Business Owners Toolbox Blog Discussions and articles to help the small business owner solve the challenges they face as they grow their business.

September 24, 2009

When Do Companies Stop Being Creative?

(From my response on

A. As I look around at the small business owners I’ve worked with (including myself) here’s what I see:

1. Creativity comes in all kinds and sizes of business, and so does failure of creativity.

2. Failure of creativity follows shifts in the attitudes of the owner and other key people


• Owners get dragged out of creativity by the demands of running the business day to day. This has a lot to do with your own management style. “ I can’t find good people that I can trust.” “I got into this business to do what I love; now I spend all my time as a damn manager.” Thus you are continually pulled back down into lower-level tasks, and can’t focus on creativity, vision, strategy.

• Lack of support. Nobody is pushing you to take the creative leap, nor problem solving how to overcome the hurdles. No-one following behind, handling the details, executing the vision.

• Lack of systems; seat-of-pants management. Thus your “franticness quotient” increases exponentially with growth.

• Ill-fitting systems. E.g., accounting or project management or sales tracking systems that don’t give needed performance information to the owner.

• Constraining systems. Too much “by the book” or “bean counter mentality.” Of course the owner has put these into place, but then starts believing in them.

• Failure of vision. A creative owner gets beaten down, burned out. You have one good idea, but stick with it long after the window of opportunity has slammed shut. Or you fear taking the needed next step. “Tried that, got beaten down, it didn’t work, now I’m gun shy.”

• You get out of touch. You drift into an eddy out of the current of new ideas and technologies. This can be related to age, but there are many creative codgers out there.

• You get too comfortable. The balance between work and life tips toward Maui.

• Physical/mental impairment. Alas, this eventually catches up with us. If you’re smart, you’ll go out at the top, handing the creative reins over to the young whippersnapper you’ve groomed—and whose ideas you probably hate.

What’s the answer? First, see if you spot yourself in the above list, and own up to it. Then you can tackle the problem.
— My book can help you tackle this challenge: How to Grow Your Business without Driving Yourself Crazy.
— If you were a member of one of our business owner groups, this would be a perfect challenge to bring up to your group of peers. This is valuable because it’s often hard for us to see and acknowledge our part in this process.

— Call or email me. I’d be glad to talk with you a bit about this at no charge.

Who Is the Carrier of Your Company’s Culture?

Filed under: Growth Management — Tags: , , , — Mike Van Horn @ 4:15 pm

Q. If I have a virtual company, how can I have the kind of company culture I want?
(question on LinkedIn)

A. Who is the carrier of your company’s culture? You, of course, plus the people who work for your company. (And to an extent, customers and others who influence it with their expectations.)

The less continuity in your workforce, the harder it is to sustain a desired culture. If it’s just you plus a bunch of subs and virtual assistants, there will be a culture, but it may not be the one you want. You’ll have to work harder to maintain a culture of shared mission and commitment and productivity among people who work with you only some of the time and have little invested in your success.

I have many small business clients that have key players who work remotely, even on different continents. The owners sustain the desired culture among the far-flung folks by:
— Paying attention to it. Knowing what culture they want and continually pulling people and operations toward that.
— Selecting the right people. It takes a special person to be able to support your desired mode of interaction when they are half a world away
— Having regular face-to-face team interaction. This usually means getting people together for special events, but video conferencing can work also—at least for some of the interactions. And cost decreases make this increasingly feasible for even small companies.
— Rewarding those who act in congruence with the desired culture, and eliminating those who won’t.

Even a tight-knit group working physically together will pull against you, and test the limits of the cultural norms. This is even more prevalent with remote team members. You as owner are the ultimate keeper and enforcer of the culture.

I have a downloadable piece titled “Build a Culture of Growth” that goes into this more.

Or call or email me with your challenge. I’ll be glad to talk with you – at no charge.


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