Every entrepreneur hits ceilings in their business. Have you ever hit a ceiling you burst through quickly? What about one you eventually made it through but not without some delays and a few battle scars? And of course — there are those ceilings we never make it through.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to dig into some of the topics that hold us back from getting through our ceilings and give you some tangible suggestions to break through. Each post will build on the other and will touch on topics I’ll be diving into deeper at my upcoming Break The Ceiling workshop on January 16th. Today’s post honors the infamous circular argument.

The chicken and the egg

How familiar does this thread sound?

You want to grow, which means you need more revenue to work with. To increase your revenue, you are pretty sure you need time to focus on selling. The problem is: you’re too busy running your business to focus on that. So, you decide you need to hire. But you need money to hire. So, you’re back to square 1. You need more revenue.

The entrepreneur brain bender from my latest workshop. Courtesy of the chicken (or is the egg?)

It’s very easy to fall into this thinking trap. After all, it’s very logical. It pieces together what we see about the situation. Based on what I captured above, what scenarios did you come up with to solve it?

My guess is two scenarios jumped to mind very quickly. You can take the direct financial risk and hire someone in the hopes that it will pan out. Or you can take an indirect risk to your current customers’ experience and your health and try to work more hours to get to where you want to go until you can afford to hire someone.

If we jump to taking one of those routes without thinking it through, we are more likely to get some battle scars (or) never break through at all.

There are more options – some of which I’m guessing you thought of – but before we get to those; let’s talk about why this happens.

Solving problems as a human

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

We have a lot of creative power for problem solving; but different parts of our thinking, emotion, and instincts are engaged at different times in the problem-solving process. I have recently read two great books on this subject. David Rock’s “Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long ”. And Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” a book that focuses on biases that affect judgment and decision making. I walked away from these two books with a lot of takeaways and one major theme. If we understand how our normal wiring can show up in different ways, it can help us short circuit it (or jump it) when we need to.

In the use case captured in this blog, there is a minefield of potential traps to fall into. Both books are worth a complete read since there are multiple things that could be at work (and therefore tools to solve them), but I’ll call out a couple of the areas that resonated with me:

  • Confirmation bias – It is more efficient to find a pattern and confirm what we believe vs. disproving a hypothesis. Our minds look for evidence, and we get what we look for. The most creative solutions are indirect and can’t be found unless we seek out what we don’t see.
  • Information overload – Each of the variables in this use case require exploration to get to creative options. Exploration requires horsepower (energy). For example:
    • Is it revenue or profit (or profitable revenue) we care about?
    • Is the growth opportunity in how we close sales, our pipeline, loyalty or new offerings?
    • Are there time sinks we could do more efficiently (or not at all)?
    • Are there creative staffing options?

      David Rock’s book covers research on our working memory. It degrades when we try to hold more than one topic on what he calls our “stage”. If we’re willing to take the lo-fi version, we can only hold up to four ideas on our stage — less if they are complex.

  • Emotional arousal – The parts of our brain that get excited and scared feed off the difference between expectations and reality. When we are overly aroused (positively or negatively) or under aroused, we can miss details. And guess what? I’m guessing we’re all more aroused its our business, our money and our time instead of someone else’s.

What do we do about it?

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

We need insights and action to break through ceilings. If we’re hitting a wall, we have options to tap into the pieces of our mind most likely to give us insights.

  • Use the outside looking in approach – Pretend it’s someone else’s business. How would you see the problem differently if it were a friend’s or colleague’s challenge and not your own? Reading this blog is one way to do that. In fact, you might have had insights about your own business reading this because it wasn’t your business we were talking about.
  • Break it up and write it down – We did this in the Information Overload section above. We chunked the problem into bite size pieces: revenue, sales, time and hiring. This technique makes each part familiar. Write down the most important key ideas so they stay front and center and you don’t have to hold them on your stage. Come up with questions and ideas for each piece and pull it back together to see what emerges.
  • Sit on it – When you’re distracted, quiet the mind and forces you can control in order to focus. When you’re stuck, move onto something new so your brain can get unstuck. Inspiration can be tapped sometimes; but sometimes it needs to be given the space to tap you on the shoulder.
  • Use a frame of reference – The next blog post will cover a framework you can use to think through your business systematically. So you’re not missing insights in how you run it (or) opportunities lurking around another corner. Here’s an example… what if that extra time and money you need is in your supply chain? And what if production time is the biggest reason you aren’t selling as much as you can? Increasing your time selling wouldn’t help you grow profitably nearly as much as solving for supply chain.

So, is it the chicken? Or the egg?

My vote is neither.

Photo by Julian Dutton on Unsplash

In fact, I think it might be the wrong question. The question I prefer to ask is why does this chicken need to cross the road? Where does she want to get to and why? Does she need to go fast or is it more about the journey? What supplies does she need to get there and what should she let go of?

Armed with that knowledge, we can get the chicken on the right path, and give it the tools it needs to get there. The map, the compass, the walking stick, and perhaps a blister care pack.

I have a feeling there will still be a few battle scars — we are entrepreneurs after all. But if you look at the problem from a different angle, I’m guessing you’ll find a slew of creative options that just might surprise you.

P.S. I am dedicating this post to my neighbors’ chickens – who are awesome. And to my daughter who asked me to walk her through the “chicken slide” at least 3 times because she found it hilarious. If only all of our entrepreneurial challenges were so entertaining…

Jenny Erickson is a former Strategic Program Manager and Organizational Development Consultant in corporate america who is now fulfilling her destiny of helping America’s smallest businesses thrive by creating simplified versions of the best resources she developed for the big guys. Find out what she can do for your micro-business!

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