While Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang are going door to door on Hallowe’en night, Linus is sitting in the Pumpkin Patch waiting for the ‘Great Pumpkin’ to arrive. During this memorable Peanuts Hallowe’en episode you got to see Charlie Brown in his ramshackle Ghost costume… essentially a bed sheet with holes everywhere. Everywhere except where they needed to be.
Etched into my memory is the scene where all the kids are shouting out what candy they got after their visit to each house.
‘I got a chocolate bar!’
‘I got 5 pieces of candy!’
‘I gotta a package of gum!’
And, of course, there was the lovable loser, Charlie Brown, looking down into his bag and saying forlornly…
“I got a rock.”
Some days, when I come into work at our trucking software company I wonder if all this toil and effort – fueled as it is by dreams of a gigantic candy bar – will simply turn out to be just another rock dropped in our bags. Other times I wonder if we would all be better off trying to do something ‘insanely great’ – make something so unique that, if it worked, would make them all beat a path to our door. The equivalent of sitting there, waiting to see if the Great Pumpkin will arrive in our office.
My practiced way of approaching things is to work on a ‘step by step’ basis, learning from each measured step along the way, constantly improving. At least I know I will get something at each doorstep versus waiting in a muddy and cold Pumpkin Patch for something that may never arrive.
When you are President of a trucking software company its hard to really, truly, know the best way forward. You have to draw upon your experience, your research, and some instinct to figure out a way to steer through the minefield of bad decisions.
Of course, you can ask someone for advice – but that can sound an awful lot like ‘Charlie Brown’s Teacher’… “whaw, whaw, whaw, whaw, whaw – strategic planning workshop – whaw, whaw, whaw, whaw, whaw – $9,995!”
You know – what you sound like to your teenager when you ask them about their day at school. Or to your chief developer in your weekly team meetings.
We had a new fellow join us a few weeks back. He is a mature student at one of our local universities. And before he could be indoctrinated into our business, and start seeing everything through the lens of our product, I asked him to research the industry for 2 weeks and come back to me with a recommendation for how a new company might enter the market. It was a great exercise for both parties and provided us with a benchmark for a new entrant. It helped us understand if we were ‘on the mark’, and if we were, what tweaks we needed to make to our strategy.
In order to grow a business, you need to have the systems and process that can scale with the business. You also need to have some key differentiators in your business that help you best serve a defined set of customers.
But you also wonder about serendipity, about luck.
There is a very big software company in Canada that provides retailers with an online store so they can conduct commerce on the internet. It is very successful. But they didn’t actually write the software for that reason – it was written for a snowboard company. Pretty ‘goofy’ eh? They had an entirely different plan and when that didn’t work they pivoted in a different direction. Who knows how things catch fire.
Or take the fact that Steve Jobs was still focused on the great computer that could produce Pixar movies only to be reminded by John Lasseter ’that it was the content, the actual movies, – not the hardware – that was of greater value’. Jobs, the iconic computer innovator actually made far more money selling Pixar to Disney than he ever made in founding Apple computers. We can thank Lasseter for Buzz Lightyear, Nemo, and Mr. Incredible.
As for me, I just worry that I am going to be sitting in the Pumpkin Patch, joined by my staff, and we will all be waiting for the Great Pumpkin arrive, only to see Snoopy rise up instead.
And like Charlie’s Brown’s little sister Sally, they will all be yelling at me:
“I was robbed. I spent the whole night waiting for the Great Pumpkin when I could have been out for Trick or Treats. Hallowe’en is over AND I missed it. You Blockhead!”
And I will answer, “Well, at least you didn’t work for Peanuts…”
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