The Business of Life
I’ve been thinking of my life as a business. Without getting too carried away with the analogy – after all, life’s way more than business – it gives me a helpful frame, along with patterns and practices, to draw from. Rather than think of a business that makes money, I think of a business that creates value (the mark of an enduring business.) In this case, value for yourself and others.
My life is my business. I get to set the mission, vision, and values. Through this lens I can decide who my customers are (myself, family, friends, community, employer, … etc.). I can decide what my core capabilities will be, and how to invest my life force to flow value for others. With this in mind, here are some guidelines for life inspired by business …
Top 10 Guidelines
Here’s my top ten to start things off:
- Live your values.
- Compete with yourself.
- Play to your strengths.
- Team up.
- Model the best.
- Productize yourself.
- Balance your portfolio.
- Follow the growth.
- Find a way forward.
- Flow value.
33 Life 2.0 Guidelines
Here’s a more exhaustive list along with elaboration. You can drink from the fire hose, or tackle in steps, as you prefer. I would suggest first reading it through to get the lay of the land, and then going back and spending more time on the points that resonate for you. Enjoy …
- Live your values. Values are the culture of a business. That’s why sometimes it doesn’t feel right. You want one thing, the business wants another. Your best fits are where your values match and you can live your values on the job. In life, when you live your values you feel strong. When you compromise your values, you feel weak. Living your values is a way to stay true to yourself. It’s part of your authenticity. See Finding Your Values.
- Invest in yourself. You’re a good bet to invest in. Sharpen your mind. Craft your body. Master your emotions. Make time for yourself. This includes think time and fun time. See Life Frame.
- Unique differentiators. A successful business stands out. Its unique value to the market is obvious. You bring unique value to the table. Your mash up of skills, experience, and values are a unique combination. Use your differentiation as a leverage point in your life. Your unique differentiators can be the key to how you sell yourself in the market. Are you the “get things done” or the “creative mind” or the “makes them smile” or … ?
- Track progress from time to time. A business keeps a scorecard to measure its progress along the way. In life, you can check yourself against your outcomes and objectives. For example, do you have the right people in your life? … Are you spending the right time and energy on your body? … Are you actually enjoying the things you do for fun? … etc. See Tests for Success, Improvement Frame and Keys for Skilled Happiness.
- Play to your strengths. A great business plays to its strengths. Darwin and survival of the fittest are as true in business as in life. Give your best where you’ve got your best to give. Nature supports you. In life, you can spend all your time working on your weaknesses, or you can play to your strengths and maximize your results. Spending time in your strengths not only renews your energy, but it’s where you’ll get your best ROI. See Give Your Best Where You Have Your Best to Give and Choose Your Jobs Based on Strengths.
- Perform a SWOT analysis. SWOT is an abbreviation for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It’s an analysis tool to explore the overall strategic position of a business and it’s environment. You can apply it to your life. Simply list your strengths, your weaknesses, your opportunities, and threats.
- Assess and prioritize potential risks. Every business opportunity has potential risks. So does life. This includes the risk of missed opportunities. Take calculated risks. Smart risks help you get more from life. Remember the saying: ships are safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.
- Create budgets. Create budgets for your time. This will help manage your energy and avoid spreading yourself too thin. You can also use time as a forcing function to prioritize and to meet windows of opportunity. See Timeboxes, Rhythms, and Incremental Value and How To Use Timeboxing for Getting Results.
- Balance your portfolio. Diversified investment portfolios help reduce risk and maximize return. You can do the same in life by spreading your life force across your key hot spots. I use what I call my Life Frame: mind, body, emotions, career, financial, relationships, and fun. Investing in these areas helps me stay balanced and effective. See Life Frame.
- Learn and respond. Successful businesses learn and adapt. They respond to feedback. They test their results and continuously fine tune their approach. You’re a living learning loop. You have feedback all around you. What’s it telling you? See Working your business is working on your life. See The Change Frame.
- Team up. Successful businesses create partnerships. In life, adopt a “better together” strategy. Pair up with others that compliment your strengths and weaknesses. Life is a team sport. See How To Consistently Build a Winning Team and Outsource Your 80 Percent.
- Compete with yourself. Successful businesses find ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness. They raise their own bar. Make it a game to improve your abilities. Improve your super powers. Find more effective ways of getting things done. The secret is that when you compete with others, they’ll knock you down. When you compete with yourself, others will lift you up. Everybody wants to help the underdog that makes the most of what they’ve got. Be YOUR best.
- Cost, differentiation, and focus. According to Michael Porter, businesses can compete on cost, differentiation (unique capabilities along dimensions that customers value), or focus (best in class in a segment). As a contributing member to society, you can use this lens to figure out your long term competitive strategy. In this case, competitiveness roughly equates to your ability to survive in the marketplace. For example, rather than compete on cost, how can you differentiate yourself?
- Know your target market. A business has to figure out who its customers are and what channels it will use. In life, you can figure out what arenas you can play in to maximize your results. Changing where you play your game can dramatically change your game. The world might seem like a big place, but at the end of the day, the most important impact on you is YOUR world.
- Know intrinsic value vs. the market value. The intrinsic value of a glass of water might be negligible. Take that same glass of water to the desert and the value just shot up. Intrinsic values are lasting. Market value fluctuates. Think about the intrinsic values and market values in your life.
