A Business Autopsy

It’s the first day of winter, and I’m sitting in a cafe with a client having coffee. It’s cold, and people are huddled in corners cupping their coffee trying to warm themselves. The conversation so far has been pretty lightweight, but I notice the tone change as he leans in a little closer and says, “I’ve decided to close my other business.”

He looks at me, searching to see how I’m going to react. My initial response is to ask him what the biggest lesson is he’s taking away from his decision. I can see he’s a little taken aback. He sits back in his chair, and his eyes drift towards the ceiling as he contemplates what I’ve asked him. “You know,” he says “Nobody’s asked me that before.”

He goes on to explain that the decision has been a long time coming and that he still thinks the concept is a solid one. He’s closing it mainly because he’s feeling pressure from outside influences. As we talk it through I can see the passion for the business is still there. He leans forward in his chair, his voice becomes more animated as he speaks about the opportunities, but then he pauses, rests his hand on my arm and says, “I just feel like such a failure.”

It’s interesting, isn’t it, this concept of failure we get around our business life. How many experiences or projects have we started in our personal life only to discard them when something brighter or shinier comes along. It’s perfectly acceptable to try a new sport, to try a new short course and discontinue them. So why is it that when we decide a business no longer has any life left in it we feel like a failure?

I decided to press him a little harder on that statement. What was it about his decision that was making him feel like a failure, and, in the context of starting and discarding personal projects why was he taking this decision harder than if it were a personal lesson?

We were into our second coffee by the time he dug down to the real truth of it, that he didn’t want to let the business go. The feeling of failure was coming from feeling as though he needed to ‘do the right thing’ to keep the family in his life off his back. With this knowledge, we were able to conduct a business autopsy. We threw it all on the table and dissected it, right there and then. The bits he loved, the things he’d tried, the external pressures and the reasons behind them. The guts of it spilled out for us both to see.

And here’s the interesting thing. At that moment, when he was looking at his ‘failed’ business stripped bare we found a plan. A way forward that gave him back hope. We quickly mapped out what the next 90 days were going to look like, then broke that down to 30 days, then even further to the next seven, then, what he was going to do today.

All that business needed to be was to be torn apart. For him to be willing to lay it open for a fresh set of eyes to poke around, stress test what had been happening and challenge him as to why things were the way they were. It was being willing to look so called failure in the eyes without retreating. At that moment his path became clear.

He left the coffee shop with a big cheesy grin and a bounce in his step. He is open to the possibility that it may not work, but he is happy with the knowledge that he’s giving it a red hot go. The big lesson for me… Don’t get so caught up in your stuff that it takes you coming to the brink to let someone in.

In business, we need confidants that we can share the highs and lows with. We need people that we can call and say, “This is all going to s&*t, and I need to chat.” We all need outside perspective.bu

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