When you have an established creative small-business, it is easy to get swept up in the day-to-day tasks, urgent orders, and seemingly never-ending avalanche of to-do lists. While obviously all this needs to get done for your business to continue running, it is equally important to step back periodically and examine the bigger picture of your self-employed life.
One of those bigger picture questions came to me recently while reading Chip and Dan Heath’s fantastic book Decisive. The book systematically destroys the common cognitive biases we all face when trying to make decisions, but also provides enlightening theory on decision-making, and actionable advice on how to make better decisions in your own life. It’s a great read for anyone, but is especially pertinent to the small-business owner, who is faced with countless decisions every day that they alone are tasked with making.
One of the four “villains” of decision-making discussed in the book is Narrow Framing, i.e limiting the options we consider when making a decision. Humans have a tendency to narrowly define our choices when making a decision, so much so that most of our decisions in life are posed as merely a “should I do x, or not do x?” question.
The authors encourage us to break out of this narrow decision framing to come up with better solutions. One of the techniques they suggest is called the “Vanishing Options Test.” When struggling with a decision, pretend there is a genie who, instead of granting you 3 wishes, takes AWAY 3 options from you. As the authors paraphrased it:
“You cannot choose any of the current options you are considering. What else could you do?”
This simple technique forces you to come up with creative solutions that would have never occurred to you, had your first instinct choices been available to you. “Until we are forced to dig up a new option, we’re likely to stay fixated on the ones we already have… Removing options can ...do people a favor, because it makes them notice that they’re stuck on one small patch of a wide landscape.”
Reading through this section of Decisive, I was immediately struck with an idea for another thought experiment:
What would you do if everything in your business was destroyed?
Think about it. All of your inventory is lost. Your website crashes and is unrecoverable. You lose all your marketing, branding, and art files. No more business cards, line sheets, or show booth set-ups.
Would you rebuild your business the same way? Would you simply recreate your same products you lost? Would you make your website look the same? Would you even name your business the same?
When I’ve posed this question to fellow business-owners, almost all of them answer that they would change some parts of their business. Some would have different product. Others would change their branding. Some would throw it all out and begin in a totally different direction. The obvious follow-up question to someone who would change when forced to is …
“Well, what’s stopping you from changing now?”
We all are guilty of letting inertia and busyness make the decisions for us, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If there is something you would do differently if your business imploded and you were forced to start over from scratch, chance are you can make that change now, without the whole disaster scenario.
We get up in our heads about what we can and can’t do in our businesses. Tell ourselves that our customers won’t like this new line of products, or that it doesn’t fit into our current branding. But the truth is, you own your business, and you are your own boss. You can make whatever decisions you want. Sometimes all it takes is a little thought experiment in order to give ourselves permission to make our business what we want them to truly be.