There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
I read that little anecdote in a Wall Street Journal adaptation of the commencement speech David Foster Wallace made at Kenyon College. It struck me as amusing at first, but then it struck me as a great teaching story.
Are you living in an environment that you’re not really aware of, just because you don’t know anything could be different? Environment is critical to success, whether it’s success in business or in life. Want to lose weight? You’ll have better odds if your pantry is packed with water and oatmeal than if it’s jammed with sugary sodas and potato chips. Want to know what’s going on in politics? You might prefer to hang around others who care about politics and read the Wall Street Journal than to spend your time watching E! and talking about Snookie.
When it comes to business development, environment is often an unappreciated factor for success. Let’s look at three examples.
- How do your systems support business development activity? Those systems might include where you put business cards you’ve been handed by new contacts – can you find them so that you can follow up? Do you have a system in place for following up, or is it catch-as-catch can, sometimes great and sometimes nonexistent? Do you have a system for tracking your business development activity, both so you can see whether you’re keeping the commitments you’ve made and also so that you can track the outcome of your actions?
Systems create your personal operating environment. If your systems aren’t strong, you need to realize that and correct it.
Example: I noticed recently that I’d been swallowed whole by paper at my desk now that I’m managing my own business and personal life along with three other businesses. I’d always had fairly good systems, but the influx of paper and the associated tasks had overwhelmed those systems. My office looked as if the post office had thrown up on it, and finding anything in less than ten minutes was unlikely. And between the busy-ness and the renovations I’ve been doing, my home didn’t look much better. So I hired a concierge service and a home and office organization specialist. The difference in my physical and mental space is enormous.
- How does your leadership support business development activity? If you’re a law firm leader (whether that’s managing partner, group leader, or someone who informally leads a team), what you say and do about business development can have far greater impact than you might realize.
What do you do and say about business development? Do your actions reflect what you’d like those you lead to do? I once worked with a lawyer who encouraged every person he led to take on a variety of business development activities, but he didn’t like to network, was too busy to meet people one-on-one on a regular basis, didn’t consider himself to be a great writer or speaker, and – in short – didn’t do anything he encouraged his team to do. Guess how their business development worked out?
- How does the way you spend money support business development activity? You can certainly build a solid book of business without spending a lot of money, but if you think you can do so without spending any money, you’re kidding yourself. It’s important to make smart investments in growing your practice, whether that means joining appropriate groups, getting subscriptions to key publications, getting business development training, or retaining a coach or consultant to help you see how to address your obstacles and to build opportunities. If you’re unwilling to invest in growing your practice, you’ll stunt any opportunity that comes your way rather than being able to take advantage of it.
Check yourself on these examples of environment and see what you notice about the environment you’ve created. What do you notice? And, even more importantly, who serves as your “older fish” to point out the environment that you can’t see?