Great or Nothing

'Aim For Great, Or Don’t Aim At All' by Richard Shrapnel

When it comes to business and many other things in life, it’s only if you aim for great that it all becomes worthwhile. Anything less is selling yourself short and won’t deliver the rewards you deserve.


Active Knowledge Question:

Do you have an image of what your business would look like if it were a great business? If you don’t, it will never be achieved.


In Business, Only Aim For Great

When it comes to the vision you have for your business, a large part of it must rest in where you want to take it. Do you want your business to be good, better, best or great?

Before you commence crafting your competitive strategy, before you even start your business, you should decide how far you want to take your business.

In my view, if you aim to be good or better then you won’t yield the returns deserving of the effort you will need to put into your business and the risks you will have to take. Why? Well, think about it, the market simply doesn’t reward average. It’s like getting an average mark in an exam at school. Why should average be rewarded? The same goes for businesses that offer nothing special in the value they deliver to their customers.

Many business leaders aim to be the best – best in their region, best in their field, best in their industry. And while best is certainly a step above ‘good’ and ‘better’, I still don’t think you will achieve the rewards that these efforts deserve. Again, think about being the ‘best’, while your customers may say, ‘Give them a try, they’re one of the best,’ it’s not really a full-fledged endorsement.

If you are going to commit yourself to a business, you can do a lot better, and that is aiming to be ‘great’. Your goal and target should be to create an exceptional business, a business that is considered truly great. And being great does not depend on size; great depends on what impact you have in the market and the value you deliver to your customers.

What Is Great Anyway?

To explain what is great, allow me to use sport as an analogy. Choose your own favourite sport to follow my line of thought.

If l am competing in a sport and I get onto the state team, then most people would say I am pretty good. If I take it to the next level and manage to try out for the national team and make it, then I would be considered one of our better players.

But imagine, if I keep persevering and pushing forward and l was selected to compete in the Olympics, well now, we’re getting serious. And then imagine I won gold in my event. Now, I would be considered one of our best and gaining the public’s attention.

I’ve shifted myself from being good, to better, to best and the recognition of my capability is real. But is it enduring?

What about if l was to continue to train and compete and, year after year, l competed in national, world and Olympic games and I continued to win competition after competition. Now I’m breaking what were considered unbreakable world records and setting new standards, with everyone trying to catch me

I’ve taken my chosen sport to a new level and everyone is wondering how I am managing to do it year after year. I would now be considered one of the sport’s and nation’s greatest athletes. An example within my sport and outside it.

Now the rewards are matching and exceeding the effort/risk I have taken over all those years. And my investment in becoming great will endure for many years to come.

Set your target on creating an exceptional business, one that will earn the reputation of being one of our ‘great businesses’, and the rewards will be truly worth the effort you invest.

What Does A Great Business Look Like?

A great business is enduring and sets new standards of customer value year after year. It’s reinventing itself as new opportunities emerge or are created, and everyone looks to it for the standards to be achieved and the signals of what may come next.

Richard Shrapnel's - 'Strategy Play - Crafting Undefeatable Business Strategies' guide front cover
Richard Shrapnel’s guide ‘Strategy Play – Crafting Undefeatable Business Strategies’ is an invaluable resource for any business leader who wants to create a great business with enduring profits and compounding capital value.

There is a clear path to creating a great business and what success should look like as you progress.

A great business is one that:

1.     Delivers greater customer value every day.

2.     Continually finds opportunities for growth and innovation.

3.     Whose owners and leaders are thriving in and being fulfilled by their business.

4.     Whose employees are passionate about their work.

5.     Whose customers just love it.

6.     Is growing and compounding its capital value.

7.     Is throwing off free cash flow.

8.     Is highly profitable.

This is what success should look like for your great business. And note that capital value, cash flow and profit are at the bottom of the list as they are the outcome of everything else before them.

Take each one of these signals and describe what each would look like for your unique business, and set your plans to deliver on each of these goals in the order in which they appear. They are building blocks from 1 to 8 with each being the outcome of the previous goal.

The Kryptonite of Great

‘We were once great’ is the expression I use for those businesses that were once exceptional but could not maintain the focus and discipline required and fell by the wayside.

It usually happens for one of two reasons:

  • Existing leadership became so comfortable with their success that they forget to ‘get out bed’ early each day and train. Think back to the great athlete l spoke of earlier, and imagine how long they would continue to be great if they did not sustain and continually improve their training regiment – not very long. Businesses are no different.
  • New leadership is appointed and do not recognise, or are willing to acknowledge, what made the business great and follow a new and less successful path.

There are five warning signs which reflect the ‘kryptonite of great businesses’ and should be avoided:

  1. Living in past glories: The language of leadership is all about the glories of the past. The great things that they achieved yesterday. There is no or little talk about the possibilities for the future, what could change, what needs to change and who the right people are to deliver on this new future.
  2. An absence of youth: Youth is not age but represents minds that are questioning and which ask that, at times, annoying question of ‘Why?’ They seek new ways, try new things, explore and do not understand and accept the way ‘things have always been done’.
  3. Naysayers rule: Have you ever worked in one of those businesses where there are only two answers to any new idea? The answers are either:
    1. We tried that once before and it didn’t work, so why do it again?
    2. We’ve never tried that before and look how successful we are, so why should we try it?
  4. Lack of evangelism: There is no energy, there is no passion, there is little sign of life, and the business just exists.
  5. Carnal leadership: Pride and self-interest rule the day. The business’s leaders are only concerned about themselves and protecting their future and their positions.

Be aware of these signs and eliminate them if any appear.

The Power Of Self Image

Richard Shrapnel's 'Achieve - Creating A Life Of Enduring Success' guide front cover
Richard Shrapnel’s ‘Achieve – Creating A Life Of Enduring Success’ guide will change the way you think about success through an approach that empowers you and will reveal the secrets of the Achiever Trait – the DNA of highly successful people.

Crafting and describing the ‘great business’ you are going to build in writing – by your own hand –
as you progressively develop that image will materially strengthen the possibility of it becoming real.

The image you hold of your business creates the ceiling to how successful it can be. It’s a subconscious barrier that you cannot break – but you can rewrite it.

As you strive to achieve in life, your subconscious is constantly asking, ‘Is this me? Is this what I do? Am I this person?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ your actions are reinforced and all is good. But if the answer is ‘no’ then your in-built safety switch kicks in, your subconscious says, ‘No, I am not this successful, I should fail,’ and therefore you do.

This applies equally to the ‘great business’ you are striving to create. If you subconsciously believe it is not possible, it won’t happen. And remember, you will be building this business with your team, so the importance of crystallising this image so it can percolate throughout your entire business and take hold is critical to your success.

You will need to develop a new image of what is possible and the goals you are going to achieve. To make this new image real you will need to transfer it from your conscious mind to your subconscious mind. You will want to imprint this new image in your subconscious and overwrite the old image that may have been holding you back. It will become the new basis of who you are and what your business will be.

You will craft and describe this new image, what you are going to do and change to bring it about, the compelling reasons of why it will happen and your plan to achieve it. And the most effective way of imprinting this new image and commitment in your subconscious is by writing it out by hand, time and time again.

Taking your pencil in your hand and reimaging who you are and what your business is imprints this image on your subconscious. And the more often you do it, the stronger that image will become.

And you must continuously transfer this image to your leadership team and champions throughout your business to make it take.

Being in business is hard, so why not aim for the rewards you deserve and make it a great business?


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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel