Elephants can’t dance like entrepreneurs can

The title of this column was Chip Conley’s tweeted comment on April 12th when Cisco announced they were killing the FlipCam, only two years after buying the manufacturer for some $590m. Only a week prior to this, Cisco CEO John Chambers had issued a mea culpa admitting to problems with slow decision making and lack of “discipline” at his company.

When Cisco bought FlipCam, the iPhone revolution was going mainstream. With smartphones now shooting high quality video, perhaps the FlipCam was doomed, but it is still true that “Elephants can’t dance like Entrepreneurs”.

How do entrepreneurs dance? First, they know with certainty why they are dancing and what they want to get out of the dance (they have a “vision”). They dance with passion and energy (entrepreneurs are nothing if not driven!). Finally, and even the most agile elephant can’t compete here, they have their eyes and ears on everything at all times, so are ready to change direction quickly when necessary (awareness and agility). Vision, passion, energy, awareness, agility. These are among the key qualities of entrepreneurs.

How long, though, can they keep dancing? What happens when their business grows and they can’t see everything at the same time, and what if the volume of work drains their passion and energy and they lose their vision? When that happens, their managers and team members have to be the ones “dancing”, and they all have to dance the same way and to the same tune. This can only happen if they have developed a strong Culture.

Looking back in history at large corporations, those that have successfully lasted a century or more have as their common defining trait a strong Culture. Culture is paramount, but it must then drive and align the development of systems and processes for the business to ensure sustainable success.

Entrepreneurs can outdance Elephants for a while, but most don’t look up and see the need to focus on that transition from the “Entrepreneur Show” to a business with a strong Culture that enables everybody in the business to embody that Culture in every thought and action.

What then happens? The business stumbles, stagnates and the founding Entrepreneur feels frustration, stress and then disillusionment. Worst of all is that they never saw it coming when things were going so well and they out-danced Elephants! This is what Shirlaws Business Coaching refers to as “Smashing into the Second Brick Wall”, an eloquent way of expressing what they have seen as a global organisation coaching thousands of owner led businesses through all points of the business lifecycle.

Chip Conley himself is a hugely admired Entrepreneur, but he is now more widely known for his “Peak” System that he developed to transform his company (Joie de Vivre Hotels) when it so nearly crashed. This system led to him developing the “Joie de Vivre Heart”, a virtuous business circle with the following elements : 1 : Creating a unique corporate Culture, then 2 : Building an Enthusiastic Staff, 3 : Developing Strong Customer Loyalty, 4 : Maintaining a Profitable and Sustainable Business, which all leads back to the beginning point again, reinforcing the Culture, and so on.

Can you state in just a few words the Culture of your business? Is it something that you and all your team members at all levels believe in and embody in their every thought and action and have you built Systems and Processes around it? If so, well done, you have a powerful base to build upon. If not? The good news is that if you recognise it early, that crash into the Second Brick Wall won’t be so painful, and you can get back to outdancing elephants, but this time with everybody in the company doing it, not just the entrepreneur.