For whatever reason, the end of one year and the beginning of a new one is an almost universal signal for people to stop and evaluate where they’ve been and where they want to go. As business owners, we may furiously revise our business plans, painstakingly plan a new budget, or make preparations to introduce a new product or service to coincide with the new year.
I don’t know why our long-range planning is often pigeon-holed into an already frenzied season of holidays, extra vacations and unpredictable winter weather. Why are December and January any different than any other months of the year?
We could stop and take a look at the big picture at any time-and perhaps at times that are really more beneficial to our particular businesses and their cycles-yet most of us still perform this ritual at the end of the calendar year. We’re very much like lemmings in that regard-mindlessly following the crowd, even if that means ultimately running off a cliff because we didn’t stop earlier in the year to plan and make adjustments that would have resulted in better end-of-year results.
Whether you are doing your planning now, or whether you make it a year-long “event” that embraces numerous modifications and fine-tuning as you go along, you might consider the story of Harold and the Purple Crayon.
It’s a wonderful book about childhood imagination that holds a powerful message for business owners.
Harold is a small boy who decides to go for a walk in the moonlight. The first thing he does after getting his idea to venture out into the night is to take action. You see, he wants to take a walk in the moonlight, but there isn’t any—there’s only darkness because there isn’t any moon. So he draws one with his handy purple crayon. He knows he needs something to walk on, so he also draws a path, “so he won’t get lost.” Along his journey, he draws adjustments to his path, and at one point, he even draws a frightening dragon to safeguard an apple tree that bears the fruit he prizes so much. Eventually, his crayoned path leads him to the top of a mountain, where he loses his footing and begins to fall.
What does he do? He quickly sketches a balloon and hangs on for a safe landing. But while he’s aloft, he makes a point to notice the view he has from the top. From this vantage point, he sees where things are missing from his path and he draws them in. As he continues his journey, he gets lost among his crayoned drawings, so he stops and asks a policeman for directions.
So what does all this have to do with business? As business owners, we must continue to imagine where we want our businesses to go, and we must work every day on the vision for our businesses. We must proactively plot our path to success and put into place the mechanisms that will lead us further down that path. Too often, however, we get caught up in the day-to-day details and become just another employee in the business. There’s no one forging a path for the future, there’s no overall vision (moon) that’s guiding the business, no one putting up safeguards (dragons) for anticipated obstacles. When the business begins to lose its footing and go downhill, it may be well past the point where we can reach for a balloon or ask for directions.
Be imaginative, be vigilant, and be proactive—no matter what time of year it is.