There’s an old saying: when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Of course it’s obvious how ridiculous that is. Anyone knows there are also screws as well as nails – and that screws don’t respond well to hammers, but work quite nicely with screwdrivers.
But as obvious as it is when we look at hammers, nails, screws, and screwdrivers, it’s all too easy to lose track of this in your business.
Recently a client mentioned that a colleague had told her she should sign up with a service to track social media exposure. My immediate response was, “Why? What does this achieve for you in your business?”
Like all of us, she has limited time, and she’s committed to putting that time where it will do the most good for herself, her business, and her clients. Right now, social media is not a marketing tactic she’s interested in. She prefers to focus on developing in-person relationships through networking events and fostering existing connections with clients and colleagues.
With this in mind, she agreed that signing up for a social-media-tracking dashboard didn’t make much sense for her. And her comment was telling. “The person who recommended it is a specialist in social media,” she said. “That’s what he does for his clients – helps them establish a social media presence.”
If you’re interested in establishing a social media presence, it makes complete sense to hire someone to help – and to sign up for a dashboard to monitor your success.
But to suggest that she should sign up for that dashboard was a classic case of “everything looks like a nail.” To push the metaphor just a bit, her colleague is a social media hammer, and therefore to him it makes sense that everyone ought to monitor their social media dashboard!
She’s not a social media expert, and although she’s been in business for years, she’s actually just beginning to establish an online presence with her website and blog. So she was unsure enough – and as she’d be the first to agree, uneducated enough – to wonder (since he’s the expert!) if this dashboard was something she really did need.
This is natural. As humans, we love authority figures – especially when we’re uncertain or anxious and trying hard to learn and succeed.
The difficulty arises when we love those authority figures so much that we forget to trust ourselves. We forget to trust our own instincts and our own understanding of what our business really is. We lose sight of our strategy, and we allow our priorities to be set by something other than that strategy.
And that’s why you must always ask why, even when that means challenging an authority in areas you feel you know nothing about.
Here are some ways to approach asking why in your own business.
It’s learning, not arguing
Sometimes asking “Why?” can be perceived as being argumentative.
If that’s how it feels to you, take a moment and step back! You’re not disagreeing. You’re asking for more information – you’re asking to learn. And if the expert in question isn’t willing to teach, then that certainly tells you something about who they are.
Trust your understanding of yourself and your clarity about your business to guide you. If you don’t feel like you’re getting a good answer to “Why?” – trust that. Don’t second-guess yourself.
And if you’re not clear about your business, then get clear. Because you can’t succeed if you can’t trust your own understanding of yourself and your business over that of all the experts out there. You are the best expert there can be about your own business strategy.
Please note that I’m not saying don’t trust the experts – nor am I suggesting there aren’t times when everyone needs help. I’m saying, trust yourself first.
And ask yourself too
Don’t just ask those external experts “Why?” Ask yourself.
When you make a business decision, ask … why am I making this decision?
It used to be that I’d say “Yes!” to any speaking request I received. If they wanted me, I was flattered, and I’d agree to be there.
That was appropriate when I was getting started, but one day I realized that it was leading me to do talks for groups that simply weren’t right for me. Lovely people, in groups doing good work, but not strategically aligned with my business objectives.
In asking myself “Why am I saying ‘yes’ to these groups?” I realized that I could start saying, “No, I’m sorry, that’s not right for me.” And it was a tremendous relief.
Of course, as I’ve already said, in order to ask “why” – whether of yourself or anyone else – you must have real clarity about your work.
Because when you don’t, you’ll never know if the answer to “why” is aligned with your business strategy … or not.
“Strategy is different from other things in that if you mistake your way of strategy even a little, you will become bewildered.” Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), Japanese swordsman, samurai, and philosopher. From A Book of Five Rings.