The Rocket Principle
By John Counsel
People who think that everything should be exactly right before attempting to launch their small businesses (or a new project, new product or new service) fall for the same trap that prevents most people ever achieving anything in life. It’s true that if you never take a risk you’ll never make a mistake. But it’s just as true that you’ll never move forward toward your goal.
Despite a sequence that seems perfectly logical, “Ready… Aim… Fire!” is the perfectionist’s approach to business. It never works effectively for the simple reason that conditions are never perfect!
“Ready… FIRE… Aim!” is the only approach that has succeeded in putting men on the moon (and bringing them safely back, many times). It’s the standard strategy in the computer and other high technology industries. Without it, most of the world’s business would never get off the ground, let alone be successfully completed.
The hallmark of a leader
True leaders are characterised by their ability and willingness to make decisions. Ordinary people are drawn to those who are decisive, even when the decisions made are sometimes incorrect. They’ll usually allow them the chance to fix those mistakes.
In Australia, in the early 1990s, the public and media response when former Liberal Party leader Dr Hewson released his “Fightback” strategy was huge. Very few people knew what it contained — yet everyone was impressed by the fact that something was being done. Action was being taken. Decisions were being made. (Never mind that the proposed legislation failed miserably… the Liberal Party failed miserably at selling the policy, whereas Labor’s Paul Keating succeeded at repositioning it so cleverly in voters’ minds that not enough people wanted it.)
The fact is, most people are followers. They’re scared witless by the prospect of having to assume responsibility for anything — especially for other people. They don’t want to be leaders.
Beware the “Comfort Zone”!
They feel reassured and protected when in their “comfort zones” (ruts), doing what they feel confident doing (avoiding risk, most of the time).
Do you recall the reaction of Japan when called upon to act in an international leadership capacity during the lead-up to the Gulf War?
The whole nation panicked! Their response was, in effect, “But we don’t know anything about being international leaders! Can’t we just give money? That’s all we really know about”.
And it was true. The Japanese had become expert at taking other people’s ideas and refining the process involved to make them even better. They had built a formidable economy based on this principle. This was what they understood and were consummate at doing. They knew how to make money. They knew nothing at all about international leadership. To assume such a role would take them well outside their “comfort zone”.
(Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not criticising Japan or its people. The international community simply missed the point. And it’s a mistake often made by people everywhere when it comes to expecting leadership from “successful” people.
“Success” is NOT leadership.
Just because someone is “successful” in business, or in politics, does not automatically mean that they’re a good leader.
It depends very much on what you consider true leadership to be.
For example, my personal belief is that a father’s most important leadership role is in his own home. I know many, many men who are just “average” in the workplace, but who are fine leaders in their families. (I don’t mean bullies or bosses. I mean leaders.)
On the other hand, I know many business and public “leaders” who are utter failures in their homes.
If I had the choice, I’d choose people to lead this country, and this economy, who were getting it right where it really counts… in the home.
Because most of the problems facing our society stem ultimately from a failure, of one kind or another, in family relationships.
Causes — not effects!
The media, and everyday discussion, are preoccupied with the escalating incidence of violent crime.
What’s the response of our “leaders”?
Pass harsher laws. Increase penalties. Hire more police and judges. Build bigger jails. Demand longer prison terms.
None of which address the cause of the problem — only the effects.
It’s been claimed that most abusers of drugs (of all kinds) have suffered some form of sexual abuse as children. One leading drug rehabilitation organisation (in Australia) claims that the proportion is as high as 85% amongst its own clients.
And that only accounts for sexual abuse.
What about emotional and psychological abuse? They can be every bit damaging in their own insidious way. (After all, they’re part and parcel of sexual abuse as well.)
Police make no bones about the cause of most contemporary crime… drug abuse.
So, if most crime is linked to drug abuse, and most drug abuse is attributable to family relationships breaking down, it seems reasonable to conclude that the bulk of the money — and other support resources — should be going toward rectifying the real, ultimate, underlying cause of these problems: training and supporting parents to be genuine, capable, loving, diligent leaders within the walls of their own homes!
Parents receive NO training or preparation (not even at school) for their most critically-important role. Because when they fail in this role, our entire society suffers the consequences.
We cannot build personal success on a foundation of failure or of other peoples’ misery. That’s just building a house on quicksand. It will ultimately collapse on us.
If we wish to become real leaders, we have to do the right things for the right reasons. Then we’re dependable.
The problem, always, is where to start.
