Back in 1999, two researchers studying inattentional blindness conducted an experiment they called the “invisible gorilla” (video above). It’s a video of 6 people, 3 in white shirts and 3 in black shirts, passing basketballs between people with the same color shirt while randomly moving around each other in a rather tight space. The viewer is asked to pay close attention to how many times the white-shirt team passes their basketball to other members of the white-shirt team.
After about 30 seconds of the game starting, a guy in a gorilla suit saunters into the middle of the players, looks directly at the camera, thumps his chest a few times and moonwalks off the set. The trick is that when you ask the viewer how many times the white-shirt team passed the ball, most can give the correct answer of 15 passes – but when you ask the viewer, “Did you also see the gorilla?” most people say, “What gorilla?!?!?” and are stunned to see it in the video replay, wondering how they could have possibly missed something SO obvious.
I see this a lot with struggling business owners who are so distracted by “busy” that they don’t see the big, smelly 800-pound gorilla sitting right on their desk, eating bananas, breaking the furniture and taking a giant dump on their floor, stinking the place up. Often it’s willful blindness, not wanting to see the dang gorilla or the shite piling up, because seeing it and acknowledging it would require them to do something about it. And nobody likes to tangle with a gorilla or shovel big, giant gorilla turds. So they stay busy, choosing ignorance to avoid confronting the ugly mess until the thing is so big it demands their attention and they are forced to contend with it. Of course, at that point it’s a GIANT gorilla that is difficult to get rid of, requiring massive cleanup, that could have been chased out a lot faster and easier when it showed up as a baby chimp.
And this is a really big key to successful growth. You have to be willing to confront the uncomfortable, uncertain and scary aspects of growing a business EARLY to get ahead of it. So many MSPs tell me they need to “wait until the New Year” to start marketing, as if the New Year will show up and erase all the noise and messes around them. It doesn’t, because they carry their bad habits and chaos around like hoarders – so the New Year shows up with its own fresh set of crazy and they decide it’s best to kick the “marketing” can down the road again to deal with later. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.
Same goes for making critical hires and building out the sales and marketing team (a.k.a. your gas pedal or “money team”). The gorilla in the room is that they, the owner, are trying to MacGyver their way to grow without hiring anyone, which only buries them deeper into chaos and stunts progress. “But I don’t have time or money to hire those people!” they cry, ignoring that the very reason they don’t have sufficient time or money is because they don’t have those people. Yes, chicken and egg, but ultimately it’s fear of hiring and the uncertainty of it all that they’re worried about. The gorilla they don’t want to confront.
A useful exercise is to sit with the TV, phone and computer OFF and ask yourself, “What’s the big, hairy, ugly gorilla I’m avoiding? Choosing not to see? How am I staying BUSY and COMFORTABLE but not PRODUCTIVE?”
Another client of mine on a coaching call he requested to discuss how to generate more sales insists he doesn’t have time to focus on sales because he’s too busy being the vCIO to his clients. My question: Why not hire a vCIO so he can turn his attention to building marketing systems and hiring salespeople? His answer: Hiring that person is too expensive. So, what advice is he hoping to get from me? Magic beans? The real gorilla is that he feels safe, comfortable and in control doing the vCIO work, but not the sales and marketing, so he chooses to stay busy doing a job at the expense of the growth of his company. Ultimately, the “sales” gorilla is one that he must confront if he wants to grow, and no guru or marketing hack is going to fix that, no matter how many consultants he hires, books he reads, vendors he attempts to abdicate to. Ignoring the gorilla in your office by throwing a blanket over it so you can’t see it doesn’t make it go away; nor does dressing the darn thing up in a tutu with a spritz of perfume. It has to be removed, completely and quickly.
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