How to develop a business and yourself

Developing a business and developing yourself have a lot in common. Fundamentally they both involve learning.

As a business owner, one responsibility I feel towards those with whom I work is to ensure that they are learning and developing in a way that drives the business and their value to it. In a knowledge business this is an essential dimension if the organisation is to flourish and grow. Where an individual isn’t learning or shows little appetite for discovering new challenges (i.e. new learning opportunities), it is time for them to move on and find inspiration elsewhere.

The recipe for developing yourself or a business is much the same: work with great colleagues (mediocre and non-performing colleagues are a source of talent drain); find new client opportunities to learn; and get out of your comfort zone. While I can personally think of few things more enlivening or liberating than a fresh challenge, I recognise that, for many, deliberating stepping out of their comfort zone is an anathema; a process fraught with the fear of not being in control, of losing authority, of facing criticism, of being shown up or failing outright, of once again being the novice.

Like most activities that involve an element of fear, there are two ways of thinking about them. Much like going to a new school, the first day is a mix of anxiety and anticipation. Bias the latter emotion and the fear is quickly muted by excitement. And be determined to embrace some failure as a stepping stone to eventual success. I recently read an article in which Vinay Khosla, that titan of the US venture industry, said: “I like to say my willingness to fail is what gives me the ability to succeed.” Make that an article of faith.

Once a challenge has been identified, there are two instrumental elements in developing yourself and the business. First is the new knowledge or activity that you must master – this is the intellectual challenge but not the hardest one. The second, and much more challenging element, is applying this knowledge by facilitating a result through people. It is that experience alone that can eventually produce the genuine personal and business confidence upon which so much business success rides.

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