My friend and serial entrepreneur Bobby Martin wrote a book a few years back entitled Hockey Stick Principles, which parlays Bobby’s business acumen and wisdom to the masses.  The content is rich.  Imagery such as hockey sticks is helpful to my learning style.   

One of Bobby’s central themes is that business growth is like a hockey stick – flat for a period of years (blade) followed by a steep growth curve (shaft).  That blade time is a “tinkering time” in which the entrepreneur tests all combinations of variables that will ultimately produce the growth curve.  The tinkering time can last for several years. 

My Tinkering Time

I left a corporate career to start my own business almost exactly one year ago.  Tinkering is a real thing.  For the past few weeks, I have been working on my website after reading another excellent bookBuilding a Story Brand by Donald Miller.  When truth slaps you in the face, it stings.   

I realized that my site was not delivering desired results.  I have a lot of work to do, but I have hope for improvement with experts like Donald Miller offering winning ideas and great friends to offer feedback and suggestions.  I know I will be up under the hood, tinkering on something else soon.  My blade years are hardly over. 

On a more personal note, I fall into the waning cusp of baby boomers.  My childhood was one in which electronic toys eclipsed unpowered imaginative toys like Lincoln Logs, and Tinker Toys.  I enjoyed the linear simplicity of Lincoln Logs, which offered clear cut-outs to stack new layers, everything ending up in basically a rectangular pattern. Tinker Toys overwhelmed me.  I froze up over circular pieces of varying diameter, multiple holes, and connecting sticks of varying lengths.  Just way too many possibilities.  As I recall, not much in the way of directions either. 

When I found the attention span and fortitude for a go with Tinker Toys, I found it to be an exercise in foundation, balance, and support.  Only through iteration did I understand how all three of those variables would interact into a self-supporting structure, and what would need to change to add on to a structure I liked.  I found it nearly impossible to work on more than one part at a time, by myself. 

As I have gone through this process with my website, I have had a few moments of self-criticism and disappointment, even a bit of despair.  “How did I not see that the first time?” “Can I recover?” “Have I completely wasted a year on the blade?”  My dominant thought is that no effort is wasted.  The business killer is worrying or grieving with no purposeful action. 

Momentum is a cumulative thing, requiring consistent pushing at a pace that allows for redirection early in the journey.  Save the explosive thrust for the shaft years, after you have tinkered your way to a dependable business model.   

Four Big Takeaways From My Tinkering Time

You can only see as far as your experience.  It is easy to imagine what a future state will be like, or hope for a certain set of circumstances, but you really cannot see clearly until you have pushed yourself into new territory and had a look around.  Clear vision is valuable in any endeavor.  I find this no better reason to push your limits daily with a personal growth plan. 

Others who have been further can expand your horizon.  When my wife and I travel to a place that is new to us, we always ask others who have been there already for recommendations and regrets.  Getting information from experienced people substantially reduces one’s learning curve, which heightens productivity and reduces stress.  Still, no two journeys are identical.  Different seasons, different circumstances, different traveling companions, different expectations at the outset.  You still must experience it for yourself and make many judgment calls to arrive at the experience you want. 

New ideas are abundant, but not every idea is for you.  It is important to continuously assemble new ideas, take time to fully understand them, then parse though the critical few that can improve your business.  Ultimately, you can try one or two on for size and see how they work.   

Experience is a good teacher.  Evaluated experience is the best teacher.  Acting is better than not acting but acting by itself is never enough.    Testing new ideas must have an evaluation loop of learning, watching things fall and lean, and celebrating when desired results are achieved, then doing more of it.  Acting and evaluating is a fluid process, like any other process in your business. 

Keep working on it!