The first three “C”s discussed in this series (Conviction, Clarity, Consistency) are paths, not destinations. While the successful development and execution of a business plan may use these guideposts, it is a mistake to think that the ultimate goal is 100% conviction, clarity or consistency in your operation. That is because other than death, change is the only certainty. In fact, the one often defines the other. When something ceases growing or responding, it is considered dead.
Our job then, is to become experts at understanding the nature of change, the patterns of growth.
While the quality of consistency gives your business stability, nurturing “change-ability” gives your business flexibility. Both are essential. One of the best books you can study on the subject of change is not a business book at all. It is a philosophical treatise disguised as a book of divination. The I Ching, or Book of Changes, is one of the classics of Chinese literature and is at least three thousand years old. The I Ching catalogs sixty-four aspects of change, in the same number of chapters, which are essentially meditations on the patterns of growth in the universe.
Mastering change-ability is important in two ways. It makes you increasingly skillful at predicting what will happen next in your business, and it makes you flexible in your ability to respond to change.
When you study the nature of change you become expert at seeing the larger patterns in which your business operates. The most common example of these patterns are business cycles. This is the normal ebb and flow of the activity in your business. These patterns repeat daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or over even longer periods of time. The more skillful you are at recognizing these patterns the more accurately you will be able to create reliable forecasts in your business plan.
Let’s look at some examples of business cycles.
- The street fairs you work at tend to be slow in the morning, busy through the afternoon, with a late rush of customers, mostly people who worked in the other booths at the fair. Knowing that you will be about the last one to pack up and leave, you make certain that there is adequate staff and energy, for this final wave of business.
- You notice that when you provide chair massage in the workplace certain types of clients prefer to have a massage at the beginning of the week, others in the middle, and still others at the end of the week. Because you also have a table massage business on Mondays and Tuesdays, you can more easily target your marketing to the mid and late week groups.
- Your business increases the first and third week of every month because that is when you client base tends to get paid and can afford a massage. Consequently you plan your marketing and administrative chores for the second and fourth weeks of the month.
- You anticipate that you will always sell more gift certificates around holidays and special occasions and you know you have to begin your promotion plans at least two months in advance.
- Perhaps your business focus is on relaxation massage and you anticipate that most of your customers, after a year or so of allowing touch into their lives, will seek out other types of bodywork. To plan for that transition you establish mutual referral relationships with remedial therapists, Rolfers, Feldenkrais practitioners, sports massage bodyworkers, and the like.
The greater your ability to understand the processes of change, the more refined and accurate your business forecasts will be. As you become increasingly expert at recognizing the patterns inherent in your business you will develop an intuitive sense of what steps are needed at any given moment to keep your business healthy. Intuition, despite what some people claim, does not come from the cosmos. It is most often the result of awareness–paying attention to the smallest shifts in the world around us–and experience, lots of experience, over many years. The more we consciously accumulate business experience, the better we become at asking the right questions when faced with a business decision, and the more likely we are to arrive at the right answer.
Change-ability also means the ability to respond to the constantly changing business climate. When external and internal conditions alter, do we resist modifying our plans and actions, or do we smoothly adapt to the new circumstances? Developing flexibility in business is essential to long-term survival. There is no hiding from rapid change in our world. Being conscious of change makes it more predictable and being prepared for change makes it more manageable. Flexibility is the key to preparedness.
Practicing flexibility starts with exercising a flexible mind. Hopefully, the older we get, the more we appreciate the importance of accepting that what we believe is not always the way things are. Prejudice has no role in a flexible mind. When you start saying things like, “I can’t stand Republicans/Democrats/Jews/Mormons,” be careful. Not only are you limiting your options, but the world has a funny way of creating circumstances that may turn exactly those people into your next market.
A flexible mind also sees opportunities where other people see only problems. When circumstances in the business climate change it is always an opportunity for you to learn something new about your market, your service, the nature of business, or yourself. Don’t resist change, embrace it. Without change the world would be a very dull place. With change our businesses remain fresh, vibrant, and exciting places to spend our time.