Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Stepping back for perspective

Problems Today has been a tough day for solving problems.

It’s not that the problems are inherently hard, but that they are intrinsically large.  That means that they take time and fill the day, yet fail to close with a final solution.

Riding along the riverbank in the early summer sun to take a break, I reviewed my strategies.  I must be making this harder than it needs to be.  There are the inductive “Sleep on it, ignore it, wait for your subconscious to deliver a miracle” approaches; there are avoidance strategies like “Time will solve it, a bit of benign neglect will help, why not delegate”. 

But if its my problem, then I only have two deductive strategies: appeal to principal or decompose to simpler chunks.

Divide and conquer is usually my approach, but I decided to try the  alternative, appeal to a higher power, and called a friend working with startups in the entrepreneurship programs at MIT.  He’s got a lot of practical experience and runs his own consulting business, so I feel like we share a lot of the same experiences.

On the positive side, he thought that the analysis and actions I’m taking are largely the right ones.  My focus and task prioritization seemed right, and I hadn’t overlooked many things that needed to be in the mix. The UK project, in particular, seemed well defined and things were appropriately delegated: I’d just need to hang in and see it through.

My concerns about the Dutch business, that consulting was overwhelming development, and that I was spending too much time working for the business rather than letting it work for me, were more true.  Part of the solution is to accept that consulting work cycles through peak and trough workload, and to be willing to push some tasks off into the coming quiet times without guilt.

The other was to be careful about respecting the boundary between consulting and contracting.  I tend to be very hands-on, doing real work of analysis and reports, yet estimating time and pricing results as though I was simply and conversationally advising and connecting clients.  In the future, I have to get the right distance and value set for each job and respect the scope of the tasks.  Where “I’m here to help” was often the right stance in the corporate world, it invites mission creep as an outsider.

I do think it’s important to have a mastergroup or advisory board to turn to for occasional encouragement or reality checks in running a business.  It’s probably especially important as an expat, where  the social isolation is more pronounced.  It won’t stop my having the occasional bad day, but it will help to keep things in perspective through the rough times.


Textual Healer said...

Dave -
I have many of the same issues running my business too. I can empathise - but maybe your Linked -in discussion group will provide a forum for discussing some of these issues.

Dave Hampton said...

Thanks, Nick, some day we'll have to have a beer again and swap a few stories...