After years of prevarication, Andy has pledged to write a book. Called ‘Letters to My Children’ the book is shaping up as a mix of autobiography, homespun philosophy, business experience and money advice, written as a guide to life for Andy’s five children. Here’s the next chapter, we hope that you enjoy it too.
My Changing Vision
I don’t recall when I began to develop my vision of my future business, but I suspect I was in my late teens. I remember lying in bed with pictures of the large organisation that I would ultimately preside over running through my head like a silent movie. I knew then that it was my destiny to build that organisation, and to that degree a large part of my life has been ‘living the dream.’
The dream has changed, however, in the light of experience and practicality. I’ve realised that scale for its own sake is cloying, not liberating, and if a business isn’t liberating then what is it for? For me, it was never about the money. Money without freedom isn’t much fun.
As I’ve continued to learn, my vision has morphed and changed, usually to fit my current reality. The picture of a multi-layered mega-corporation gave way to that of a small, tight, highly personalised business, dealing with a limited number of exceptionally well serviced clients. I would make my mark one person at a time.
But two things have happened in recent years that could yet change my game – and my vision – again.
Firstly, I’ve learned how to let go. Many people have told me over the years that I needed to keep my finger on the pulse, trust no-one, keep control and retain the rights to everything.
The only problem is, you can’t grow that way. There comes a point at which you simply cannot know everything that’s going on in your business, and when you reach it you’re going to have to decide whether to go paranoid, stop growing or find another way.
I’ve found that giving people you trust free rein, allowing them to develop and implement their ideas, and doing everything you can to get out of their way, is much more rewarding for both of you. Of course, you run the risk that they will stab you in the back, steal your ideas or abscond with your customers, and you shouldn’t disregard these very real possibilities. There are things you can do to make them less likely to occur, and my approach has been primarily around creating teams that rely on each other to function, and staying close to key members of that team.
Tell the Truth
But my biggest strategy to protect my investment in these situations is simply to tell the truth, and expect the truth in return. I prefer to start from the premise that people are innately noble in their motives, and that they will do the right thing. I think the people who work for me and with me know that if they decide to move on there’s not much I can do to stop them and we might as well sit down and work out how we can both come out ahead. In his seminal book ‘The Road Less Travelled’, M Scott Peck defines ‘love’ as the desire to grow the other person to be everything they can be, and suggests that the ultimate loving relationship is one in which the parties actively choose to remain because of the nurturing support that they enjoy within it, which they recognise as a major factor in successfully travelling their own road. That seems to me a really good way to run a business.
All of this is predicated on getting the right person in the first place. Over time I’ve learned how to choose people for my team who will prove to be trustworthy. The best way to do this is to follow your instincts about them, and look for the clues that tell you they are not what they appear. I write more fully about this elsewhere.
The second major game changer is the rise of the internet. Suddenly it’s possible to have quite intimate conversations with large numbers of people all at once. If you have a message to get out there, this is a huge advance.
Of course, the drawback is that everyone else with a message is trying to be heard too. That means that your message has to be of high quality and give value like never before, but that’s been a problem that businesses have grappled with since the world wide web was a gleam in someone’s microchip. It needs fresh thinking and new ways of working, but a business problem it remains.
For businesses that are prepared to do the work (or just get lucky) the rewards can be astronomical. Even on wafer-thin profit margins, selling a few million downloads can be highly lucrative.
More importantly to me, it means many, many more people are getting the message. Like I said, it’s never just been about the money.
Perhaps my original dream wasn’t so far out after all.