The Secret of (My) Success

“Life’s too short to hang out with people who aren’t resourceful.”

~Jeff Bezos

There is one common trait that all successful entrepreneurs share and it’s probably not what you think. No, it’s not a winning smile or an outgoing personality. (Although that certainly has helped me. Wink wink.) It’s not even a background in business, sales, or marketing. It’s resourcefulness. All of the successful solopreneurs and small business owners I know are also some of the most resource-savvy people I know.

It breaks my heart to see new entrepreneurs flounder and fail when setting up their businesses—missing out on opportunities, struggling with confidence, and taking class after class to try and fill in perceived gaps of knowledge from other subject matter experts. Don’t get me wrong: It’s not that there isn’t a lot to be gained from experts on subjects with which we aren’t familiar.  But when we take such classes from a place of perceived helplessness, they are merely compounding the problem. We forget our inherent ability and the biological imperative we all share not only to survive in this world, but also to thrive.  And how do we do that? Well, we learn how to use our resources, people.

How to Be Resourceful

Be Curious.

Remember when you were a kid and you’d ask, “why? why? why?” a thousand times, why? (And your mother would sigh deeply, roll her eyes, and then tell you to go look it up. Or was that just my mom?) Well that gift will serve you well, my friend, even as an adult. My insatiable curiosity has driven me to embrace a child-like interest in the world around me and to seek the answers to the questions of my life like a bear searches for sweet, sweet honey. Whether it’s why an aardvark looks so flippin’ weird or how to become a baby panda handler, I’ve used the Five Ws + H (Who, What, When, Where, Why + How) I learned in grade school to help me figure out the answers to all of life’s Googlable questions.

Speaking of Google…

“Search Engine” it.

I remember when I discovered the internet and opened Mosaic (an ancient web browser, if such a thing exists) for the first time. The World Wide Web!? A giant database of knowledge zooming around the world in a series of tubes? Sign me up!   Back in the day, when I would spend hours searching the internet on a wide array of topics, the search results were spotty and it was much harder to find appropriately topical information. But then, God created Google. (and on the 7th day? We searched.)  The truth is that internet search engines are your friend. Hell, be it email, in-app help documents, or a good old fashioned encyclopedia, search functionality in general is your friend!

I’m always floored by how many simple, easily searchable questions I have been asked throughout my career and how, as a result of my own curiosity and passion for information, people think I know everything. I mean, I’m smart and have a knack for retaining even the most banal celebrity trivia (Harrison Ford used to be a carpenter!), but most of the time when someone asks a question I don’t know the answer to? I just look it up. And voila! I’m a “genius” who “rocks”. Yeah, that’s right, Mick Jagger: reference librarians and I are the rockstars now.

Spoiler Alert: Soylent Green is People!
(or “The Benefits of Targeted Crowdsourcing”)

What I really mean is that all the information of the world—from the very first cave painting to the Encylopedia Britannica—was compiled by other humans. That’s right: there are other people in the world whose sole job is to gather and record information for the people of the world. Besides search engines, I’ve found that sometimes I can ask my social network (such as Facebook or Twitter) to help connect me with targeted ideas and information when the internet can’t.  From locating a good web designer to getting an opinion on whether I should wear taupe or black pantyhose (“You shouldn’t wear pantyhose because this isn’t 1993.”), targeted crowdsourcing can be the best way to find a well-qualified answer (and a few wise-ass comments that are sure to amuse or annoy) from your network of friends. What’s great about targeted crowdsourcing is that while sometimes it’s a crapshoot on whether you get a good answer or not, the information you do receive is from people you generally know and trust and who’ve done the hard work of narrowing and pre-qualifying the information you’re looking for before you! That means their mistake doesn’t have to be your mistake and what could potentially be an overwhelming search on a popular subject—like web designers or when did they bring back the L’Eggs Egg packaging— can be narrowed down relatively quickly based on a smaller source of trusted individuals.

Cultivate Relationships with Connectors and Mavens. 

