Entrepreneurs are easily distracted – and as the owner or director in multiple businesses myself, I’m not immune. We’re often thinking 5 years into the future and about how we can change the face of our industry (or at least keep up with it). We’re not interested in a detailed implementation plan focused on incremental improvements over the next 3 months.

Like the dogs in Pixar’s UP!, at businessDEPOT we like to refer to those distractions as Squirrels.

No matter your best intention, you can only focus so long before the next shiny new object comes across your desk and … SQUIRREL!

Hey, this is what makes you a natural business owner. I’ve seen plenty of people trying to start a business who are great at detail and low on risk-taking. Sadly, most don’t make it. Your Squirrel tendencies are critical to the business … but they can also kill it. Here’s why.

3 layers of expertise

You may have heard about the Stages of Competence, the steps by which we learn things over time – like how to be great at Sales.

We start with Unconscious Incompetence – we’re terrible, and we don’t even know it. Then we become Consciously Competent – we’re still terrible, we don’t have the skills, but now we know that we don’t know! We call that layer ‘Inspiration’. Think of the first time you drove a car – despite having been in a car most of your life, you suddenly realised you didn’t know what you needed to do. Some people run away from a new skill, but most of us are inspired at that moment to improve.

Next, we become Consciously Competent – we learn, we get educated, in the case of driving we get lessons and practice. In business, we call this the Design layer – it’s where you learn the boundaries and peculiarities of that skill.

Then we get to practice the skill, preferably on a regular basis. Over time, we become Unconsciously Competent – we’re good at this, and we don’t even need to think about it. When you drive from home to the office, you don’t really have to pay attention. We call that layer


inspiration, design, execution

Inspiration can hurt. It’s not nice to discover that you’re no good at something. And being entrepreneurial, our natural instinct when we’re not good at something that we want to be good at is not to go off to university for four years. No, we want to improve by doing it and we want to do it now!

So what do we do? We jump immediately from Inspiration to Execution, from a new idea to run with it. And how well does that work?

It doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, what do we do?

We jump straight back up here and latch onto the next great idea. Squirrel!

This series is about why great ideas in business fail. And the number one reason is a failure to Design a plan to turn that idea that inspired you into executed reality.

In my business, I’ve trained myself (and my clients) to move through these layers properly for maximum benefit. Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up. If strategic design isn’t your passion, involve a team member or coach with that capability.

Because failing to do so creates two problems in your business: first, it means you fail to fully benefit from your ideas, even if they’re great. You rush in, and out, of them. The second is even worse: if you as a business leader develop a reputation for never fully implementing, for jumping to the next idea all the time, then eventually your team will realise they don’t need to listen to you.

Why bother executing, when you’ll have discovered the next big thing by the time next week rolls around. You’ll lose your power as a leader, and none of your great ideas will work.

key takeaways

  1. Nobody is an expert on day one – It’s OK to be ‘Consciously Incompetent’ at a skill you’ve just discovered
  2. You need to slow down to speed up – Take the time to research and design a plan for implementing your ideas
  3. Make sure you execute fully – This means writing things down, communicating with the team, and keeping track of your plans until your outcomes are fully realised.

You’ll still see Squirrels every day. But they won’t distract you from the opportunity at hand.