Look up – see the tree tops

I walk in the woods a lot – the forest behind my house is almost an extension of my home office. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a eureka moment just seconds into my walk, after I had been stuck for hours on a problem at my desk. It reminds me every time of the importance of knowing when to take a step back.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

John Muir

So it is not a surprise, then, that I had this revelation in the forest again the other day. I’m trying to find a good tagline for my custom application development business nibnut, and so I’m thinking about my process, my clients and how I help them… I’m not quite finding what I want, so I decide to let it go for a little while, and just enjoy the walk.

When I’m think-walking, I look down at my feet. All I see in my field of vision is the path, the bottom of tree trunks and the plants that live there. At best, I’m looking straight ahead, and I see a bit more of the tree trunks – but they all still look pretty similar: it’s hard to identify a tree just by its bark. When I decide to enjoy myself and stop thinking so much, my chin tends to move up, I sometimes even take a few steps just looking straight up at the tree tops. (I know that path by heart so I can afford not to look where I’m going) And it’s like a whole new forest up there, a new world: there are squirrels, crows, jays and woodpeckers or even the odd owl. I’m also usually surprised just how tall trees can get. Suddenly it’s a whole new forest I’m looking at. Just this new angle, this new take on things, makes it a completely different place.

So what’s this all got to do with app development, a tagline or nibnut? You see, it dawned on me that as small business owners, we are think-walking, most of the time. With so many things to do, so many hats to wear, there’s not a lot of time left to look up at the tree tops.

When we need a tool to do our job, we tend to make do with the first tool we find that kind of fits the bill. Or maybe we shop around a bit, and then pick the best application we can find. But rarely is the application a perfect fit. Business owners, we are a resourceful people. So we make do with what we find, duct taping our tools together, manually filling-in the gaps. It quickly becomes mechanical, and we stop thinking about it: it’s just the way we do things.

Or we have developed this very cool process, this proprietary way of dealing with our clients, offering them an experience that brings them back over and over, our secret sauce. But it’s again a patchwork of big, bloated apps we only half-use, paper notes, and manual tasks… Our process is limited by what we can physically achieve – and so is our customer experience. But it’s not something we feel, or at least not very often, and so we keep going, thinking: “this is as good as I can do this”. It’s great – our clients love it – but we stop dreaming about what else it could be.

That’s the exciting challenge I find I have with my clients: getting them to look up. Getting them to step back a bit, and look at what they are doing and how they are doing it.

Go back to when you first downloaded this app, found it wasn’t quite the right fit, but thought if you did this and that part manually, you could get a system that kind of works the way you do. At the time, those small manual steps seemed like a much better investment of your time than spending more time shopping around for something that, you were now quite convinced, would never be perfect anyway. A year later, however, all that time spent doing those small manual steps over and over doesn’t look like such a wise investment after all.

Or think about your process with your clients, how you provide your service to them: it’s a great process, and it obviously works – but if you step back away from it, and start thinking bigger, I bet there’s a lot of things you can imagine would be kick-ass awesome but you just don’t have the time or resources to implement all these ideas. You barely have time to do everything you do now! Imagine you have all the time and money in the world: could you make your customer experience even better? Allow yourself to dream about what you have set aside for a lack of time or resources.

I call this challenge exciting, because when you get there, when you do look up at the tree tops, it truly is as if a new world was opening up to you. Suddenly you realize you do not have to settle for duct taped solutions. You can extend your brand, your business, into a custom platform that will offer a better experience to your customers, a unique experience they won’t get anywhere else. I find when we get there, it’s very hard to stop dreaming: suddenly, anything is possible, we are only limited by our imagination. Oh yes, sure, time and budget eventually will come into play: but it doesn’t mean it’s an unreachable goal. It just means you need to plan for it, and do it gradually. And that dreaming moment, that sky-is-the-limit moment, it is exhilarating. Suddenly, you see the tree tops.