Best-selling author Michael E. Gerber confesses: He almost fell victim to the very myth he discovered. "In 1985, I was told by my then-partner-who is no longer with us-that we were broke," explains Gerber. Over the past 20 years, his E-Myth Academy in Santa Rosa, Calif., has trained more than 15,000 companies to avoid some of the mistakes he's made. "I immediately became aware of the major omission I was guilty of, that I was ignoring the financial reality of the company because I was so consumed with the work I knew how to do. It almost put us out of business."
Instead, Gerber pulled through and wrote his now-classic The E-Myth, followed by The E-Myth Revisited and, most recently, The E-Myth Manager: Why Management Doesn't Work and What to Do About It. Gerber took a few minutes with Small Business News to discuss perfection, leisure and the epiphany that changed his life.
What is the "e-myth"?
It is the entrepreneurial myth, which essentially means that most people who go into business aren't entrepreneurs, but technicians suffering from an entrepreneurial seizure. Technicians suffering from an entrepreneurial seizure go into business for themselves, believing that because they understand how to do the work of a business-fix cars, clip poodles, program computers-they understand how to create a business that does that work. And it's a fatal assumption.
From a question in your book that you ask business owners to ask themselves: Where were you psychologically before you started your own business?
I was in a completely open state of mind. Any option was possible. I was learning about business by being a sales consultant to high-tech start-up companies in Silicon Valley. I walked into these companies with questions because I didn't have the answers. And I began to realize that not only did I not know the answer to those questions, but just about every question I asked drew a blank.
I had an epiphany: It was extraordinary to me how little these clients knew about business. I had started with the presumption they knew about business, and I discovered that, in fact, not only didn't they know, but they were absolutely as unknowledgeable about it as I was. That's when I discovered the e-myth.
If as you say business is a reflection of its ownership, what do you see of yourself in your company that you'd most like to change?
The gap between the idealistic and the pragmatic. I'm talking about the company and all individuals within the company, and the way we manage our company, and the way we epitomize the ideal that I constantly communicate. I have an image of the perfectly operating company, and then I have the reality. I only wish we had the ability to close that gap, not toward the middle, but toward the ideal. Because everything offends me because it isn't perfect, because I'm a relatively irascible guy, it's about how to control my own reaction and yet still manifest right action through other people.
What of your own advice do you find you violate or ignore most often?
Not paying attention to detail. Even more important, violating staff accountabilities. I'll go directly to somebody's subordinate, and get them thinking about doing something I never should have gotten involved in talking to them about in the first place. You might better put it-screwing over my managers. I drive them nuts: "Uh-oh, here comes Michael." It takes an enormous amount of discipline not to do that.
If you had nothing in the world except $100,000 in cash, what would you do with it?
I'd spend it on whatever seemed like the best idea to spend it on at the time. I live mostly in the moment. I don't plan anything. I go with my instinct. So anything I spend it on at that moment. Understand, I've been without $100,000-without anything, and had to act. I'd find the best action. And that would be whatever seemed best to me at the time. I'd take an action. I'd do something with it.
What's your idea of a relaxing weekend?
Doing that weekend whatever came to mind. There'd be no compulsion to do anything. There'd be nobody who needs me to do something. There'd be nothing I planned to do. I could simply be with myself, free to be and do anything.
How often do you get that kind of weekend?
Not too often. That's why it sounds so relaxing.
What's the personal or professional vice that you'd most like to give up?
Fear. Fear of loss. It's a vice. It consumes you. It keeps you from engaging joyfully in whatever.