Say yes, and you'll figure it out afterwards.....

16th Mar 2015

For years we have had a small sign on the Peak Mountaineering office wall.  It says, quite simply, 'say yes, and you'll figure it out afterwards'.  I came across it somewhere in the early stages of running a business and liked it.  It seemed to capture the essence of entrepreneurship.  Grab every chance and don't let any opportunity slip through your fingers.  It is still on the wall but, some time down the rocky business road, I view it very differently.  
Anyone in business, those who work on a freelance basis or, indeed anyone trying to climb a career ladder - we all face decisions about which path to take.  Sometimes there is a straight and obvious path and sometimes junctions appear that lead you off at tangents.  Each of these new paths could be a fantastic new opportunity.  They could lead you to a life of material riches, a new business direction that fulfils you or a step up the career ladder that changes your life.  Of course, they could also be a hopeless dead end that either leads nowhere or, at worst, gets you lost from your main path and retrospectively seems to have been a big mistake.  If you take an opportunity on the fringes of your experience level this new path could also very likely mean you don't deliver to your strengths. 
So, following a policy of saying yes all the time can lead to problems.  Maybe a policy of saying maybe, figuring it out and then saying yes or, perhaps, being willing to say this opportunity isn't for me.  This is a safer option although it doesn't make for such a catchy office wall sign!  How do we make the right choices and avoid the wrong turns.  Very difficult.
I have had a few discussions with fellow business people and colleagues recently that were prime examples of this.  One colleague, although still running a very successful outdoor business, lamented that his current business bore no relation to the one he had envisaged when he started out.  His vision was exploratory adventures and challenging mountain days pushing his, and his clients, boundaries.  His business had morphed into leading tea shop walks and sightseeing tours.  For him, the previous year had only involved a handful of mountain days.
Last night I had another conversation with another colleague.  He described a rigid pathway.  When people enquired about his services he would listen to their request and, provided it fitted his criteria of extreme mountain adventure, he would offer to do it at his above market rate prices.  If they accepted that was fine.  If they baulked at the cost or his strict pathway, that was fine too.  He was quite happy for them to go elsewhere as long as he kept to his own select path.
I have no idea who is right or wrong in these examples.  The first colleague maybe needs to refocus some of his energies on his own passion while keeping some of the less adventurous, but ultimately profitable, soft core tours running alongside.  Maybe the single track colleague is missing  some great opportunities and should consider more flexibility.  He can also only follow this single minded approach as long as it provides enough for his low cost lifestyle (he lives out of a van!) but maybe when his income needs change he will need to be more broad minded.  
The trick, of course, is to find the balance.  We may all need to do the slightly less interesting work that pays the mortgage - as long as we also provide the soul food work that fuels our passion.  If we don't then surely our own disillusionment shines through to those we work with.  Everyone I know that works in the outdoor industry came to the job from a personal love of the outdoors - how can we keep that love if we are unfulfilled by the work?
For Peak Mountaineering our aim is always to keep the focus on our mountaineering roots.  Our soul food is the mountains and our passion is sharing that soul food with our clients.  We feed off the experiences of others and we don't want to be side tracked by wrong turns or dead ends.
The trick, I think, is to read the signposts that get flagged up along the path.  To not blindly follow a path without gathering the information and investigating whether that path will be a good choice.  We certainly don't want to avoid every path - we just want to be selective.  If you have a clear vision of what you want from your business then the signposts, as they flash up along the journey, will be easier to read.  Not accepting every opportunity may actually be a better way to roll.  
So, rather than 'saying yes and figuring it out afterwards' we may be best rethinking that sign.  How does 'say maybe, and you'll figure it out before committing' sound!?
Posted by Paul