Entrepreneurs

When Getting Back to “Normal” Doesn’t Make Sense

As we slowly and grudgingly slouch our way back to the new normal, the brightest prospect and most exciting promise of the next year may be that we’ve been afforded an opportunity to shed portions of our past actions and behaviors without paying any real social or emotional price.

The slightest explanation is more than a sufficient excuse in these difficult moments. The trick for tomorrow is to get more done with less, not to try to pile more on your products and services or add unnecessary bells and whistles. Mercedes has always had the great discipline to build into its cars the best of what’s needed and nothing more. Now’s not the time to gild the lily.

In fact, now is precisely the time when it’s most important to get back to basics and to focus on solid execution and on delivering on the promises you’ve made to yourself, your employees and your customers. To ask not just how and when, but why as well.  

If there’s not a compelling reason, maybe there’s no need at all, apart from sheer inertia, to keep doing certain things because that’s the way things have “always” been done. The greatest single failing of most entrepreneurs is that they rarely know when to stop.  Sometimes you just need to take a breath, take the win and stop selling.

For many established businesses, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to simplify, shrink and get rid of old rules, processes and commitments that make little or no sense today in the new global economy. As an example, the pandemic taught us that speed and access, not real estate and travel, are clearly the drivers of the digital world.  Somehow many of the excesses of the past that seemed so essential (like multi-floor office spaces in grotesquely large skyscrapers) now feel unnecessary and wretchedly extreme. The WFH revolution is here to stay.

As sad as this may be for some, today we no longer respect tradition or even history. We’re all about innovation and novelty and, in far too many companies, traditions are simply costly encumbrances and nothing more than excuses to avoid change. Over the years, businesses are like ships that develop barnacles; they accumulate processes which they ask their people to routinely do even if no one remembers exactly why. In the age of Docusign, hunting down and paying a notary public to sign off on certain legal documents is just one of many stupid historic remnants of the old days which need to be done away with.

For startups, the post-pandemic “pause to reflect, refresh and redo” is an even more critical chance to course correct and fix things before they solidify, and you’re stuck with them as you rush to return to business as usual. Now’s the time to get out from under commitments that no longer make any sense, promises that were premised on powers you’ve learned you no longer possess (and maybe never had), and plans to grow and scale that require radical reappraisal.

Anyone can make a mistake, but if you continue down the wrong path, you run the risk of internalizing and institutionalizing the bad behaviors, which makes them exponentially more difficult to ditch down the line. Where you came from and where you are headed is still relevant but being a prisoner of the past serves no one and makes no sense.

Entrepreneurs often thirst for early credibility and stability and building faux traditions can offer the comfort and illusion of substance and permeance while actually masking mistakes and misdirection. Great “stories” of past glories can turn into company myths and quickly harden into conventional wisdom before anyone remembers to ask why we’re doing things this way. Don’t be afraid, wherever you’re at in your company, to ask why and occasionally to question and challenge even some of the “feel good” things you see being done around you.

Overdoing just about anything is now an omnipresent part of our lives and times and too much apparently is never enough for some people. Direct your attention and energies to what’s important now, not traditional or historic.

Slimming down, getting rid of as much old news and excess baggage as possible, making sure that what you’re doing matters to the customer or end user, and showing that you understand that almost nothing going forward is likely to be “business as usual” will demonstrate to all concerned that you’re focused on the future and not the past.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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