Are You A Bubble Boss?

About half of my consulting engagements begin because an employee – not the owner or director – called me asking for help.  It goes something like this, “Please,  would you get the owner to wake up and look at what other companies do? He/She believes they have it all figured out, but we are struggling.” 

Many of my clients will tell you that after our first meeting I gave them One Thing to do. I call it Get Outside Your Bubble. We are surrounded by our businesses and often fail to look at or interact with other companies. When we focus exclusively inward, we create our own truths and simultaneously exclude conflicting ideas. Occasionally, companies like this succeed, which reinforces those owners that are naturally inclined towards isolationism. Isolated companies – successful or not – often have scars from mistakes that could easily have been avoided. They solved problems expensively that could have been fixed easily. They create complicated work-arounds instead of abandoning a sacred tenet. Bubble Bosses are not difficult to spot.

Top 5 signs that you might be a Bubble Boss:

  1. You have developed proprietary software and won’t consider modern off-the-shelf solutions because of your “investment”. (“I don’t want to lose all this data.”)
  2. You have invented employee policies for things like travel and comp time that reflect your personal values (“I can eat on $20 per day in Las Vegas! So should everyone else”).
  3. You are afraid to try new things because your employees will rebel.
  4. You believe that you have to choose between getting the work done and doing the work right (“We are too busy to fix the AV system in our own conference room”).
  5. You have initiated multiple lines of business without separate business plans. (“Why aren’t we selling more service agreements? It’s just an add-on sale!”)

How does getting outside your bubble help? You may be surprised to learn that other owners run up against the same challenges as you. Go figure. They have tried things or might be willing to try if they can bounce the idea off a peer.  It opens the mind and occasionally validates beliefs – both are worthwhile outcomes. You might even learn something that will benefit your business tomorrow.

However, there are a variety of things that keep some owners inside their bubble. Here’s what some owners have actually said to me:

  • “I don’t want to find out that I have been wrong about something important.”
  • “I believe that if I help someone else, their success takes away from my company.”
  • “If another company finds out what I do well, they will steal my employees/customers/processes.”
  • “Applying someone else’s ideas is cheating.”

We can all understand these concerns, but benefits of looking outward far outweigh the risks of exposing yourself. The only cure is to engage with people in your same position in the same industry.  Interact with your peers, even your competitors. Attend industry events and buy a drink for someone whose business you admire. Visit other companies in other towns. “I am visiting the area and would like to meet you, visit your shop, and chat about the industry,” is usually a well-received request. You won’t solve all your problems and get every question answered in one sitting (even if you hire a great business consultant, it might take a few more conversations), but you will whittle away at the assumptions and presumptions that are holding you back. To me, it’s the most important first step towards realizing your and your company’s full potential.

You now have just one thing on your to do list: Get Outside Your Bubble.

Tom Stimson, MBA, CTS, is president of Stimson Group LLC, a Dallas-based management consulting firm specializing in strategy, process improvement, and market research for the Audiovisual Industry. Tom is a Past-President of InfoComm International and a current member of InfoComm’s Adjunct Faculty. 


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