- Invest in innovation. Experiment. You never know where your breakthroughs will come from.
Know what holds you back. Every business has at least one bottleneck on its throughput. So do you. What holds you back the most? Pushing this bottleneck around might help you unleash your best results. See Theory of Constraints (TOC).
- Hire and fire the right people. A business thrives when it’s got the right people. Your life thrives when you’ve got the right people in it. What people do you want in your life? See Catalysts and Drains.
- You get what you reward. A business gets what it rewards. That same is true in life. The idea here is that if you have an attitude of gratitude, reward your good behaviors and you’ll get more of them, appreciate the people in your life that do the things you like (or you’ll lose them or the behaviors.) The key point is what gets ignored gets lost … use it or lose it.
- Find a way forward. The market place changes. Life’s not static. Follow trends to see where things are going. Sharpen your anticipation skills. Respond to change and stay agile in your approach.
- Never get stuck. Ask solution focused questions such as, “what’s my next best move?” or “how can I make the most of this” or “what’s the way forward?” or simply, “what’s the solution?” See Solution-Focused Questions.
- Model the best. Successful businesses don’t start from scratch. They model what works. Every now and then somebody changes the game, but a lot of what works is proven patterns and practices. Success leaves clues. Find your mentors and models in life. Mentors are one of your best short-cuts to avoid years of mistakes. A lot of ideas sound good or look good on paper. Mentors and models can help you filter through the vast amount of information. See Capturing and Sharing Strategies, Eliciting a Strategy, and Lessons Learned from Per.
- Know the business case. A business case helps answer the question, does this investment make sense? You can ask the same of your life investments. See 3 Keys of a Business Case and How To Figure Out What You Really Want.
- Know the ROI. Quit the right things and lean into the right dips. See Lessons Learned from the Dip.
- Productize yourself. A business can find economies of scale with a product strategy. The right products also help service companies sustain through the downtimes. You can turn what you know into information products, such as a book or an information kit or training. Productizing yourself helps you decouple from time and break away from the grind. It’s a great complement to a services strategy, since your products and services can help support.
- Focus on renewal. A business that renews itself refuels for the future. It cuts the dead wood and creates new opportunities. Your energy is one of your most precious resources.
- Create a system that supports you. A successful business is a system of inputs and outputs. Map out your system. This includes your inputs, outputs, and key processes. One simple way to improve your system is to create and improve checklists for your common tasks. Periodically review these to see how you can tune, prune, and optimize your key workflows.
- Flow value. Any business with a sense of entitlement soon finds itself in trouble. The market weeds it out. Flowing value is a simple but effective way to stay focused, survive, and thrive. See Timeboxes, Rhythms, and Incremental Value.
- Follow the growth. A business thrives on growth. It’s where the energy is. Find the growth opportunities in your life. See You Can Travel the Road of Success.
- Passion, profit, value. A successful business finds the intersection of passion, profit, and value. Making a profit without value or passion is unsustainable. Look for the passions in your life that have the best profit potential. You define what profit is: energy, financial, emotional, or whatever you choose. If it’s not generating value, don’t expect to profit and don’t expect it to be sustainable unless it’s truly valuable for you.
- Think in terms of funding your life style. Your lifestyle is a sliding scale of quality in different areas. Everything is a trade-off and comes with a certain cost. If you think in terms of funding your life style, you get clarity on what you need to make and why. You can make conscious trade-offs by design. It’s about shifting from a decision to get a job, make money, pay for costs, and use whatever is left for fun … to intentional design around your lifestyle and evaluating the trade-offs as a sliding scale … how much do you need to make for different lifestyles, and do you like the trade-offs those lifestyles demand?
- Ask what’s the minimum you need to make. This is such a simple question, but it gives immediate clarity. What’s the business need to make to stay around? You can simply ask, “What’s the minimum you need to support your basic needs?” This one question can put a lot of things in perspective very quickly. See How Much Profitability Do You Need?
- Focus on sustainable results. Unless you’re a fly-by-night business, you’re focused on the long-haul. That means building trust, flowing value, and growing in a sustainable way. In life, play for the long haul. One of my mentors uses the following quote as a guide: “Live each day as if it were your last and plan to live 100 years.” The key to sustainable results is playing to your strengths, following your passions, and living your values. It’s also about finding effective metaphors, whether that means pacing yourself for a marathon or running a series of sprints within a longer race. Test to see what works for you. See Sustainable, Healthy Commitment.
- Know the cycle you’re in. A business should know the maturity level of its market. It should also know its maturity level in terms of people, process, and product. A business also should know whether the market is in growth or decline. When you know the cycle you’re in you can pace yourself. You can anticipate a bad bet. You can better understand whether you’re waxing or waning in specific areas and time your best moves. See 4 Stages of Market Maturity.
As I see more businesses expand and contract, grow and die, I think of how we can borrow the lessons from business to find more growth and expansion in our lives, as well as renewal and sustainability. Businesses are not static. Neither is life.
Special thanks to Loren Kohnfelder for a very thoughtful review and really helping this post make a lot more sense.
My Related Posts
- You 2.0
- Finding Your Process
- Living Your Process
- Lessons Learned from the Dip
- Lessons Learned from the Bootstrapper’s Bible
- Testing Your Business Clarity
Photo by carf.