Business Lessons from a day of Swimming Upstream

Thursday, January 7, 2010 , Posted by Johnny Fuery at 1:21 AM

Originally Published 2007-04-24 18:09:09

Sorry I’ve been lackadaisical about updating in a timely manner recently. I’ve been extraordinarily busy, and the first things that fall by the wayside are the non-revenue-generating efforts. Blogging is definitely more of a farming effort, and when one needs to eat immediately, reverting to hunter-gatherer mode is easy to do.

I actually took a day off this week. I had a basketball game, a date, and a concert to attend this past Saturday and I decided to postpone all of my pre-week tasks to Sunday.
I nonetheless swam upstream the whole day. (I circle back in a few paragraphs and relate this to business, so bear with me.) I woke up and realized I had slept absolutely horribly and would be useless on the basketball court. My joints ached and I had an itchy throat that hinted that I’d be paying dearly with some sort of infection if I pushed it. Basically, I felt as though I’d been hit by a truck, so I decided to skip my game and sleep in. Of course, I realized – too late – that I didn’t have any of my teammate’s phone numbers, and thus was left to completely flake on them. Lame move, especially considering the fact that I got recruited to play on their team and didn’t even pay for my jersey or the league fee.

Then I got up and was running late for my lunch date. I scrambled, did the 3-minute shower routine, applied the gel and cologne in the car, and made it only 5 minutes late. Not too bad, except that as the date progressed, despite the fact that she was gorgeous and intelligent, it seemed that we are at different points in our lives. (I’ll ask her out again, but I’m pretty skeptical.) 

Then -- oh, crap, I did work Saturday – I spent a couple of hours on the phone returning phone calls on a home I have for rent in Castro Valley, California. I’ve had an insane number of calls on the place, and I needed to coordinate times with the tenant that is leaving so that I could show the place to the two dozen applicants I have.

Then it was off to the gym for me. I played a couple of pick-up games of basketball, narrowly avoiding a fight with some teenager with an anger streak because while I was organizing defense, I called him “not dangerous”. I apologized diplomatically, telling him it was nothing personal, and he retorted something about, “letting it go this time.” Whatever, kid. True to my judgment, of course, he failed to score the simplest of shots without any defense and we won. However, the win wasn’t really because of our athleticism, it was because of our collective ability to adapt and play smart. I couldn’t find my zone at all that day, so I was forced to create good shots for my teammates instead of actually making a direct difference. 

Then came an intense struggle to get through a standard weight-lifting routine – if you lift weights, you know there are days when you count on your routine to guide you, because your body wants to quit before you even start. For the non-athletes, this is not unlike those days where you just force yourself to get going, because you have the motivation of a tree sloth.

Before leaving the gym, I decided to get one of those fake, cancer-inducing tans because I’m going out of town next weekend and there will be bikinis present. Yes, I’m vain. But it’s the girls’ fault. If I want attention and they give it to me when I have spikey hair and a fake tan, that’s not vanity, that’s working the system. Not unlike accelerating your IRA contribution because of a tax deduction. A little extra effort to improve your results isn’t “fake,” it’s wise. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. ;-)

So back to my upstream journey. I place my $150 Oakley sunglasses on the shelf in the tanning area while I get dressed, thinking actively to myself, “make sure you don’t forget those.” It was raining that day, so I didn’t notice my mistake until the next day. I’ve since checked with the gym staff. Someone scored Saturday night. 

Then I get back to my car, check my mobile phone, and realize that I totally and completely forgot about the concert I was supposed to attend. I had VIP +1 tickets to a venue in Berkeley, and the thing was half over by the time I lost my sunglasses. That’s two flakes for the day, and none of the three things I was looking forward to really panned out.

So, instead of attending a free-for-me concert with a bunch of groupies, I had a couple of beers and played video games with a buddy of mine to close out the evening. Like the rest of my day, I couldn’t “find my place” in the game. It was an old school strategy game that I probably put 1000 hours into half a decade ago, and I could barely remember how to stay alive in the thing.

Now, as promised, this whole concept of “swimming upstream” has tons of real-world, business-related lessons. Like myself, occasionally, even highly responsible, well-meaning and skilled vendors don’t deliver. Like my date, potential partners that seem to encapsulate a perfect synergy sometimes are just the victims of bad timing. Like my beloved Oakleys, occasionally your inventory will just disappear. It might be your fault, it might be the foul play on the part of your employees, vendors, partners, or customers, or it just might be dumb luck (or lack of it). However, you have a business to run, and it’s important to write off the loss quickly and move on. If the equipment is core to your business, go replace it. If it isn’t, then deal with squinting in the sunlight until you’re in a position to replace it, being proud of the active decision to “go without” in the short term. 

No matter how skilled you are, no matter how much value your processes and practices generally create, there will always be days when silly coincidence makes you feel like you are zigging when you’re supposed to be zagging. Be prepared, roll with the punches, and make the best of the situation. In some situations, just as in my pick-up basketball game, you’ll still be able to pull off a win, simply by adapting your tactics to the challenge at hand, perhaps by using your partners and staff in a way that breaks your typical process model. 


On 2007-04-25 12:32:32 More lessons from swimming upstream: Earn and protect a good reputation » Really Smart Guy » GeekSpeak, Real Estate, Landlording, Technology, Business Ideas, Web Marketing » Blog Archive said:
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