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The stone in your hand


3 min read

As was famously said, you can't solve a problem at the level of the thinking that created it. Whether you're struggling with slow sales, low morale, or bleeding cash in your operations, the current issue has roots that go far deeper than the surface issue - the "symptom."

The Stone In Your HandThe symptoms of what isn't working about your business are easy to see. Those are the things in plain view, the things that "keep you up at night." And it's just as easy to see (though often harder to admit) how struggles at work are impacting the rest of your life.

One way of saying it is that what is happening is easy to see, but why it's happening can be a lot tougher to find and solve.

If you try and solve it at the level of the symptom - let's say it's "not enough sales" - you'll soon find yourself chasing after quick fixes. You'll go from a technique you learned in a workshop to a tactic you learned in a book. Or maybe you'll hire an expert (with the subtle implication that hiring them takes you off the hook for having to solve the real problem). And the clock of small business survival counts down one more merciless beat.

The alternative is what at EMyth we call "going meta," or simply put "finding the real problem." An EMyth Coach might say: "Okay. Let's assume the problem isn't necessarily the need for sales but rather the need for increased profits. If we start there, that gives us the room to figure out what the real issue is. Maybe what's causing the lack of new leads is that there isn't a clear brand commitment? Maybe what's changed isn't anything in the sales department but that resources are being pulled to chase after new customers (expensive) rather than invest more in the experience of current ones (less expensive) which will lead them to tell their friends?"

The answer could be anywhere, but the critical point is it's never really "more sales" or "team-building" or hiring experts. It's about fixing the problem at the root, which is what real business coaching is all about, so the problem doesn't come back up tomorrow somewhere else.

Sometimes meta comes as an insight - a counter-intuitive idea - that goes against the grain of conventional wisdom or previous experience. But the real juice is down one more level - on the ground floor of real business transformation - where it's personal. It's having the courage to see and accept how you, as the business leader, are responsible for why things are the way they are. Almost never are you directly responsible for the problem that's in front of you, but you are 100% accountable for the background conditions that allowed the problem to be there.

Can you get better business results without working on yourself as a leader - by working on "it" without working on "you"? Absolutely. So the business will improve, sales may even go up, but what about you - you personally?

"Work on it, not in it." It's the viral phrase EMyth has been famously associated with for decades. And it's, in my opinion, a far more profound statement than its originator ever imagined. Because it's an endless invitation - a "meta" challenge to keep looking, to keep evolving the personal reason each of us is in business beyond the money, to share our passion with the world more boldly than you did yesterday, and to do that with integrity especially when times are tough.

Going meta is critical to finding out "who you are" - as a business and as a leader. It's the tool you need to actually turn over every stone, including the one you don't realize you're carrying.

Jonathan Raymond

Written by Jonathan Raymond

Jonathan was a frequent contributor to the EMyth blog from 2011-2015. His articles focus on marketing, branding, and organizational culture.