“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them.”          --Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Dejà vu all over again?

How often have you heard that phrase banging against your skull … and how often was it telling you … “I’ve been here before” … “Didn’t we already solve this problem?” … “Why does this subject keep coming up all the time?”

Late last year, I embarked on a retrospective of my first 100 newspaper columns from the last four years. You may recall that I emphasized how often so many of those issues continue to be the same challenges year after year. They’re constantly resurfacing, often in disguise as a different issue altogether … but really, the same ‘ol, same ‘ol.

I promised you then that we would attack the litany of reasons that these same issues keep popping up like whack-a-moles. I don’t think we’ve gotten “dumb and dumberer,” so what’s going on? Why are we tackling the same problems over and over again?

What I discovered is that there is a consistent swarm of resilient little creatures that appear like marbles on a bedroom floor … we’re constantly dodging them, looking for ways to step around them, kicking them to the side … but rarely do we take time to permanently organize them so we don’t trip over them again tomorrow.

In my last column, I tackled one of the biggest reasons these issues keep reappearing  … our inability to make the tough decisions … but there’s much more. By my count, there are at least a dozen universal forces that have united to defeat our best-laid plans. I’ve decided to rip off their masks and let them be seen for what they are … mostly, our own creations. But for our comfort or timidity or lack of conviction, they have a life of their own and prevent us from getting done and permanently resolving those things that are most important to us.

The next demon on this list rhymes with “it’s the economy, stupid.”

Jim Collins in his latest book, Great by Choice, explores what differentiates the most successful companies … during chaotic and unpredictable times … from the also-rans. Why do some companies fail to successfully respond to the obstacles thrown in their way … by a wayward economy, rising energy prices, oppressive regulation, predatory pricing, you name it … while others thrive despite the obstacles?

What Mr. Collins found in his empirical research is that the most successful, 10X companies he studied refused to be overcome by these external forces. They recognized that unexpected roadblocks, even the black swans that Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote about in his popular book of the same name, were simply grist for their mill. The most successful companies modified their plans but followed them relentlessly, dodging bullets, sidestepping land mines, and confronting immovable objects as just one more tripwire to step over. It was simply unacceptable to “blame” these outside factors or to even proffer them as a reason for failure or disappointment.

More than anything, for these companies, it is a mindset. They embrace the notion that obstacles, of one kind or another, are a permanent part of the natural landscape, and don’t let these inevitable forces derail their plans. They don’t blame these uncontrollable events for every shortcoming and don’t let uncontrollable environmental factors strangle the initiatives over which they do have domain.

It’s human nature for us to want to look out the window rather than in the mirror to find the culprit, but that’s the wrong lens. Yes, the environment will throw spitballs at us all the time. We can’t ignore these forces … but we can create a plan to take overcome them. We can dodge some of them, turn others to our advantage … but we must turn them to our purposes because they probably aren’t going away … and we don’t want to either.

Here’s what I’m going to do to help you. For the first five readers who sign up for my exclusive newsletter and comment on this article when it’s published on Exkalibur.com on Tuesday, Jan. 31, I will send you a copy of Jim Collin’s book, Great by Choice, at no cost to you. I hope it will also inspire you to become “great by choice.”

In the meantime, focus on what you can control. Don’t blame the economy or any of the uncontrollable forces that conspire against us. Forget the wet field, the injured player, the referee’s bad call. Have a five-minute pity party if you must … but then, move on. Persevere. Revise your plan as needed and focus on what you can control. Nothing more. Heads down. Keep going.

Consider the environment but focus on what you can control and you will have grasped the only real thing you can count on.


Lary Kirchenbauer is president of Exkalibur Advisors, providing practical business strategies for middle market businesses. Exkalibur works closely with senior executives and their businesses at the intersection of leadership, finance and business strategy. You can subscribe to his newsletter at the Exkalibur web site at www.Exkalibur.com. You’ll also find a library of valuable resources, including a video and podcast library as well as articles and insights related to middle market businesses.