in 1995.
She left this world from an empty nest, as she had prayed and hoped and prepared for doing.
And 25 years later she remains the penultimate model for me of why I should prepare rather than predict. Anyone can predict and yet few prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.
When we gathered for Jan’s homecoming in late May, 1996, I don’t remember a single person talking about Jan’s death.
We only spoke of her living……and preparing…..for the worst, and for the best.