There’s an old saying that applies to this situation: “Begin… the rest is easy!”
Set yourself a goal, write down a simple plan of action, marshal some basic resources, then ACT.
Let me relate two true stories that taught me this principle very well.
Story No. 1
A young business reporter found himself seated on a plane next to one of America’s most successful businessmen. He recognised the man immediately and was very excited by the prospect of scoring an interview with him. Alas, the businessman made it clear he was only interested in catching up on some much-needed sleep.
But our young reporter friend was determined, so he leaned over and, after introducing himself, said “excuse me, Mr ——————, I don’t like to disturb you, but I’d really appreciate knowing the secret of your success. Can you give it to me in a nutshell, please?”
Without opening his eyes, the businessman replied “Two words… make decisions!”.
The young reporter mulled these words over and over in his mind. Finally, unable to decipher the mystery, he disturbed his companion again.
“Sorry to bother you, but something troubles me. How on earth do you know how to make the right decisions?”
The reply was immediate.
“One word… experience!”
Once again, the youngster turned the idea over in his mind until he could no longer resist one final question.
“I’m sorry, sir, but you have me intrigued. How do you gain the experience needed to make those right decisions?”
“Two words… wrong decisions!”
Story No. 2
Some years ago I worked for a very astute businessman who taught me more lessons than almost any other boss I ever worked for. (The same one who taught me the Hat Pin Perspective — see Chapter 23.)
One day he called me to his office and said “Counsel, get the lead out! I want decisions from you on these three matters by the end of today, without fail.”
I was appalled. These were complex matters that required a lot of research, study and evaluation. I told him so. He was unimpressed.
“Get those decisions made by the end of the day or I’ll make them for you!”
This was ludicrous. He knew even less about these issues than I did! I made the mistake of telling him so. He was patient in explaining:
“If we don’t make those decisions today, we’ll lose the opportunity to make them at all. Someone else will make them for us, and we’ll have to put up with the consequences of their decisions — and I’m not willing to hand control of my business over to someone else.”
“But what if the decisions I make are wrong?” I protested.
“It doesn’t matter,” he replied.
I was dumbfounded.
“Close your mouth — you look stupid,” he quipped, before continuing this priceless lesson in true leadership.
“The fact is, I pay you very well for your expertise, so you’ve got a better-than-even chance that your decisions will be right. If so, there’s no problem, and we can begin moving. If any of the decisions are wrong, we’ll know by tomorrow — and we can fix them, because we’ll still be in control. But we have to make those decisions NOW.”
I began to see his point. Then came the clincher.
“Put it this way… if your decisions aren’t on my desk by four o’clock, I’ll make them for you by five o’clock. And the first decision I’ll make is that I don’t need YOU!”
It was plainly a case of fire — or be fired!
I made the decisions. I don’t recall any of them being wrong.
Be a rocketeer!
Get that rocket off the ground! Then monitor and adjust your course as you head toward your target.
Returning to the Gulf War, do you recall the world’s amazement at how devastatingly accurate the US guided missiles were? They would leave their launchers on ships in the Persian Gulf or the Mediterranean Sea, and make their way to Baghdad — then cruise along the streets (and around corners!) until they found their targets.
Because they were guided once they were launched, and their paths were corrected as required to overcome obstacles along the way.
We have to learn to do the same as small business leaders — and parents. As leaders of any kind!
The Apollo moon rockets were off course 97% of the time. Yet they still reached their chosen destinations — and returned to earth — with pin-point precision and timing.
Because they knew their starting points, their destinations, and they knew their exact positions as they travelled. So they could correct their courses as they went. It’s the same with commercial jetliners… they’re off course 95% of the time they’re in the air. Yet how often do they ever land on the wrong runway, let along the wrong city or country?
“Ready… Fire… Aim!”
Learn to make decisions
Get as much information as you reasonably need, then go for it, fixing any unforeseen problems as you go. Often, the sheer momentum you create will roll right over them!
Study the words of two great World War II leaders, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US General George Patton, Allied field commander in the invasion of Europe.
“Paralysis is spelt a-n-a-l-y-s-i-s!” (Winston Churchill)
“A good plan, vigorously executed this week, will always be better than a perfect plan executed next week.” (General George Patton)
Ready… Fire… Aim!
“Don’t Go Into Small Business
Until You Read This Book!”
by John Counsel
Small Business Books 1996
©1996-2009 by John Counsel. All rights reserved.