For 35 years, I made the same New Year’s resolution: to read Moby-Dick. Why is a story for another time. How is the point of this story. In the 35th year, after 34 failed attempts, I finally made it from “Call me Ishmael” to “Then, all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”
I made it all the way through this wonderful, if over-written, Great American Novel because I had a plan. Never mind what it was, the point is, getting through that tome required a plan.
Now, without a convenient resolution to fall back on and a new appreciation for planning, I got to thinking about the new year in a new light. What if, rather than compiling a list of things I wish I’d do – quit a bad habit, adopt a good one – I approached the new year as a startup? It’s what I’ve filled my days with the past 25 years, after all—telling startups how to grow and evolve. What if I started giving myself some of that advice? I think I’d have a much better shot at achieving something in the next 365 days.
Every successful company starts with a purpose. Purpose is bigger than a goal. A goal is a target to hit, a milestone to achieve. If a company had only a goal – say, ship a great product – the business would be done when the first package went out the door. Purpose fuels a business, or in this case your new year. Goals are simply stepping stones, daisy-chained together in pursuit of purpose.
It’s not enough, then, to say that in the new year you want to work out three times a week. If that’s the goal, odds are that by President’s Day you’ll be wishing you hadn’t committed to the 12-month plan at that new gym. If going to the gym serves a greater purpose – say, having more energy so that you can play with your kids, because your purpose is to raise great little humans – you’ll have the motivation when every fiber of your being wants to skip the workout in favor of an extra hour of sleep.
Purpose is the seed of your 2018 business plan. And it’s the thing we always miss when we jot down our New Year’s resolutions. Lose weight. Be nicer. Read a book a week. Whatever. It will be filler for a regret sandwich if you aren’t aligned to a purpose. Just like a startup really doesn’t stand a chance if it doesn’t have a clear mission. So, what’s your mission for 2018?
Take a minute and really get that one clear in your mind.
Now, what must you do to achieve your mission? There is no doubt you can quickly find a dozen ways to go after it. And not to put your purpose on too grandiose a scale, but think about Amazon. Its mission was to be the Everything Store. In 1994, it looked a lot more like a simple bookstore than the conglomerate technology and commerce business it is today. Now, we’re back to that plan idea. What can you begin to do right now that will help you reach your purpose? As importantly, what can you stop doing right now to help you reach your purpose. On both counts, a bunch of things, probably. So, just like a startup, you have to prioritize, because, again just like a startup, you likely don’t have endless resources.
Like that raising great little humans thing. You could list dozens of strategies, from more mommy time to world-class boarding schools to help your kids grow to their full potential. What are the practical things you can do right now? Which must you tackle first to – as the startup kids say – build value? What can you jettison to slow your burn rate? And, when you do these things, what will your MVP look like? You know, a two year-old who says “Excuse me” before interrupting adult conversation is a damn good start.
Now, there’s one more thing you need to do to complete your 2018 business plan. Write your manifesto. I’m not talking about a hundred-page screed typed out on an old Selectric. A simple statement of purpose, a reason for pursuing it, and a few guiding principles will do. I ask the startups I work with to have one, so why not your 2018 What are the things you are – and are not – willing to do to achieve your purpose?
These ground rules come in very handy when short cuts – or that snooze button – start to look attractive. In a business, I would call them operating principles or even “culture”. If 2018 is your startup, why not set the rules by which you’ll live these 365 days?
And one last thing: remember to do performance reviews. Check in with yourself and those you ask to hold you accountable. How are you doing? Keeping your eye on the prize or getting tangled in the weeds? That’s the really cool thing about treating your new year like a purpose-built startup: when the push toward a certain goal isn’t working, you can always pivot. Even Amazon dumped dead-end product lines. If you’re working toward building a great 2018, there will be no failed resolutions. Shifting strategy is simply a part of the plan.