It Depends

People ask me what we do all the time. I generally say something about helping entrepreneurs and privately held companies build better futures. If I was my client I’d tell myself I need a better answer. Physician heal thyself.

We work with clients all the time on this issue. Can you define what you do in a single sentence without the use of the word ‘and’?

It’s a great discipline. And the truth is that if a short elevator ride is not long enough to explain the value you offer your customers, you’re probably not entirely sure yourself. And that communicates itself in big ways - and small.

I’ve been conscious of that. If someone asks me the question today I’d tell them this.

“We provide context. Because without context, any decision you make is a guess.”

At the simplest level, everything in life requires a context before you can understand what to do next.

‘Where am I?’ At a desk. In a room. In a building. On the 30th floor. In New York. On East 26th Street. Near Sixth Avenue. That’s seven pieces of context I need before I can even decide what to do about dinner.

Fortunately as a species we’ve developed memory and cognitive reasoning. So we don’t consciously have to go through that analysis every instant of every moment. Except the part about dinner.

When you run your own business you apply cognitive reasoning to an infinite number of situations every day. Some people are better at it than others. Every experience gives them more context. And when you apply context at lightning speed to a clear vision, you get brilliant business owners.

And something that looks like ‘instinct’. Even to them.

Which becomes dangerous over time. Because when you start to mistake context for ‘instinct’ you also start to believe you don’t need context in order to make decisions.

You start to guess.

And when you get the answer you're expecting, you validate your process. But when you get a different result you have no idea why. As a species we grow through innovation. Which depends on our ability learn from our mistakes. When you make decisions without context you take away that ability.

When an economy is rolling, guesses tend to be more right than wrong. But when an economy is shrinking guessing can be fatal. In this economy, without context your business is just a matter of time before it’s not - anything.

Don’t agree? Apply it to your own situation. Answer the simplest question of all.

Is your business doing better or worse?

To which your answer will probably be, 'Than what'? Worse than last year? Worse than I thought? Worse than I can afford?

It depends, doesn’t it? It depends on what you projected. Which depends on what you’re trying to build. Which depends on what’s important to you. Which depends on what your alternatives are. Which depends on when you ask the question. Which depends on when you want the answer. Which depends on whether you prefer to fix the problem or prevent the problem.

We provide context.

And then we get out of your way.