I just read an aviation accident aftermath report and the entrepreneurial learning opportunity is huge. A pilot was flying in IFR conditions (in the clouds, no outside references, trust your instruments to know which way is up, etc…). He was changing altitudes and headings erratically and not following ATC instructions properly. When ATC bluntly asked him basically “What is going on dude?” … he responded with a short and frightening comment: “Uhm, yeah, just, uhm, just a little disoriented up here.”
Shortly after that comment he crashed and lost his life.
In aviation, we study this phenomenon and have labeled it Spacial Disorientation. I’ve seen this in entrepreneurs before as well. Disoriented is dangerous. Here are some of the situations I’ve observed entrepreneurial disorientation.
- Disoriented to your own technology. This is often when a sales oriented leader is at the helm and attempting to sell a highly technical product or solution. Perhaps even a product whose advantages over the competition are purely technical. A smooth pitch, great stories and beautiful cost/benefit analysis won’t work when confidence that you understand technical solution you are selling. Your buyers (or investors) must be confident in your technical understanding of your product, and if you are winging it in front of technical buyers, your disorientation will not go unnoticed.
- Disoriented to how people see you. This is straightforward self-awareness. Do you understand yourself enough to understand how people see you? Are you aware of your habits and mannerisms that people love and people hate? If you are often misunderstood, do you know why? Do you admit it and work to overcome misunderstandings. There is nothing more painful than being in a room watching an entrepreneur pitch when they’ve lost the confidence of the room… and everyone knows it, but him.
- Disoriented to where you are financially. This commonly happens when an entrepreneur believes he has made it based on the P&L without regard to the balance sheet. I’m talking about leveraging up to get going, and once you get going failing to pay down the debt but burning cash and taking more home. In SaaS and products businesses, obviously this is different situation than in services businesses. The important thing is to be intentional about both your balance sheet and P&L and recognize how you need to manage them to maximize value.
Obviously we can’t always see the future and be perfectly comfortable. Entrepreneurship is all about getting comfortable being uncomfortable. But keeping your wits and orientation is important.
For more thoughts, you may enjoy this post from Venture Village about Zen and Entrepreneurship and “seeing clearly.”