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Mission critical Featured

5:17am EDT July 19, 2002

Every business owner needs time away from the business to reflect, think and plan.

I recently spent some time in the Southwest, where I reflected a bit and pursued some of my favorite recreational activities such as hiking, biking and golfing in the desert.

One morning, while biking through the desert, I realized again just how similar the strategies and practices that are used to ensure a successful adventure are to those needed to successfully manage a business. Here are four of my business strategies from the desert.

Don't skimp on equipment

Equipment without skill or ability won't make you a champion. However, a lack of the right equipment can result in a less than enjoyable experience and prevent you from excelling.

In the worst-case situation, bad equipment can be unsafe and cause injury. The money I save on a pair of low-cost hiking boots at the local discount store will be little consolation to the pain and inconvenience of my blisters and sprains.

Instead, understand the limits on equipment and set your objectives to match. Understanding how the quality and capabilities of your equipment and resources affect your ability to compete and excel will help you choose the right strategies.

But, while matching objectives and goals to capacities and capabilities may be a good short-term strategy, it can limit your long-term growth. To reach your long-term objectives, your long-term strategy should begin with improving the capacity and capability of your equipment.

If your goal is to be the best, and your strategy is to compete and win in the top classes, you can't do it with amateur equipment.

Know your limits

While the right equipment may help you implement strategies and reach goals, it can also be dangerous because it could provide a false sense of security. Even more important than equipment are the skills and abilities of the person operating it.

If you are biking or climbing up a steep mountain slope, not knowing or accepting your limits is not only foolish, it can also be very painful. But, as in business, taking risks is part of the game. Avoiding them will limit your potential for growth and reaching the summit.

The key is knowing what type of risks to take. If an honest assessment of your abilities reveals they may be preventing you from achieving your goals, then your short-term objectives and strategies should become clear: Improve your abilities and raise your limits.

Focus in front of you

One way to avoid an unpleasant experience when biking down a rocky mountain trail is to focus on the condition of the trail you are approaching.

Looking down and focusing on your front wheel is a natural tendency, but it doesn't provide enough time to react to changes in the trail. Being aware of the road ahead helps avoid last second panic adjustments, where the cure can be worse than the problem.

Spending your day watching every detail of the day-to-day activities of your business is like watching the front wheel rather than the trail. You stand a good chance of being surprised when the trail conditions change.

The trick in business, as well as in biking, is that when you are moving forward, be focused just far enough ahead to enable you to remain in control while avoiding surprises.

Stay alert

When hiking or biking, there are always portions of the trip that require more intense effort and concentration than others. If a mishap occurs, it's usually not caused by lack of attention.

My personal experience, however, is that mishaps tend to occur not at these times, but at times when the trail seems easier and you let down your guard.

This doesn't mean that whether you're in business dealings or in the desert that you should be in a constant state of paranoia. But it also doesn't mean you shouldn't celebrate successes (in fact, these celebrations often provide the motivation for continuing the adventure).

Instead, simply stay alert at all times to avoid the unexpected. The trail or the competition doesn't care whether you are concentrating. It will move along with -- or without -- you. Joel Strom (jstrom@jsagrowth.com) is director of Joel Strom Associates LLC, the growth management practice of C&P Advisors LLC. The firm works exclusively with closely held businesses and their ownership, helping them set and achieve growth objectives while maximizing profitability and value. Contact him at (216) 831-2663.