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What if Everything You Think About Obstacles is Wrong?

What if, instead of being in the way, obstacles are the way to achieve your goals?

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Side view of young businesswoman climbing stairs to success on concrete wall background. Leadership and career development concept
Side view of young businesswoman climbing stairs to success on concrete wall background. Leadership and career development concept

Does the word “obstacle” sound like something you don’t want? After all, isn’t an obstacle something in the way between you and what you want? You may think it’s a problem holding you or your business back. But what if it isn’t? What if, instead of being in the way, obstacles are the way to achieve your goals? I’ll show you why obstacles are the most important pieces in the puzzle that is your business and why actively looking for them is a shortcut to success.

There are four places in business that obstacles surface:

  1. Your company
  2. Your industry
  3. Your customers
  4. Your mind

Overcoming the obstacles in each of these areas will catapult your business to success faster than any other strategy.

Here’s why: obstacles are part of a polarity pair – obstacle/strategy. On the other side of each obstacle is one or more strategies to conquer it. This is important because it means identifying obstacles is the first step to achieving your goals. Once you know what the obstacles are, you can decide to do something about them! As Marcus Aurelius said, “What stands in the way becomes the way.”

What are the obstacles in your company?

The strategies you create to overcome obstacles form the basis of your plan to achieve goals in your business. When you start to see obstacles this way, you’ll search for them like items in the most important scavenger hunt you’ve ever been on. 

The classic definition of an obstacle is something that “hinders your progress,” and examples in your company can be hiring, onboarding, training, communication, teamwork, and accountability. Other obstacles may include your financials and systems, such as reporting, cashflow, reserves, and technology.

Turn each obstacle into a step.

How does this work? Say you’ve had a string of bad hires. Hiring mistakes are a major obstacle and limit your company’s ability to grow because they can cost 15X the person’s salary when you consider lost time, money, momentum, and damage to credibility and reputation. Not to mention frustration on the part of the people assigned to train them. You can’t get to where you want to go without the right people, but you don’t seem to be able to pick them.

Turn this obstacle into a strategy by asking one of my favorite questions, “How can I?” How can you hire the right people? The first step is to believe that you can. Then make it a priority by learning and modeling how successful people do it. One of the best ways to make the right hires I ever found is described by Geoff Smart in his great book, “Who.”

Do this with all the obstacles in your company. Identify every one you can find, and develop strategies to overcome them.  Then begin right away to take continuous action, which means you iterate and pivot until you overcome the obstacle.

There are obstacles in your industry – look for them.

Entrepreneurs create value by solving problems. The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity. When your company overcomes obstacles faced by your industry, that ability is a significant competitive advantage, which increases your revenue, and also skyrockets the value of your company. 

Solving problems faced by an entire industry adds a tremendous amount of value to the world, and that makes your company a valuable asset too. Find one obstacle in your sector which you can solve that could lead to 10X growth. To do this, broaden your thinking. Look for solutions to similar problems in other industries and find creative ways to apply them to yours.

There are two kinds of innovators: conceptual and experimental.

Innovators solve problems. The conceptual innovator with a brilliant mind sees things in new ways that the rest of us miss. They see connections in flashes of insight and make bold, dramatic leaps – think Marie Curie. The experimental innovator never gives up. They rely on trial and error; they iterate and pivot, learning on the way – like Oprah. Both types make essential contributions to the world. You can decide to be an experimental innovator, and perhaps you’ll have flashes of insight along the way.

Your customers face obstacles – solve them.

When your solutions fix the problems your customers face, they know you “get” them. Because in order to solve a problem, you have to understand the problem, the environment, and the people. Feeling understood becomes a source of customer loyalty and retention. They’ll believe it’s a risk to stop working with your company and will want to stay.

Customer obstacles don’t have to be technical; they can be psychological. In my first business, customer obstacles we tackled were fear of data and lack of trust in data (psychological), as well as lack of knowledge about how to use it and data quality (technical). How can you reduce complexity and cost for your customers? Believe me; those are two huge obstacles to them. Take those on, and watch your company thrive!

Obstacles in your mind are the biggest ones of all.

These can be the biggest obstacles of all because they prevent you from tackling the other obstacles in your company, industry, and customers. These obstacles are called hidden beliefs, and they can be deadly. Because when you believe an obstacle is insurmountable, your brain stops working for you. And when you have a hidden belief you’re not consciously aware of; you don’t question it. You think it’s a fact.

Knowing this, make it a habit of questioning everything you think is not possible. Stop yourself – and your team – whenever you hear, “We can’t do that because we don’t have enough money, time, staff, knowledge, experience…” With every obstacle, ask, “Is this a fact or a thought”? And here’s the secret. It’s very rarely a fact. There are creative ways to overcome every obstacle, especially when you use my favorite question: “How can I?”

You want to question what you believe. See if it serves you to think something is not possible. Look at all the fantastic things around us that were once not possible, such as airplanes, the internet, cell phones. Companies like Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb solve problems in ways we never imagined. Everything begins with the thought that it is possible.

Put your brain to work for you and to find solutions. Don’t accept, “We can’t,” or “I can’t.” Most of the time, it’s coming from either your subconscious mind in the form of a hidden belief, or it’s the primitive part of your brain, which equates change with danger, telling you not to try.

On the other side of the obstacle is the strategy to overcome it.

There’s where you are now and where you want to be – in your business and in your life. You already know there’s a set of obstacles in the way, or else you would already be there, right? Sometimes we just have this vague sense of what they are.  But identifying each specific obstacle is the ticket! Look for them. You want to come up with as many obstacles as you can and write them all down as a “thought download.” Because on the other side of the obstacle is the strategy to overcome it, and that is how you create a plan to get where you want to go.

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