Forest for the Trees

Most people start a business with a goal. The goals vary widely but they are typically to create some sort of value and achieve a purpose. It’s not always monetary value—it usually is, but not always. It can be doing something meaningful, solving a complex problem, providing for family, building for retirement, it can be anything. But that goal is generally known to the individual(s)—even if it is simply to draw a salary, pay the bills, and see where it goes from there.

What isn’t known is when you will get to the end. All that’s known at the beginning is that the end is somewhere out there and the first few steps are taken to get there. Knowing the path won’t be easy, or a straight line, you start moving in the direction of that end goal with a generally unobstructed view.

Over time, the day-to-day challenges creep in: the obstacles on that path towards the end goal. It’s like a really young forest with very small trees. They are there from the beginning, but they don’t obstruct the view of where you are going. The deeper you get into the forest and the longer you’re there, however, the bigger the trees seem to get. You go around them, sometimes cut them down, but through grit and hard work continue on the path to your end goal. The problem? The day to day threats—cashflow, HR issues, customer issues, payable/receivable issues—they take your eye off of the end point. They grow so large that they become the focus. Then, one day, when you’re tired of cutting down or navigating all of those trees that have grown right in the middle of the path you are on, you see an opportunity to get out of the fully grown forest. When you’re tired, that opportunity to get out seems even more attractive. You take a step around the last tree in your way, into what you assume (hope) is an open field to begin your next—and hopefully unobstructed—path to our post-work life goals. Unfortunately, many business owners find out that every time they justifiably dealt with the immediate problems in front of them they inadvertently veered slightly off course. Not dramatically, perhaps just a degree or two, but enough that if it happened over and over again, one might end up at an exit point that wasn’t at all what they wanted, or perhaps more dangerously, needed.

The day to day threats will always take priority—that will never change, nor should it. However, context, a constant beacon that shows you what all of these decisions being made at a micro level are having on the macro outcome is critical. Think of it as a compass. When hiking in unknown areas compasses are useful as a constant reminder of general direction. It is dangerous to stare at the compass the whole time and ignore the obstacles in front of you. It is equally dangerous to focus on the obstacles only to find out you’ve been heading the wrong direction the whole time.