It is the beginning of August. Across the country, business managers are in the middle of the planning season. In my household, my youngest is celebrating her first birthday after university graduation. Like many individuals her age, she is faced with choices.
In today’s fast-changing environment, choices for organizations as well as individuals very often explicitly involves being flexible and keeping options open. Flexibility, of course, is almost never without cost.
Strategy requires choices and choices are about trade-offs. That is probably the one statement I repeat the most when discussing strategy in the management classroom.
For businesses, the essence of strategy is clarity concerning the customer and the value offer. Lack of clarity not only wastes resources, it often results in confusing the market. In the digital age when the customer is bombarded by messages from multiple sources, a clear and strong brand identity is critical to market positioning.
The same thing is true when making life choices. In fact, choices are more important. This is a reality I often come face to face with because I teach and coach entrepreneurs. The life of the entrepreneur is often a tug of war between the needs of the business, the needs of his family, and his own personal needs. Like any decision that requires choices and trade-offs, at the heart of every key choice we make is a scarce resource. For entrepreneurs, very often, the key resource that is most visible is capital—cold, hard cash. But, as most entrepreneurs already know, capital is easy to find if the business is going well. Human capital—talent, relationships—those are tougher both to find and keep. But even this is not the scarcest resource. An entrepreneur’s most important resource is the same as everyone else’s. It is time.
What really matters
When we talk about strategy, we always say that strategy is essentially a plan for getting from where you are now to where you want to be. In developing a plan, the first important question is what is your goal?
The piece of advice I offer the most to individuals starting out on careers is not to pay too much attention to pay or position. In the early years, the most important resources to gain are skills and relationships. This, however, still leaves much open. Which skills? Which relationships?
The reality, of course, is no one can possibly be great at all things. If you are to be great at something, you must give it time. In fact, time is at the heart of all our trade-offs.
These last few weeks, as I have been talking to entrepreneurs, I have repeated something which I think is important. It would be a tragedy to wake up one day to find that you have built a successful company, amassed great wealth, gained national and even international business influence, but have alienated the ones you love. What is your professional success worth? Is it worth your family? Is it worth your health? Is it worth your happiness?
No one, of course, would actually say they would choose work over health or over family. Unfortunately, that choice is never posed as a single momentous question. It is a choice we make every day, every hour. Each day we decide to work on a report and skip the gym, each day when we grab junk food because we are running after a deadline, each day when we spend an extra hour of time at work and come home only to find our children sleeping, we make a choice. One day, we just wake up to find that we have slowly let go of the things that are most important while chasing the momentarily significant.
This morning, I woke up to a message that had this bit of advice: “When you find extra wood, build tables, not fences.” Funnily enough, I had been thinking the exact opposite. Not, of course, that I condone making enemies or excluding anyone from claiming their civil rights. I was thinking more about personal time.
On my social media accounts, I often post this statement: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”
In business strategy, this means that companies need to stay away from being involved in matters that are not aligned with their basic positioning or their strategy. It siphons resources away from the truly important.
Here is what we know. The average life expectancy in the Philippines is about 68 years. If you have great genes and take care of yourself, you have longer. Whether you end up with a life span of 68 or 105, the reality is that you have a finite life span. For a significant portion of that life span, you will not have the same energy, strength, and flexibility that you have as a young adult. Here’s the even more important thing, if you are a parent, your children will be children for a very short period of time. Those years when they look to you to read them a good night story or want to tag along wherever you go, they last only a few years.
Here is the other thing. Every choice you make—the job, the hobby, the extra project—they take time. They take time that you could be spending doing the things you love with the people you love.
So here, I amend my advice to young people. Time is your most important resource. Skills and relationships are important but choose well. Guard your time. Surround yourself with people who care about you, people who will remind you of what is important. Avoid people who will tempt you with the unimportant. Build walls because walls play a very important role. They guard what is inside.
Your table can only hold a certain number of people. Be careful who you reserve seats for. You cannot give time to what is important if you have given it to the merely urgent or the tempting. Learn to say no. Do not give your all to work. No job is worth your all.
Find time to laugh and love. Find time to live. Embrace your joy with courage. Happy birthday Sam!
Readers can email Maya at [email protected] Or visit her site at http://integrations.tumblr.com. For academic publications, Maya uses her full name, Maria Elena Baltazar Herrera.