This is a guest post contributed by Dave Knox. Dave is the author of Predicting The Turn: The High Stakes Game of Business Between Startups and Blue Chips. He will be one of the keynote speakers at the Activate Conference on Tuesday, June 26
I don’t have to tell you, but small businesses are a juggling act.
The team is constantly being pulled in a million different directions. Every person is asked to be a Swiss Army knife, doing the job of three or more people. And the only time that matters is today, because there just might not be a tomorrow if that every growing to do list does not get finished.
While we all know there are only some many hours in the day, I think all small businesses need to free up time to focus on a huge opportunity that many of them are missing. That missed opportunity is taking a break from the grind of today and putting a focus on the potential of tomorrow.
Said differently, small businesses need to take a step back and take time to think about the future of their business and industry.
We live in a time where an eye for the future has never been more important. Innovation and technology adoption happen at unprecedented rates. It took the telephone and automobile each over 50 years to reach 50 million users. It took Facebook only 3 years to reach that same number of users.
What used to be measured in decades is now measured in just a few years.
In this sea of change, innovation is proving to be both a creative and destructive force where entire industries are re-written. At big companies in the Fortune 500, they have innovation departments, corporate venture capitalists, futurists, and all kinds of consultants helping them to think about the future of their industry.
But while small businesses do not have these same spoils of riches, the concept of thinking about the future is as important – if not even more important. Small businesses just need to take the time to do it a little differently.
One way to accomplish this is a “Think Week”. If you have never heard of the concept, one of the most famous practitioners is Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft.
When Gates was at Microsoft, he would take at least one week a year – and often two – where he would focus on the future of Microsoft and the industry. He would accomplish this by leaving the office for a week for what was essentially a thinking vacation. He would retreat to a secluded cabin and have a week that was devoid of meetings, emails, telephone calls, or any other sort of distraction.
Instead, he would bring along books, essays, and thought pieces written by his team members at Microsoft. These materials were his inspiration as he took a break from the day to day and instead focus on tomorrow.
To many of you, this might sound like a luxury that you cannot afford. Sure, one of the richest men in the world can afford to take a week to just think but you don’t have time for that. You barely have time for a real family vacation, much less a Think Week. My counter would be that we make time for what we prioritize, and I cannot think of much higher priorities that the future of your business.
The key point is taking the time to think, not rigidly following a model where you disappear from the world to a secluded retreat for a week. For instance, when I did my first Think Week last year, I could not go out of town as I had two young children at home. Instead, I carved out 5 days in a row where I left my calendar completely open.
Each day I would drop the kids off at school and head to a new inspirational spot in town where I’d spend the day reading, writing, and just thinking. But come dinner time, I’d be back home to sit down with my family. Prioritize the time to think but make it work with your schedule.
Once you prioritize the time, what should you do with it?
While the answer is different for everyone, I suggest you spend the time surrounding yourself with inspiration about the business world, both your industry and adjacent ones as well. Start by reading through the trade magazines that have been piling up in your mailbox. Next listen to a few new podcasts about the stories of business leaders like How I Built This and TED Radio Hour.
Finally, spend time looking into the future by seeking inspiration from the world of venture capital where investors are making financial bets on a future. You can do this by reading great publications like the First Round Review or the content published by Andreesen Horowitz.
As you enter your Think Week, it’s important to be in the right frame of mind. My best advice is to keep in mind the words of David Heinemeier Hansson , the creator of Ruby on Rails – “The sooner you stop fighting the present, the sooner you can get to work on figuring out the future.”