I think whenever someone starts a business – whether it’s to make and sell something, provide a service, or create an empire – there’s a blend of not knowing anything about what to do and wanting to learn about the tools and principles that might work, but also having some sense of what you DON’T want to do or be. For me, I want to know about the tools and principles, but chafe at the notion that there are things I’m “supposed to” do in order to do it correctly. Correctly for who? No one knows my business and what I want it to be better than me, so how could anyone already have the formula that is best for me and my business?
Having seen and read about so many successful leaders and businesses that that got to where they did specifically by deviating from “supposed to”, I feel like it’s necessary to give entrepreneurs (including myself) permission to use the tools and principles that work for them – to take the best and leave the rest – and create something that is yours and reflects you and what you want.
In that spirit and mindset, I found Anything You Want, by Derek Sivers. I saw this colourful, slim book while browsing at a frequently visited local coffee shop (the same location that also led me to this little gem on confidence). Sivers’ book promises “40 lessons for a new kind of entrepreneur.” As I’m still finding my feet with my own company venture, I thought there might some useful and insightful gems in this little book. And I was not disappointed; these lessons from a successful entrepreneur reflect a holistic, focused, and intentional approach to building and leading a successful company.
For those who don’t know (as I didn’t before this book), Derek Sivers is the creator and founder of CD Baby, an online shop that provides a storefront and distribution service for independent musicians. Derek describes his mission, vision, and values (even if he doesn’t call them that) and how these guiding principles enabled him to create a successful company that was what HE wanted it to be. Through the 40 lessons, we hear the whole story of the company, from idea and launch, through growth and challenges, and finally to the sale of the company and the completion of this journey for Derek.
The “new kind of entrepreneur” is one who sets a clear and specific vision for themselves and their company, and then stays true to it. It’s often a pretty simple vision, but one that can be (as we see in his story) challenged on several fronts as the business starts and grows, mostly because it is so different than what we are “supposed to” do or want. The message of “anything you want” is about the freedom to pursue anything while remaining true to yourself (the you part) and your vision and values (what you want). Again, sounds simple but Sivers’ experience demonstrates that it is hard to keep it simple in a business world that has expectations of continuous growth, a quest for profit, a near-lust for efficiencies, and pre-conceived notions of the right way to do things.
Aside: the entire time reading this book and writing this post, I’ve been plagued with the earworm, “You Got It” from Roy Orbison. “Anything you want, you got it.” Enjoy and you're welcome.
While I flagged 15 points that resonated for me, I found five of these to be the most powerful, significant, and thought-provoking:
That last point is the overall premise of the book and biggest takeaway:
“You can’t live someone else’s expectation of a traditional business. You have to just do whatever you love the most, or you’ll lose interest in the whole thing.”
That’s not to say you won’t have to do some things that are less exciting. After all, you still have a responsibility to run the business: pay your employees; file your taxes; do marketing and business development and invoicing; read and sign agreements; deal with the bank and pay your bills. No one starts a business just to run the business, and you can work towards hiring someone to do those very things (find someone who loves invoicing or social media). But do NOT contract out the very things that got you excited and interested in starting the business in the first place.
My own experience on this: a few years ago, I was at a crossroad in my business: too much work and too little time, and so I had the idea of subcontracting some of my teaching and training work - to partner with someone and have them take on some of the live teaching that is always in high demand. The problems with this?
I did explore working within someone else, but ultimately decided that that was not for me. I can and do subcontract to others for specialized topics; one of my strengths is that I know what I’m not good at or have insufficient expertise in, and another is being a Connector with a large and purposeful network. But I resisted the “opportunity” to contract out my core activities because they are the things that I love to do - they are the things that I want. If I don’t get to do those, then why do the business at all?
We might also consider this as a variation on the famous (but apocryphal) Margaret Mead quote: never doubt that a thoughtful, committed person can change their world and the worlds of others. By being intentional, grounded, clear, and committed, you can build and have anything you want.
So, what do YOU want? If you’re starting or in a business, how have you created your mission, vision, and values or core objectives to keep you intentional and focused on what you want? If you work in a role in a larger organization, do YOU understand what the organization wants? And how does that align with what you want?
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Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.