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February 11, 2019

Doubling down

It’s a funny thing, a New Year. Time is a continuum and each second simply follows the other, indistinguishable from the previous one. Days of the week, months and years are human definitions, used to mark out natural cycles. January 1 was really no different from December 31 in terms of those natural cycles, and yet it symbolizes a new beginning, carrying with it a sense that we’ve now entered a different stage.

But we can, with a little bit of effort, ensure that it’s not different at all. We just have to resist opportunities and stay safe within the boundaries of what we know – our comfort zone.

We ended 2018 with a Breakthrough Company board meeting at which we had just two questions:

  • What do we want to accomplish in 2019?
  • What do we need to double down to achieve that?

In blackjack, doubling down means to double your bet because you like the card in your hand and you’re confident that the next card will make you a winner. In business, it means putting more investment in an area that shows high potential.

Our conversation gave us the gift of clarity about our focus in 2019, and we’ve already used that clarity to make decisions in all sorts of areas.

Simon and Stacey (owners of Simon Penn Building and Breakthrough programme members) have a vision around being a leading provider of passive houses (ultra-low energy buildings with a small ecological footprint). We talked about what they needed to double down on. They had set a reasonable but modest goal for how many passive houses they intended to build in 2019 because they were already booked up for the year. My challenge, which they accepted, was that they were constraining themselves by continuing to put so much time and effort into their standard houses, which represented security and comfort while they built the passive house business. As long as they held on so tight to the standard house business, they were really just dabbling with passive houses, splashing about in the shallows. If they were going to achieve their vision, they needed to dive in.

You can’t cross a chasm in two steps. You have to let go of one side and go all in. And what you’re letting go of is your comfort. Sometimes you have to hold your nerve: cash gets tight while you are building momentum in the new area rather than shoring up the old area. This is the risk bit of business ownership and entrepreneurialism. It’s not casual, it’s not reckless, it’s very deliberate. It’s the courage you need when you can feel the fear and push on through it – what the All Blacks call “walking towards the pressure”.

Of course, you have an option – avoid the pressure, don’t invest too heavily and continue to hedge your bets.

There’s a great story about the founders of Quicken, the largest financial software company in the US. At the time of their double down, they were the 47th biggest in the industry (they liked to say they had 47th mover advantage). They were finally making money, but they were going nowhere. One of the founders went to the other and said “We’ve got $100,000 in the bank. Let’s invest the whole thing in a direct marketing campaign.” This was an unusual move in 1986, and if it didn’t work they’d be out of business. His partner agreed, saying “Let’s go out in a blaze of glory and get on with our lives or let’s grow big. I don’t want to continue existing as the living dead.” They invested in an advertising campaign that created enough interest to get their software box off the bottom shelf of the computer shops and closer to eye level, and from there they started to build real momentum.

They called it their dyno move, borrowing the phrase from rock climbers who use it to describe the moment when a climber effectively has to jump to get to the next handhold. It’s a brief moment when no part of their body is in contact with the rock face. That’s scary. But then the option is to stay on the rock face or climb down.

While you’re contemplating what could go wrong with your double down, consider also the downside of doing nothing.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails – Attributed (wrongly) to Mark Twain

Make 2019 the year you throw off your bowlines and leave the comfort of your safe harbour. Make 2019 the year you find who you are and what you’re really capable of.

We can help you to navigate through uncharted waters. Book a Clarity session to get on the path to greater success. We draw on our practical experience with thousands of business leaders to work with you to create your plan, from setting a clear vision to taking that next leap.  

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