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Really Learning the 7 Irrefutable Laws of Small Business Growth

Link: HBS Working Knowledge: Entrepreneurship.

A review of Steven Little's The 7 Irrefutable Rules of Small Business Growth has curious comment by the author. 

Author Steven Little began his career in advertising before becoming president of three fast-growth companies. He makes it very clear to readers that he has learned more about small-business growth since he got out of the practitioner role, immersed himself in the study of entrepreneurial opportunity, and made a career of speaking and consulting on the topic.

I guess I need to read the book, but did he not learn these lessons as a practioner, and learn to articulate what he learned as a speaker and writer?

I raise the issue because my situation is the opposite. 

For ten years, I have had a consulting business in the arena of leadership development and planning.  Yet, it was six years ago when I decided to stop talking about leadership and start leading that I began to really understand the nature of leadership.  Those various leadership opportunities provided me contexts for testing my ideas about leadership and organizational development.  In fact, my thinking about leadership changed because I was a practioner.  My blog entries capture some of this understanding.

Here's the specific issue with the genre of leadership text that Little's book falls into.  One my chief interests is understanding how to narrow the chasm between ideas and practice.  That is why the leadership development side of my practice has been focused on planning and implementation.  Leadership speakers who can present eloquent presentations of ideas about leadership are everywhere. The business shelf of bookstores are full of these kinds of books. 

Little of what is said is new or innovative, most derivative of someone else's work.  That is okay, we all learn from our mentors.  It is that most of this is not really focused on how to lead, and instead on describing what it is. Having clear ideas about leadership is not the same as knowing what to do with those ideas.  What is needed in more speaker's and books is how to shorten the time span from inspiring idea to learned practice.

Let's take Little's book for example.  Here are the seven rules.

Rule 1: Establish and maintain a strong sense of purpose
Rule 2: Thoroughly understand the marketplace
Rule 3: Build an effective growth planning system
Rule 4: Develop customer-driven processes
Rule 5: Put the power of technology to work
Rule 6: Attract and keep the best and the brightest
Rule 7
: See the future more clearly

The only one of those rules I want to read about is #3 - on a growth planning system.  A system implies application, methodology, processes, and measures.  The rest is common sense, and even a bit dated common sense.  For example, businesses have moved beyond trying to be customer-driven on to creating evangelists for customer experiences of emotion, connection and remarkableness.

S.J. Johnston ends his review with this comment.

Although his seven “irrefutable” rules are not scientifically proven, he argues that they should be recognized and acknowledged because “they just make sense.” We agree.

I agree as well.  But there really is nothing note worthy in this list.  Knowing these "rules" doesn't make small business growth happen.  In fact, focusing on these 7 rules probably won't make your business grow.  For these rules do not constitute a comprehensive system for business growth.  They are common sensical aphorisms that remind people of some basic values that need to be incorported into every business.   If I want a primer on small business growth, I'd go to Michael Gerber's E-Myth system.

What I have learned is that the application of ideas is not the same as collecting ideas. It requires focus, commitment and time.  When I encounter some new idea or ideas, like Seth Godin's approach to marketing, I try to become as familiar as I can with the idea itself.  I do this by trying to articulate it to other people.  At teh same time I ask "How does this work here."  I look for opportunities to put it into practice.  For example, the Confidence Cairn (See here, here, here, and here) project at the Newland Presbyterian Church grew out of a number of ideas, but it really took off as I used his Purple Cow book as a reference.  Now it is easy to get inspired by the Purple Cow.  It is another thing to actually create something remarkable.  The Confidence Cairn is remarkable within the context of the church and community in Newland.

What I have learned in the leadership development business is that most leaders already have sufficient ideas that will benefit their businesses.  What they need is to apply those ideas.  The problem is that most ideas don't come with an application methodology. As a result, most ideas are superficially understood, are more for emotional inspiration, and tend to become the flavor of the month if not applied.

Finally, for my work as a consultant, I have found that strategic planning is a very receptive context for applying new ideas.   Planning is ultimately about change, seeking impact for the organization through a better utilization of its resources and assets.  For this to happen, there is a reorientation that must occur involving purpose, goals, organizational structure and many other things.  It is here where leaders learn how to lead.  In the nitty-gritty of implementing change, leaders need fresh insight that ideas can give them. 

That is why if there is any cyncism in my voice toward leadership treatments like Little's book, it is because they fall short of their promise to make a difference.  Difference is change.  Change is impact.  Impact comes from change.  Change comes from doing things differently.  Doing things differently comes from thinking differently, and perceiving what you are to do differently, and then changing to meet that new perception. If your vision, your idea of the future, is not clear, then the ideas that guide you toward that future point of impact are either not clear, coherent, applicable or well developed.  Narrowing the chasm between idea and impact is the challenge.

* Tip of the hat to Tom Peters Wire Service for this link.

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