The End or the Beginning?

Posted: January 13, 2013 by Chuck Matthews in Leadership, People

Dr. Charles Matthews bio“I have learned the value of hard work by working hard.Margaret Mead

Co-nun-drum /kəˈnəndrəm/, noun, 1. A confusing and difficult problem or question.

Life, and by extension, the businesses we own, operate and run, are populated with conundrums.  The Danish philosopher Sören Kirkegaard, captured one of my favorite conundrums: While we understand life backwards, we must live our lives forward. The New Year provides the perfect time to reflect on three questions that guide us in our ongoing entrepreneurial journeys: where have we been, where are we, and where do we want to go?

The essentials of strategic planning are rooted in these three deceptively simple questions.  Just as the end of one year forces us to think about the road ahead, these three questions must be asked and answered over and over again.  The New Year is heralded as the time to make and hopefully keep resolutions that propel us on the path of a more successful year.  Interestingly, those resolutions are often born in what we have, or have not, done the past year.

Building on the past. 

In 1979, I was photographing a UC event at the Queen City Club downtown.  Afterward, my ride back to campus inadvertently left without me. I was standing stranded in front of the QCC contemplating taking a bus back to campus. I heard a voice behind me ask if I was the photographer for the Post or the Enquirer.  When I mentioned neither, but rather I worked at UC in the College of Business, the gentleman said he knew I looked familiar and asked if I was headed back to Clifton and offered me a lift.  I didn’t want to impose on him, but he insisted, and as his car and driver pulled up he asked me about classes I was taking, working at UC, and my family.  He also shared several stories about his life’s journey. I will never forget that ride.

The past informs the present.  The memories and lessons learned are with me to this day.  Indeed, it is that which we take and keep from every aspect of our life’s journey that influences our present.  As the New Year unfolds, it is the ideal time to reflect on lessons learned that provide the foundation for our actions today.  This is especially valuable on two fronts for entrepreneurs who are often over extended.  Seek the advice and counsel of others whom you trust and respect; and extend your hand to others to help them along the way.

Creating the future.  I once heard someone say, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.”  There is the conundrum.  Whether you are contemplating just starting a venture, working to make it grow, and/or going full throttle, for 2013, take time to balance your past, present, and future.  Entrepreneurs are famous for finding and filling the gaps in underserved and unserved markets.  Often that recognition can come from a simple conundrum or observing and taking action where others did not.

Balance and action.  Sadly, one notable transition in 2012, was the passing of a long-time scholar, educator, and mentor Dr. Henry R. Winkler, president emeritus of the University of Cincinnati.  He was truly a gentleman of style, honor, and distinction.  I recall the Jim Borgman cartoon in The Cincinnati Enquirer as he became UC’s president in 1977, the same year I arrived at UC as an academic counselor.  It was a clever caricature of Dr. Winkler as “The Fonz,” as portrayed by the other Henry Winkler, the popular actor in the hit sitcom Happy Days – leather jacket, collar popped, thumbs up, flanked by Mic and Mac, and the trademark “Aaaaayyyy…”

You see, that gentleman who offered me a lift that day at the QCC, was Dr. Henry Winkler.  After that, whenever he saw me on campus, he would stop and say hello. In the late ‘80s when I was a doctoral student at UC, he would occasionally stop by my study cubicle desk in Langsam Library, always taking time to talk about current and past events.

Whenever I am pressed for time or sense the nervousness of a student, I think of Dr. Winkler’s patience and interest that day and beyond and I try to live up to that standard.

For 2013, take time to reflect on where you have been, where you are, and where you are going.  You will be surprised at the direction it gives you in the New Year.  Till next time, all the best for continued entrepreneurial success!

  1. Great article. As I am starting up a business this year, I tend to only look towards the future and worry about where I am going. I feel there is no time to reflect on the past, but the past is what has gotten to me to where I am right now and I need to consider those experiences as they will mold what I and my business is to become.

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