Once, I had to go to court to defend my driving licence for a serious speeding offence. I know, doesn’t fit in with what you know of me does it? Here I am, sensible, dependable, legal, decent, honest and truthful. And yet there I was, caught speeding across the nation’s highways, bang to rights.
I was a bit terrified, I don’t mind sharing that. I’d never been to court before just like I’ve never been to hospital, except as a visitor. As an entrepreneur, I’m particularly terrified of institutions; you know – the sort of places where you have to wear an identity badge round your neck on a lanyard that denotes you are a member of the micro community and you know the rules. You know how the land lies and how to get things done round here and how to get a positive result out of the system. I, on the other hand, do not. I’m a stranger here myself.
So in regard to the court appearance, I needed a strategy. My friends decided that I didn’t need a lawyer, that I was my own best defence. They saw a brisk and efficient middle-aged bird who is mistress of pretty much all she surveys. I felt like a little girl who couldn’t half have used a pal that day. But I went alone, feeling very brave, and it went OK I’m pleased to report. To what do I attribute my success that day?
I went early, a couple of hours before my appointment. I sat in court and watched all those in the dock before me. I paid attention to what was going on, what each person said in their own defence, and how that went for them or against them and how it was received by the Magistrates. Black marks for lying, cheating, serial repeat offending but mitigation if you were a first offender, a decent sort doing your best who had been unlucky on the day and, chastened, probably wouldn’t do it again.
Wherever I am a newbie, I observe first. Only once I get the lie of the land do I start to make my own contribution. The sort of person I am instinctively thinks I can do most things better than most other people. This isn’t true, by the way, it’s just my fantasy, my hallucination. So the best way for me to rein that in is to sit back, watch, observe, see how others more experienced than me, how more central players in any environment assume and act out their own roles, particularly as leaders.
Take Dragons’ Den as another example. I can’t watch an entire series, it’s not good for my health or well-being, but I’ve seen enough of it to know there are only a few rules any idiot can grasp from just one viewing:
- Watch the programme first to get the lie of the land in as far as that’s possible from this side of the camera
- Rehearse your pitch
- Know your numbers inside out, so well you could recite them in your sleep
- Don’t over-value your own start-up, you numpty. Use this first opportunity as a springboard to the next and plan to own 100% of that one if you want.
And there we go, but the first woman on? Delightful she was, but if she had ever watched DD before, you couldn’t tell. She was winging it and though they liked her and she was charming and had a good and profitable idea, they couldn’t back her because she didn’t know her own numbers well enough. Such simple rules, so little homework required; big opportunity bungled.
In all of my online forums I recommend to newbies that they might watch for a while and then a little later, when they feel ready, introduce themselves and tell us who they are, where they are headed and what’s their URL and their USP and tell us how we can help.
But it seems to be in the nature of entrepreneurs to jump right in, without having gone to court at 10.30 when we weren’t on until after lunch, or watched the show first, without taking the time to consider the sensitive guiding hand behind the group or the key active players or the silent watchers. Or how the group may have bonded while each helping to shape and foster the climate during a history of several years, building the complex and sometimes even delicate relationships in pleasurable ebb and flow. Fresh blood is welcome and reinvigorates us and we really love and appreciate newbies, but whoa! Seek first to understand.
There is such an abundance of cheap and free learning to be had from watching from the sidelines before you jump into anything new. Don’t get stuck there on the edge, come on in, the water’s lovely. But before you dive in, check how crowded is the water, what’s the lane direction policy, how busy is the pool at peak times -v- off peak, what’s the best time of the day for you to take your own swims and shape your beautiful dives. And how the somewhat more experienced water babies and aqua aerobics athletes can help and support you.
Don’t get caught speeding.