Ask For Help

I was raised to “go figure it out”.

This DIY mindset was reinforced through years of education and employment in traditional, corporate environments. If there was a problem that I didn’t have the answer to, I would naturally slide into problem solving mode to independently determine different ways to ensure progress. By and large, this mindset has served me well. It has taught me to be resilient in the face of challenges, even when it’s not the popular path forward. It’s left me with an open, achievement-oriented approach with less limitations, because I am a DIY business woman.

Extra Shot

This caffeinated contribution was written by Laurie Brown. I had the pleasure of collaborating with this operational savant through her work inside the Kauffman Foundation and with 1 Million Cups. Laurie is now helping fellow founders optimize their own business operations, so let me know if you’d like a warm introduction.

Lately, I’ve been re-thinking this approach. Perhaps my DIY mindset should include more asking for help?

Within a recent career transition, I’ve been exploring this new attitude through an experiment. On numerous occasions, I’ve encountered unknowns. In these moments of uncertainty, I’ve resisted my life-long instinct to figure out every answer on my own. Instead, I have started asking myself, who in my network might be able to help me learn?  As this experiment has unfolded, I have three key takeaways.

  1. Asking for help drives results. I can learn from others who have pioneered effective solutions, which saves me time (and pain) along the way.
  2. The collaboration from these exchanges go beyond the problem at hand. Many times it strengthens relationships, the fun of helping each other forms friendships, and mutual professional growth is a welcomed side effect.
  3. By leading the way to ask for help, I serve as a role model to my peers and open the door from them to ask me for help in return.

My DIY ways will continue to serve me well, but I’ve learned that an added dose of curiosity and willingness to listen can add fresh layers of potential. I’ll continue to carry forward my resilient, solution-driven approach, but plan to incorporate more inclusive problem solving and an “AFH attitude” within my engaged network. This will keep problems from staying problems, while also creating a new catalyst for prosperity.

Shifting Gears

Can you hear a distant motorcycle bolting into the night?

Hearing the sound of speed puts that wind in my face, but twas the night before we kicked off the 2022 class for Techstars Iowa Accelerator. This had me reflecting on the gear shifting that occurs in any growth process.

That first gear of any manual transmission is dedicated to initiating motion. It won’t get you very far, but as the red line arrives, a shift bring you into the next gear that builds on the momentum. As that next gear tops out, yet another shifts moves you further, with higher gears that eventually brings you to full speed.

Extra Shot

I owned a fast motorcycle in college. I treated the danger with redeeming respect, but after pushing this Yamaha FZR600 to 150mph, it was time to sell it…on eBay. In addition to speeding up, shifting gears also helps us slow down. Now I’m more of a convertible guy, cruising toward that wonderful wind in my face.

Any journey is a dance, but your destination would not have been reached without an ability to temporarily lose power in exchange for more lasting capacity.  Whether it’s personal or business growth, intellectual humility and recognizing when you’ve reached a limit, provides awareness required to drop the clutch.

Winding Whys

Asking “why” seems to be innate.

As soon as kids learn to speak, the inquisitions begin. The first few whys may emerge from innocent curiosity, but it’s easy to tell when the game is underway.

It’s easy to see how endless whys may lead to frustration (especially when it’s bed time, eh), but I’ve found joy in making these winding whys into a fun challenge for myself. Instead of shutting things down, I enjoy trying to quickly answer every why with an accurate answer. Can I mindfully outlast the youngster’s attention span? What fun!

Extra Shot

I’ve enjoyed winding whys many times, but “Dad, why do you love me?” gave me pause. I found myself feeling appreciative as I tried to coalesce endless reasons into one answer.

As I poked around, it felt trite to reflect on how humans have so many whys we can not answer. Instead of going down the paradoxical path or leaning into understanding our own whys, I found the Five whys interesting.

Developed by system thinkers inside Toyota back in the 1980’s, this iterative Five whys technique was used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. When following 14 specific rules, after exactly five whys, the last answer often points to a process that is not working well or does not exist. This rigid technique has critics and would seemingly lead to shortsighted interpretations, but it was fun learning about this historic use of why. Knowing the value of complexity vs. simplification, as well as, so many other methods like active listening, Socratic questioning, casual diagrams, storytelling, inverse charisma, and pure wonder, the Five whys may not answer all the winding whys of our world, but perhaps it’s another tactic to throw in the mix.

Why not?

Open to Next

Setting goals and honest resolutions provide a useful purview into what’s next. It’s no secret that appreciating the past and planning for the future can provide a fresh boost during transition times. As this introspective activity warms your thoughts and emotions, joy awaits those who translate such enthusiasm into heartfelt energy that fuels sustained action.

As we look forward, dare to be different by also staying open to things not in the plan. This fluidity helps us avoid the limiting effect of being too rigid.

There are times to remain stringent in order to stay on course, but embracing the plot twists of life ensures that perseverance does not become misguided. Most people like the idea of being a free spirit, but openness can be fleeting, because we find solace by way of control. Think about the last big trip you planned. You locked in travel, accommodations, and maybe even a collection of planned activities. You basically craft a scripted adventure to experience for yourself. If all goes to plan, you’ll surely enjoy the trip, but how often does everything go exactly to plan? Almost never, yet the unexpected detours often lead to the best stories.

Extra Shot
Higher the contrast, better the story.

Openness laced through different types of short and long-term goals, activated by habits that churn goals into surpassing accomplishment, provides clarifying direction with space left over to welcome serendipity. Letting go to stay open can become a source of anxiety, but the unknown can be an exciting place where possibility allows us to discover what’s next.

Feedback is Data

Customer discovery paves the path to profitability.

This really is the work for entrepreneurs starting a new business. Customer discovery requires curiosity, patience, humility, hard work, thick skin, an interest in being wrong, discernment, and a willingness to adapt.

For many entrepreneurs, impartial feedback can be scary. Customer discovery puts our ideas on the hook and conversations with strangers may contradict past assumptions, but that’s the point! Interacting with the market you seek to serve allows us to learn from “no” in a way that gets us to “yes.” As you collaborate with those who criticize what you’re building, learn why naysayers disagree with your hypotheses. Be humble and make your concepts more compelling to change their minds.

Collecting such real-world data is human and intellectual capital that will attract more network and financial capital. The more you learn from others, the more you’ll recognize—and be able to meet—true demand. This can be a protracted process, which can make it feel unnecessary, but honest feedback will strengthen your value proposition and allow you to eventually go further in the right direction.

When learning from the perspective of others, remember that feedback is only data. This data should be collected, organized, and examined like a scientist. Inference is more effective with more data, so the more feedback you have, the easier it can be to make decisions.

As you translate feedback into action, you must also find your own way. Even with good intent, people who provide you feedback are doing so based on their own experiences. The experience of others is based on the past and is unlikely to harmonize with your exact situation. There are many ways to build your business, so perpetually gather as much feedback as possible and use diversified data to guide your company toward product-market fit.

Extra Shot

My community visit with 1MC Joplin was sweet, this feature article was a neat chance to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, I’m gathering my own feedback by presenting Pour Over Publishing at 1 Million Cups Des Moines, and the much anticipated YDNTB audiobook is almost done!