The Big Picture Conversation

I feel like a broken record. Lately, I’ve been sitting down with founder friends of mine and having a discussion about how their business is going. Inevitably, I get a sense that even those with a lot of tactical successes or growth seem to be missing a larger purpose. Inevitably, we end up in a discussion about “the big picture.”

(via Anthony Shea)

That conversation goes something like this:

Rand: So what’s the big picture? Does (series of projects you’ve just described to me) get you there?

Founder: Well, we really love being good at client work and earning a good reputation in the industry, and (series of projects is helping).

Rand: OK, but there’s something else, right? If you look back ten years from now and feel amazing about the accomplishments you’ve made with this company, what’s been done? Is it just revenue? Or an exit? Is it solving a particular problem? Is it in services or product?

Founder: I’m not sure I know. 10 years is a long time.

Rand: Look, I’m in no position to judge. For the first 6 years of my “startup” career I did nothing but move around from project to project without any direction at all. But since we got more purpose and focus – a forcing function for our decisions and our time – it’s been night and day. Everything’s better. Success is measurable. There’s a framework for why as well as how. I can’t recommend it enough.

Founder: Huh. OK. I’m going to think about that.

Rand: Cool. Let me know if I can help.

I love helping companies of all shapes and sizes succeed. I especially love helping friends who are TAGFEE. But if you don’t know your vision and your mission, it’s hard for anyone, yourself included, to help in any way (except tactically).

The process I recommend is pretty basic:

  1. Read Jim Collins’ Good to Great (or if you need to cheat, the online article on the topic)
  2. Write down the problem(s) you want your company to solve on a sheet of paper
  3. On that same sheet of paper, write down your goals for the company outside of the specific product/service/market focus (e.g. financial goals, personal autonomy, time management goals, etc)
  4. Look at that piece of paper every day for 30 days. If, every day, you think the problem and the goals are still the right ones, you’re set. If not, change them and repeat the 30 day process until you get it.

Once you have the vision for your company set, so many things that were hard (what projects to say yes/no to, who to hire, how much to invest, whether to raise money or go solo, what to prioritize on your roadmap, how to rate your performance, etc) will become so much easier.

And I won’t sound like such a broken record next time we hang out 🙂

p.s. You can also read a 4-year old piece from SEOmoz, where I wrote about our attempts to do this. The BHAG’s certainly changed, but the core purpose, the core values and the value they’ve brought to decision-making remains unchanged and extremely positive.