Do you really have your heart in your business?
Before business-builders take the leap and pursue their ideas, we urge them to ask themselves the following questions, which focus on the heart and are intended to discern, define, and refine a business-builder's vision and purpose:
What is the purpose of your business, stated simply and clearly?
The right starting point for a business is to consider the why before the what and the how. Ask yourself if your business aligns with something you care about internally, that elicits a natural fire-in-the-belly passion and therefore is something you can instinctively describe in the most simple of ways. The purpose of Starbucks as not just a coffee shop but a "third place" instantly resonates because it is just that – a third place in addition to work and home – for millions. Or consider the explosive growth of Uniqlo, the fast-fashion Japanese retailer, whose purpose is "making good casual clothes for all to wear." Your purpose statement should be as straightforward as these and something that resonates with both you and your customer.
What is the (right-brained) essence of your business model?
The business world veers naturally toward left-brained, or rational, thinking. Yet roughly 90 per cent of our decisions and our preferences are emotional (only afterward do we justify them based on their practicality or functionality). Since heart-driven businesses are easy to feel, ask yourself: what are the emotional components of your business that will excite or engage a potential investor or consumer? Another way to think of this question is to reflect on what the romance of your product or service might be. This concept was captured brilliantly by a line in the documentary The Pixar Story: One of the studio's directors describes its business as understanding "how to make people feel."
What are the must-have values of your business?
Just as plants need nutrients to grow, businesses need values to thrive. For Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, it came down to ensuring that his employees have bought into the Zappos ethos of "delivering happiness." Zappos offers new hires $2,000 to quit after the first week. Explains Mr. Hsieh: "The original motivation for doing it was to make sure that people were there for reasons beyond a short-term paycheck."
But the biggest benefit of Zappos' "employee rebate" has been its impact on the employees who turn it down. Explains Mr. Hsieh: "They have to go home and think it over, and ask, 'Is this a company I can really commit to? Is it a company I believe in for the long-term?' When they come back to work on Monday, deciding to stay, they are that much more committed and passionate about the company and its values." Values represent the core principles that support your overall purpose.
What are you prepared to do when those values are violated? Or are there values you are willing to trade off for scale?
Economic pressures or changes in the financial climate can often force a company to breach its core principles. What trade-offs are you willing and unwilling to make against your company's values? This question often comes into play when companies need to scale up, raise funds, or consider tough leadership changes. As an example, we sometimes see a business that has affianced itself to "the wrong money" – a funding source whose values are a poor fit with a business's passion or purpose. In this scenario, will you look elsewhere to find another firm that allows you to sustain your core values? To what parts and values of your heart must you remain uncompromisingly true? Understanding how strongly committed you are to your values, and what you are willing to do when those values are violated, is key.
What are the top five to eight nuances in your business that differentiate it from the rest?
Nuance represents one of the three defining elements of heart. Consider the more subtle aspects of your differentiation that few would be able to discern if they were separated but as a collective create part of the magic that makes what you have unique.
The ultimate question on heart: If you had all the moneyyou could ever want, what would you be doing to occupy your lifemeaningfully?
Consider what it is that you care so much about that you must build a business around it. Many great businesses start out at a place where the lines between work and hobby intersect, overlap, and complement each other. As Confucius wrote, "The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play . . . and you will never have to work a day in your life." To reframe the above: Are you doing what you're doing out of love, and the desire to make a difference – or are you in it for the money? Both is what too many people answer, but every now and then one is lucky enough to encounter the business equivalent of an artistic compulsion to bring to life a truly heart-driven vision.
Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted fromHearts, Smarts, Guts, and Luck: What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur and Build a Better Business. Copyright 2012, Anthony K. Tjan, Richard Harrington, and Tsun-yan Hsieh. All rights reserved.