I was once asked by a floundering insurance agency owner how he could grow his agency from where it was to something bigger.  I gave him the advice to do more of what had gotten him where he was.

This was not good advice.

In the first place, as we grow our businesses, complexity increases.  Doing more of the same thing often results in diminishing returns.  This happens because the owner gets increasingly “busy” and therefore less effective.  Also, this busyness (oddly I keep spelling that “business” which is sort of ironic if you think about it) spreads organizationally to the ultimate result that one is working harder and harder to stay in the same place.

The actual key to continual progress is to increasingly stop doing what you have been doing. 

This sounds nonsensical on the surface, i.e. “why would I stop doing the things that have brought me success thus far?”  However, what gets us where we are is a combination of using our giftedness (what Dan Sullivan calls, “Unique Ability”) and doing a lot of other things that are just necessary.  We do this until we run out of time and then progress stalls.

I am fond of saying that your time has no real value until you run out of it.  You can test this for yourself with a thought experiment.  There are 168 hours in a week.  No one has more than that – time is a finite resource, but as long as you can expand the number of hours within that 168 that you devote to work, you can still add to the number of dollars you generate.  When you run out of time you are forced to reckon what your hourly rate is and then the only way you can improve your income is to increasingly focus on raising your hourly rate.  This requires that you “stop doing” some things to do more of others.

This requires a different way of thinking.  To make progress from here, you must increasingly think about what you can stop doing to have more time to focus on those things you are best at.  Of course, this forces you to confront whether you are basically oriented toward a philosophy of scarcity or abundance.  In other words, do you believe that giving up some activities in exchange for paying others some of the money you have made “costs” you or “makes” you money?

The answer isn’t as obvious as you might think.

In my experience, most small business owners reliably make the wrong choice.

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