01 Jan The Book That Transformed My Business: The Surrender Experiment
At the end of last year, a very good friend recommended The Surrender Experiment by Michael A. Singer. This book changed the way I look at growing, not only my business, but as a human being.
The Surrender Experiment recounts its author’s life: still in his mid twenties, Michael A. Singer (who goes by Mickey) realized that the incessant chattering in his head, that same chattering we all experience, was not doing him any good. It was, in fact, making him feel miserable. His inner voice was always pushing him to be in control, making him worried and anxious, even depressed. Until one day an idea hit him: trees, and birds, and planets all do wonderfully well without his intervention, he reasoned. What if he surrendered to the flow of life, and learned to ignore what he constantly said to himself, letting life guide him instead? So he embarked on a lifelong journey of meditation to quiet the mind, and committed to trusting what life sent his way. The Surrender Experiment is Mickey’s 40-year journey into the flow of life, and what happened every time he put his ego aside and surrendered instead.
What does this have to do with business, you might ask? Mickey ended up founding a spiritual community and two successful businesses – one a tech company that sold for a billion dollars- by taking action counter to traditional business advice, and instead surrendering. Here are my favorite takeaways from Mickey’s journey:
1. You don’t need a plan
What!?! You are a strategist and now you are telling me I don’t need a plan?
I hear you…You still need a plan, but not the way you think you do. A lot of us entrepreneurs want to map out the next 5 years of our life and work. Or at least the next 2, or maybe 20! What I learned this year was to trust life all around me: instead of planning everything, I set powerful intentions and the framework of my business, and then I took a step at a time, mindful and in sync with those around me. I trusted that I could make decisions in the moment, and be open to what came my way, even if it didn’t look exactly like what I had imagined. This is the complete opposite of what I did with my past businesses, for which I planned everything, and it worked exponentially better. It’s important to note here that I still had a framework in mind, and a vision for my business – but I was not attached to what its manifestation would look like. Instead, I stayed open to possibilities.
This is incredibly important for any business in these changing times, but particularly for startups. When you hit the market, and at any stage you interact with your customers in a new way, you gather more information, including unexpected feedback. Leave your ego aside, and focus instead on being in dialogue and in the moment with your business and audience, while keeping the big picture in mind. You’ll be able to pivot and grow successfully, instead of holding on to what doesn’t work, or you think you are supposed to do.
2.You don’t always need experience, but you need to solve a problem.
At one point, Mickey and his team have to create an entire medical software program – and no one on his team had any idea or experience on how to do it. So they focused on serving their customers in the most effective way, learning how to build the software in the process. This made their product the best on the market, because instead of worrying about what they were supposed to do, or others had done in the past, they instead worked on solving a real problem with integrity and commitment.
3. Always, always, always be grateful
Throughout the book, Mickey expresses so much gratitude for everyone who helped him along the way. And these people, in turn, devoted decades of their lives to his company. This is a good reminder: we have all worked with grateful bosses…and negative ones. What I learned from my experience is to run from negativity as fast as I can, and to practice gratitude every day. The more your team and your customers feel appreciated, the more your business will thrive.
4. You can integrate your life and your work.
Mickey’s goal in life was to meditate twice daily while living in the woods. He managed to live his entire life, run a company with thousands of employees, raise a family, grow a spiritual community, and still keep to his life’s goals. Here in the US we are at a breaking point: more and more people are overworked, or miserable at work, or have to choose between healthy living and a paycheck. This is not necessary. You can build a business that allows you to live your life and be successful financially. I chose to work mostly from home, and my business has thrived. Instead of spending hours in traffic and meetings, I can devote more time to the work that matters. And because I am happy with my lifestyle, I am more enthusiastic and focused when at work, making it a win win situation for me and my clients.
5. Keep learning
Mickey went from being a math and economics student, to becoming a meditation pro; he had a successful business building houses, and then picked up computer programming. I can definitely relate! I went to art school, worked as a photographer and filmmaker, got into marketing and entrepreneurship, and I am learning something new every day as a consultant. Gone are the days when you were too old to learn, or could rest on what you already knew. But everything builds on what came before, so you grow in your wisdom and knowledge exponentially. Learn. Learn something new. Keep your curiosity and sense of wonder alive.
6. Tap into your inspiration and creativity.
If you want to truly tap into innovation, quiet your logical mind, and practice listening to your intuition, or gut feeling. It is this other part of the mind that is capable of creative solutions, so give it room to express itself. Nothing complicated is required: find something to do that relaxes you and helps you feel inspired. Many of us get great insights while driving, some of us love hiking, or you can try simply sitting in silence 10 minutes a day at home. Find what works, and consistently train yourself to “turn off” your logical mind, so your creativity can emerge. Create an environment where everyone on your team can do the same, and then invite them to share their insights. You might hear some crazy ideas, but, as Nelson Mandela famously said, “it always seems impossible until it is done.”
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