Do aspiring or experienced entrepreneurs ever allow obstacles to remain a barrier to the achievement of their goals? Some do. Why is it that some entrepreneurs always seem to find a way around, over, or through the obstacles they face and other entrepreneurs allow the obstacles to remain a constant source of torment to them? Some suggest that the answer lies in how an entrepreneur chooses to perceive their situation.
About five years ago I was a member of a thirty-person internal operations consulting practice within a $10 billion global industrial manufacturer and service provider company. Our role as internal consultants was to partner with specific business-unit leaders within the company and help them identify and implement improvements to their operations. Every quarter the leader of our consulting practice would pull all thirty of us together for about a week to review the status of our projects, to share best practices, and to go through some workshops to improve our effectiveness as consultants. One of the workshops we went through was led by Scott Sink, PhD., the author of, among other books and articles, “By What Method”. The topics of the workshop were “intention” and “at-cause” / “at-effect” mental stances. What I learned about myself in this particular workshop changed my perspective on how I view barriers to goal achievement. I want to share what happened in that workshop in the hope that you might reconsider how you view the barriers that limit your success.
Before I explain what happened in the workshop I would ask that you get a pencil and a blank piece of paper. Turn the paper sideways. Think about the most important project beneficial to your business that you are in the process of implementing. Write a brief description of the project at the top of the paper. Underneath the description of the project write down the specific goal, including timing, you are trying to achieve. For example, a project might be to increase profitable sales revenue from five specific targeted customers. Your goal might be to convert three of your targeted customers to your product offering within thirty-days. Now, right under the project description and goal evaluate where you are right now, vs. where you should be on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = you’re nowhere close to where you should; 5 = you’re right on target with this project; 10 = you’re ahead of schedule). Now if you rated yourself less than a 10, think about the reasons you are not achieving a 10-level performance associated with your goal. Once you think of the reasons write down the top-five on your piece of paper. Do not read on until you finish this step. Once you finish this step put your paper aside to learn more about the workshop.
About an hour into the workshop we were asked to do what I just asked you to do. We were asked to write down the name and a brief description of our project, the specific measurable goals and timing for our project, and the results achieved at that point in time vs. what we should have achieved. I remember I rated the results achieved on my project at a level-3 performance. Obviously, I realized the project I was leading was not on track.
Now here comes the part where I learned a lot about myself. Scott Sink asked us to write down the top five reasons why we were not achieving a level-10 performance. Once we finished writing the reasons down he asked us share what we wrote. One of my colleagues described his project and indicated he rated his project at a level-4 performance. Scott then asked him to share the reasons why he was performing at that level. My colleague said things like, “my client does not complete things on time”, “my client has too many priorities”, “and my client is not committed to the goals of the project”. I have to admit the reasons I wrote down were similar in nature. Once a few of us shared our results Scott went on to explain the mental stance of “at-cause” vs. “at-effect” individuals and how they relate to “intention”.
Actually, I cannot remember exactly what Scott said at that time, but Stephen K. Hacker and Marta C. Wilson, PhD., from Transformation Systems Inc. (http://www.transformationsystems.com/), an executive strategies and management systems engineering firm, capture the essence of “at-cause” and “at effect” in their book, “The Transformation”. In it they explain that …… “at-effect” individuals see themselves as victims. They believe that things happen to them. They experience events as occurring outside of their control.” They go on to explain that, “at-effect” individuals produce stories or reasons why things are less than they should be.” In short, “at effect” individuals see everyone else as the reason goals are not achieved and they think and act like victims. On the other hand, “at-cause” individuals “create the results they desire in their lives. They see themselves as accountable for making things happen around them. Focused, at-cause individuals consciously create their desired results.”
Scott asked us to take a look at the reasons we wrote down to determine if they were “at-cause”, or “at-effect” reasons. At least eighty-percent of the reasons we listed were “at-effect”. Scott got right to the point. He told us that we intended to perform at the level we reported, whatever it was, because we were thinking and acting as either “at-cause”, or “at-effect” individuals and that it was up to us as to which way we chose. That statement really stung, but we needed to hear and face it. He said, if your statements were “at-effect” you’ve been wasting time creating reasons for unacceptable results instead of identifying and overcoming barriers. After some intense discussion and focused self-examination, he asked us to take each reason that was “at-effect” (everything else is the problem) and re-state it as an “at-cause” (I am responsible) reason.
We then identified actions that we needed to take to overcome each “at-cause” reason. What I learned about myself in this workshop was that I was engaging in “at-effect” thinking and that I was letting myself behave as a victim of my circumstances. What I can tell you from experience is that moving more toward “at-cause” thinking and behaving is liberating and it fosters a can-do, creative, action-oriented mind-set. In this workshop I realized that my deliberate intention and choice to engage in “at-cause” thinking and doing is up to me and me alone.
Now back to you. Take a look at the reasons you wrote down. Go through the same process as we did during the workshop. Once you finish go find someone you respect and tell them what you learned about yourself, what you intend to do, and what you intend to achieve. Go one step further — ask that person to hold you accountable to make sure you follow-through. Becoming a successful entrepreneur is hard work and it absolutely requires an “at-cause” mental perspective. As you move down the path of entrepreneurship consider being more aware that the results you achieve are a function of the results you intended.