The Company You Keep

Gnomes' three phase business plan

Gnomes’ three phase business plan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reflections on

What Rich People Know & Desperately Want to Keep a Secret

(Brian Sher, 1999, Macmillan Australia, Sydney)

I am terrible at business. I am not unintelligent, nor am I not hard-working or unskilled. I know how to plan and execute. Yet I find myself always on the brink of financial ruin. Some of this is because my philanthropic heart tends to let me get away with giving myself away. After all, Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourself. However, part of loving ourselves is being wealthy enough to avoid consuming ourselves with worry. And part of loving our neighbors is being self-sufficient enough to avoid having to be a drain on others. Every time the banker has to remind me of my delinquancies, I am a burden on the banker. After all, he has staked a small part of his reputation and his company’s assests on me. If I fail, he fails, the bank fails, and it does nothing good for my standing in the community. How am I supposed to show others how to be successful if I can’t even succeed myself?

In the past, I often considered that loving myself meant saving money and keeping 100% of profits by doing everything myself. However, especially recently, I have begun to understand for real what my intellect has been telling me for years: there is, in sharing the task, the opportunity to increase efficiency for all involved.    (Often, this means that I should hire professionals to do the things I can do but not do efficiently.  If it takes me a week to do what a professional could do in a day, then I would be better off letting the professional do it.  I can then focus on what I do well and earn more than enough to pay the professional, without all the sleepless nights of research to discover how to do the job and more time wasted troubleshooting the result.  In other words, do-it-yourself may be a necessity in a remote mountain dwelling, but, for the rest of us, it’s just not very efficient.)

As true as this statement is, it is also true that there are two great opponents of said truth at work. The first is one over which one seems to have little control—government regulations. However, even this tangle of economic frustration can be used to ones advantage, assuming that one has enough knowledge of the rules. After all, most of these rules were put into place as protectionist policies at the behest of one or more large corporations seeking to increase their advantage over new competition and ideas. For this reason, one may be sure that there are loopholes that these companies try to exploit to the disadvantage of all others. If you look hard enough and plan your organization to fit these loopholes, you can at least have equal legal footing with the big boys. This doesn’t discount having a really good business plan and executing, but success depends more upon this than anything else. So it does not good to complain about the bureaucratic game. Might as well just learn how to play it.

The second, equally large opponent to success in business, assuming that you have decided to go outside of your limited self, is the fact that it is very difficult to find other people who can both catch your vision and have the business abilities that you require.

In his book, Sher identifies four assests that determine the success of a business:

  1. Your knowledge
  2. Your marketing
  3. Your people
  4. Your systems

For my part, I excell at knowledge. My marketing and systems are good, but I implement them poorly for lack of time. Consequently, I need people to help me with those.

Over the last couple of years, I have tried to surround myself with good people who will able to share my vision and create a corporation that can help all of us reach our goals. Unfortunately, I have also been in the recovery business. I have been dealing with people who should be highly motivated to throw in their lot with me, so that we can all rise together. But, the recovery business is filled with losers and scam artists.

To be sure, I have found a few people who have some kind of vision. However, most of them lack the required education to implement the vision. Most people in recovery are those who copped out of life a long time ago. They, therefore, have no understanding of the effort it takes to be successful. Since, if you want to really make your business a success, you have to surround yourself with successful people, what do you do if all you can afford are life’s losers?

First of all, I had to recognize that the buck still stops with me. It’s incumbent upon me to be successful enough by myself to provide for my own financial survival. I can never put that into someone else’s hands.

Secondly, as the saying goes, if life give’s you lemons, you make lemonaid. When dealing with losers, one must first be able to determine if they are foolish or merely ignorant. The difference is not always easy to discover. Ignorance can be fixed with education. Foolishness is a spiritual condition that cannot be fixed from the outside. It is possible that foolish people may one day wake up, realize they are foolish, and change. But, until that day, they are absolutely useless.

What I discovered is that I was too willing to bet on foolish people. I was too willing to waste valuable time and energy that could have been better spent on the merely ignorant. It is true that education has the ability to change the foolish as well. But, as I said before, you cannot educate a fool until he realizes his folly. In recovery terms, they have to hit rock bottom before they will be ready to accept that they need help. Oftentimes, by that point, brain damage is hard to overcome. God bless them and look after them. If I can find some menial task to help them, I will. But, I am trying to build a business, not running a charity.

The prospects for me are looking much better, now. I am still surrounded by society’s outcasts. But, all of them have three very important things in common: a desire to build each other up, an understanding of the vision, and a voracious yearning for knowledge. In the end, I will still have helped the less fortunate. But, instead of giving them fish, we are all going out fishing together. It’s a lot easier to catch a lot of fish than fishing separately. Instead of throwing in one line and catching one fish at a time, now I have one person to row, one to stear, and two others to help me cast large nets for large schools of fish. Kinda reminds me of what Solomon said long ago, that two people have a better return for their labor, and that a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. One just has to remember every strand in the cord has to be committed to pulling together, and that one rotten strand is likely to cause the others to rot as well.

In short, then, knowledge is your greatest asset. You must do everything you can to know as much as you can. But, your business knowledge base can be greatly expanded by the knowledge of others. Therefore, the people with whom you surround yourself can be more important to your success than even yourself. It is better to share the wealth than to hoard the poverty. If I make $100 and keep 100% for myself, then I have $100. If I make $1000 and share it with four other people, then I have $200. Plus, four other people who could have made $100 on their own have doubled their incomes. Everyone wins! Of course, when five people work together, the government steps in and takes the extra $100 from each person “for their own protection.” So, in reality, the group must be much more efficient to see any kind of gain. This is accomplished with marketing and efficient systems. The advantage of the group is ability to cover that little extra ground that is often beyond the abilities of one man. Division of labor assures that every asset is exploited to the fullest.


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