Repetition: Enemy and Hero of the Entrepreneur

My two sons and I were on a skiing trip earlier this year, our first time out for the season. My goal for the day (not fully transparent to my youngest son), was to get him trained and confident enough during a 1:1 lesson with an instructor — to graduate from the bunny slope to taking a chair lift and getting down a Blue course. We’d tried this before when he was four — but that trip ended quickly, in tears and with zero skiing. Now he was seven and the rest of the family was eager to go skiing, without the extra logistics needed to accommodate his non-skiing.

From a distance, while skiing with my other son, I watched as my youngest made it up the magic carpet (moving sidewalk in the snow), then went down the bunny slope several times, falling and getting up. After the hour was up, I eagerly met my son and his instructor and asked what did we need to do next to keep his momentum going. He said simply, “He has the basics down. Now, it’s just a matter of repetition.” With my goal in mind, I asked if Nathan wanted to go down the bunny slope as a family, before we tackled the chair lift and the harder slope. He timidly said yes. He did awesome down the bunny slope and then somewhat reluctantly, he agreed to try the chair lift.

For the non-skiers reading this, getting on and off an in-the-air chair lift is no simple task, even for novice adults. But for a small child, it’s quite a feat. He was a trooper and after mounting, dismounting and somewhat successful navigation of the slope — he was up to do it again, and again — each time getting better, more independent and more confident. Repetition was the key, as predicted. It took courage, peer pressure, perseverance and strength — but absolutely, he left the slopes a different kid, ready to tackle the world.

Many of us go into business on our own, because we loathe repetition, bureaucracy and the “back of the house” work that is a part of most “normal” jobs. Filling out memos, filling out expense reports, answering to others and all that other work that “doesn’t fit our greatest talents.” We romanticize about dealing with only people whom we admire and respect, doing only those activities that bring us joy and for which we are uniquely qualified to do — and of course, those that command the highest payment.

Then, reality sets in. Striking out on your own as an entrepreneur, a founder, a visionary — there are usually no templates, no process maps, no employee handbooks, marketing materials that apply specifically to what you’ve decided to do. If you are lucky, there are share-ware templates that you can download and modify, you have friends that can give you some templates (which you swear to modify enough so that they can’t be traced back), or you have access to consultants that can create these for you using just your “ideas” and loosely articulated functional requirements. But, in most cases, that first proposal, 1-pager, overview slide-deck, email solicitation, email response, invoice, and so on … drag you down from your high perch of Business Owner, to business admin.

In my case, these “firsts” were a constant reminder of how far I had come from being someone that had “people” and “systems” for every possible scenario and provided a regular dose of humility, grinding my creativity and “visioning” to a complete halt. It’s not until about six months into running my own business, and utilizing many of the above tactics, that I began to feel comfortable sending out various documents to my clients. It was only after I had conducted a fair number of workshops and coaching sessions — that confidence replaced anxiety. I won’t say that I have an optimized “sales cycle,” but I will say that it’s significantly shorter and more manageable than a year ago. There are few projects where I have to create everything from scratch, versus tweak what I have already tested. Finally, I was able to do more of what I enjoyed — meeting new people, actively learning about their work and personal lives and coaching, teaching and consulting.

The word repetition makes most people think of an assembly line process, of day in and day out, same tasks over and over. These are a far cry from why most of us venture out on our own. The ski trip and the concentrated crunch of non-coaching activities that surround Tax Time, brought to mind the concept of the Conscious Competence Model, for which Noel Burch of Gordon Training International is credited for creating in the 1970’s. I’ll paraphrase it like this:

1) Unconscious Incompetence

  • That looks easy.
  • How hard could it be?
  • I’m smart. I’ll figure it out. I’ve figured things out before.

2) Conscious Incompetence

  • This is harder than I first thought.
  • How are they doing it so well?
  • What can I read, practice, watch, listen to … to learn more?

3) Conscious Competence

  • I can do this.
  • I AM doing this.
  • I’m so glad it’s getting easier.

4) Unconscious Competence

  • Thank you, it was nothing.
  • No problem, I’ll get that to you shortly (and you do).
  • This comes so easily to me, I’m ready for another challenge.

Unfortunately, there are no short-cuts from Stage 1 to Stage 4. No matter the skill or profession that you want to embark on, to be excellent at it, to not have it consume you, to not have customer service issues rule your day … you have to go through each and every stage. And, for most tasks, most services, most skills, that means:

1) Repetition of your core (un-automatable / outsourceable) tasks

2) Establishing a reliable feedback loop

3) Being vigilant and having an appetite for continuous improvement

4) Staying current on your trade and …

5) Repeating this loop as necessary

Or, I suppose that you can always pick a few activities and skills and aim to remain in Stage 4. I am fairly self-aware and know that this approach is not for me. And, with the rate of change in various technology and consumer preferences, most career pundits advise against it, at least as a staple career philosophy.

For our next ski trip (two weeks later), my youngest was ready and willing to tackle the chair lift and the Blue routes almost immediately, fully transitioning from level 1 to level 3 inside of a month. We were extremely proud!

If only we could all hold on to that child-like desire to keep learning new skills, even if we don’t know what we don’t know, then realize we are terrible at it, then realize how long it will take to master our desired goal — all the way to mastery.

  • Which stage you are in for key skills needed for your profession, for your success?
  • Do you know how to get to the next stage?

Cindi Basenspiler provides leadership and success coaching to individuals and teams facing their biggest challenges. Customized programs hold clients accountable for forming strong systems, processes and habits. Are you considering hiring a coach to help you navigate a challenge, to become a better you? To get more information, visit my website.