Speaking of a network of friends…

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point,” he references three types of people that help create a social “epidemic”—The Connector, The Maven, or The Salesperson. Whether it’s a viral video or the utterly incomprehensible popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, these people are critical to getting information and ideas out into the world in a big way. Mavens are collectors of information, usually on a particular topic or in a certain field, while Connectors have wide social networks and LOVE using them. The reason targeted crowdsourcing (above) works is because it’s a social network that helps connect you with some serious connoisseurs of information (aka Mavens).

But you’ll notice this particular section is about cultivating relationships with Connectors and Mavens, and that is the key point here: When it comes to your invaluable resources, you’ve got to give a little before you take a little (or in some cases, a lot).

Here’s an example of what I mean: As the “Paul Revere” of my online community (i.e., a Connector/Maven), I get a lot of people who ask me a lot of questions. I get “tagged” (on Facebook) more than a New York subway train in the 1980s. I also get direct messages and emails from random individuals wanting (publicly available or easily accessible) information from me directly.

I don’t mean to sound bitter. I really don’t. The simple truth is I love helping connect people with awesome ideas and information. But I am so much more inclined to help someone with whom I have a relationship—someone who takes time to be interested and engaged in my life and cultivates a relationship with me because they care about me—not just my value as an information receptacle. If I wanted to be solely in the business of handing out information, I would have taken a job as a Public Information Officer. (Google it.)

Remember, when it comes to your favorite Connectors and Mavens, a little thoughtfulness goes a long way.

Complement yourself (by hiring or partnering with great people.)

Of course, some of us just aren’t naturally resourceful and that’s okay, as long as you know your strengths and find ways to complement your own approach to life and business with people who are inclined to “Google it.”

Remember, when it comes to your business, “resources” can include money, equipment, AND people, so if you know that you aren’t always the most creatively enterprising spirit, hire or partner with great people who are—such as Connectors, Mavens, Fact Finders/Researchers, or Follow-throughs. Perhaps you have a natural proclivity towards kicking things off and can partner with someone who is better at following through to conclusion. Or maybe you’re a really great Salesperson, but need someone who’s an awesome Connector to grow your network. The right complementary working relationships can take your business from bummer to boffo! The key, though, is to have an agreement in place before you end up burning bridges instead of building helpful relationships.

And finally…

“I Don’t Know” is never an answer.

What if you couldn’t utter the words, “I don’t know”—not even in the privacy of your own head? As a coach who helps entrepreneurs get their work out into the world, I’ll often say to a client who proclaims not to know an answer to a question I pose, “Pretend you do know.” Their response is usually a huge sigh and a moment of silence, invariably followed by a series of potential ideas and solutions to whatever seemingly impossible mountain they want to climb. It’s always surprising how enterprising we can be when faced with no other alternative than to creatively leverage our resources all by ourselves.

When I was a kid and had a question, my mom always encouraged resourcefulness by telling me to “go look it up” in a dictionary or our encyclopedias. And while I would do as she commanded with just a teensy bit of attitude, her insistence that I learn to become more self-sufficient—except when it came to my creative culinary adventures using an oven—was one of the most valuable gifts she gave me. (And it’s also how I learned to properly pronounce “subtle” before I ended up sounding like some kind of rube.)

Yes, it’s wonderful to ask for help and sometimes that is the best and only way to overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacles on our hero’s journey. However, those times when we give up too soon and assume a mantle of helplessness, we miss out on honing our own innate love of puzzle-cracking and the triumphant joy of figuring it out on our own.

Resourcefulness is a muscle you can build, but only if you try. So if you struggle with being resourceful, the next time you find yourself looking for a recommendation for a great virtual assistant, advice on how to get a cherry pie stain out of your shirt, or where to find your login for your web hosting provider, instead of doing what you always do to find the information, try to do it differently. Try finding it yourself or leveraging your network in a totally different way. Running your own successful business not only requires passion and tenacity, but creativity and the ability “to deal well with new or difficult situations and to find solutions to problems,” which is literally the definition of “resourceful.”

How do I know? Well, I looked it up, of course.

 Some Researcher Porn For You