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You’ve probably heard the saying “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” That’s because the world is in constant flux. If you stand still for too long, you’ll be left behind.
We know that companies continually need to innovate, or they’ll fall prey to a younger or nimbler company. But I believe that growth is critical for entrepreneurs as well. Every entrepreneur has an opportunity to innovate, create new jobs and have an impact on society. It’s our responsibility to continually grow and push forward, often beyond our comfort zones. Here are five things I try to do to grow as an entrepreneur.
1. Seek out diverse points of view.
It’s valuable to get the counsel of someone who has done it before, but I think we can get too fixated on having a mentor. The truth is, one single perspective isn’t enough. It’s better to seek out advice from a variety of people with different life and business experiences.
When asked what he does for his professional development, Allen Lau, founder of Wattpad, spoke about the importance of a peer group. “I have a group of CEOs, where we meet every two months, we lock the doors and turn off phones for three hours. …It is a free environment where we can share some of our challenges, and I can utilize the power of my peers to help solve my problems and vice versa.”
You might choose to have regularly scheduled meetings with your band of peers, or just informally meet a colleague or two for coffee or a walk. Just be sure to expose yourself to a variety of life experiences and philosophies. And, if the people you talk to always agree with you, you’re meeting with the wrong people.
2. Read books and articles.
For many new entrepreneurs, first mentors are often found in the pages of books and blogs. Much can be learned from the writings of others, and fortunately today, people are sharing their experiences more than ever.
One survey found that 88 percent of the world’s wealthiest people read for at least 30 minutes each day. By comparison, only two percent of the general population reads this much on a daily basis.
Read (or re-read) chapters in books, blog posts and articles to absorb new ideas and skills. Some concepts may not be directly relevant to what you’re doing today, but may come in handy a year or so down the road. My advice is to find those writers and leaders who resonate with you. You’ll know when you’ve hit on something when you find yourself returning to a book for answers and inspiration time and time again.
3. Perform SWOT Analyses.
Business school students and old-school marketers should be very familiar with mapping out SWOT Analysis charts (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) for any new project or product. I like to apply a similar analysis for my strengths and weaknesses as a leader and entrepreneur. On a side note, I use the same tool to help improve my marriage and personal relationships, but that’s another article.
If you’ve never made a SWOT chart, you essentially write out the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in four quadrants on a paper. In reality, you can just jot down a few notes on the back of a cocktail napkin, but despite the simplicity, if done right, a SWOT can shed light on crucial areas that need improving.
I suggest writing out your chart — even if it’s just on a napkin — and saving it for accountability. There’s no point in identifying weak areas if you don’t take steps to improve them. Most importantly, don’t shy away from the truth. Dissecting your weaknesses is never fun, but no good comes from avoiding the truth.
4. Law of growth.
One of my favorite concepts surrounding growth comes from Around the Year with Emmet Fox. The idea is that our thoughts are powerful, and how we choose to occupy our minds can have a profound impact in shaping our future.
Fox writes: “What you think upon grows. Whatever you allow to occupy your mind you magnify in your life. …The more you think about your grievances or the injustices that you have suffered, the more such trials you will continue to receive; the more you think of good fortune you have had, the more good fortune will come to you.”
Examine what you spend your time thinking about. Are you dwelling on the negative? If so, try to swing the pendulum toward more positive thoughts, appreciation for what’s going well and a confident vision of the future. As entrepreneurs, we have a unique opportunity to shape our own futures. But, it’s up to us to carve this path. And so I continually remind myself, as I think, so shall I become.
5. Take regular breaks.
Running a business is like a marathon, not a sprint. If you don’t pace yourself, and maybe stop for the occasional break, you’ll burn out pretty quickly. Some entrepreneurs I know sacrifice everything for their business for years on end. But looking back, no one ever thinks “I really wish I had taken fewer vacations.”
The simple truth is we are better at things — and happier doing them — when we take regular breaks. As a dancer, I know that one needs to take regular breaks from training. It’s the same for entrepreneurship. Downtime not only helps recharge the batteries, but having unstructured time when the mind is free to wander, inspires new ways of thinking. Some of my most creative ideas and solutions have come while walking on the beach or driving to the gym.
The bottom line? In order to grow as an entrepreneur, it’s important to nourish your whole self and continue to do all the things you love.