Blurry Lights

Self-reliance is something that I’ve always valued and equate with personal strength. It’s a magical mixture of initiative, imagination, and tenacity. It’s one of the reasons that self-funding a business is so attractive.  However, lately I’ve began to question its utility for entrepreneurs.

When You Know Much It’s Easy to Do Much

I sent an email to our project manager a few weeks ago. It read:

I feel like there are regular occurrences of things getting hung up without my direct involvement.

What role might we be missing on the team? Who would replace me if I ended up in the hospital for a month?

I often explain my position in our company as, “sort of a glue position.” I fill in the gaps to keep things working.  This came about because I know much about the positions in our business… because I’ve done them all.

This is common for us self-reliant, self-funded, business owners.

It’s also a huge problem because it’s easy to be the “glue” for your business and get sucked into operations instead of figuring out how to predictably manage all those gaps without your involvement.

You end up doing the work that many other people could do instead of the work that only you can do— running the business.

Blind to Collective Knowledge

Another bad habit of self-reliance is a lack of interest in looking to others for answers.

When I have an obstacle to overcome, I’ll think deeply about it and the challenges that it presents. I might do some research to shore up my knowledge before coming up with a plan and taking action.

What I have routinely failed to do is ask others how they might overcome it. I didn’t realize what I was missing out on until recently.

I’ve been trying to find online channels to reach our target customer of agency owner. It’s tricky because the owners I’ve talked to identify more as entrepreneurs than agency owners. This makes online marketing more difficult because there are few websites that speak directly to them. To put it another way, graphic designers might hang out in the same communities and comment on the same blogs, but agency owners are more likely to read posts on Inc, watch Shark Tank, and participate in general entrepreneurship communities.

In my conversations with peers and agency owners, I’ve explained this challenge and started to ask them, “What would you do?”

The feedback that I’ve received has transformed my options. I’ve discovered ideas and approaches that I was blind to. People have different experience, perspective, and knowledge and even if my initial answers may be good, they’re not nearly as diverse or deep as the pool of experience that I can bring in by asking for help.

There is a wealth of knowledge out there to be tapped and all you have to do is demonstrate an ounce of humility.

Independence is a Different Kind of Weakness

I characterized self-reliance as something I consider a strength.  However, in the context of business, it seems more like a weakness:

  • Fear of relying upon others hampers your willingness to hire and keeps your business in the slow lane because your eyes aren’t on the road.
  • Ignorance to the strengths, knowledge, and stories of others limits what you can learn to your experiences.

Self-reliance is an invaluable attribute for solo endeavors like sailing across the Atlantic.  But building a business is a social enterprise.  It’s more like crossing a city without a map or GPS.

How interdependent you are controls your ability to access the vast amount of resources that the social web your business inhabits possesses.

Maybe it’s time to show a little backbone and ask someone for directions?