Wednesday, July 29, 2009

If You Build It: A Lesson In Becoming a Clockmaker vs. a Time-teller

A Westclox Big Ben Clock
"If you build it, they will come." Those words were first spoken in the movie Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner. The idea, for those who have not seen the movie, is that a baseball diamond located in the middle of a corn field will bring together both historical players and loving fans. The movie was quite touching and it is the object lesson for today's article.

The year was 1999 and I just graduated from Elizabeth City State University with a bachelors degree in music industry studies. For two years prior, I owned and operated a small candy business that helped fund my initiation fees into Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., buy diapers for my infant son, and contribute toward the opening of our Millennium Music record store. For the short time our store remained open, I learned a number of valuable lessons. The first of which resembles the one presented in the Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will come.

Our first visitor came knocking shortly after our doors opened. My business partner and long-time friend, Kamari Lyons, spent days with me in the acquisition of supplies and decoration of the store. Located directly across the street from the university, we knew there was a market for our product. Not only did we know it, but also a number of local vendors.

At one point, we had clothing stores, record company marketing reps, photographers, party promoters, dj's, fragrant distributors, musicians, artists, and the like trying to push their product through our doors. Many of them we knew personally, or at least had some form of connection, but others came out of the blue. In hindsight, I recognize we had something that brought value to others. Our store gave local vendors an opportunity to further their business as well as our own.

Recently, something a little less dramatic happened. I received a notice that had to go out to the entire North Carolina Central University. The information was important enough to go out through a special group of web liaisons. These individuals serve as representatives within their departments. Their prime objective is to send and receive information related to Information Technology, more specifically Web Services. With over 119 people identified, trained, and connected, this established group served a valuable need. In this case, to disseminate information about a recent change in leadership. Whatever the topic, the infrastructure was in place to offer assistance in a time of need.

The point of this article is to drive home the idea of becoming a builder. James C. Collins, author of Good to Great, made a comparison between a clockmaker and business builder. In the story, Collins explains that charismatic leaders are wonderful time-tellers, but once they are gone the magic is gone with them. On the other hand, a clockmaker builds something that will potentially outlast the maker and offer value long after the time-teller is gone.

So it is with you and with me. Look around and evaluate your life and its contributions to the world. Are you a great time-teller or a solid clockmaker? Are you building an infrastructure that will outlast your constant attention or will your efforts die with you?

Whatever your answer, I have some recommendations that may help you become a strong builder.

Have a Vision
In order to achieve great things, one must see the big picture. Where are you trying to go? What are you trying do? These are basic questions you should ask yourself as you begin this journey. If the answer is a successful blog, daycare center, web development firm, recording studio, or even an amusement park bigger than Disneyland, then it is important to understand where you would like to go.

Build In Baby Steps
Rome was not built in a day, so neither will your endeavor. With project planning we are often taught to construct each step with exact detail. While this sounds good, I have come to learn that things change. I believe it is good to have a vision of a finished product but also remain flexible to adapt with new information. When you build in steps, you allow yourself time to adjust, if necessary.

Get Back Up
When you fall down or get blindsided with unfortunate events, get back up. I know, it sounds easy but do not let misfortune or speed bumps get in your way of moving on down the road. When it happens, and it will happen, get up, dust yourself off, find your vision, and keep walking.

Have Fun
One of my favorite quotes talks about success. It reads, "Success is a journey, not a destination." Remember that our road to building strong business ventures (clocks) is paved with memorable and enjoyable sites. Whether it is going to school, living in a one room apartment, or working double shift to gain experience, enjoy the process of reaching your dreams.

Remember, if you build it, they will come. Until next time...

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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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