Business-as-usual is a risky business

In the hurly-burly of running a creative agency, it’s all too easy for a business to stop evolving because everyone in the team is busy-busy with the doing.

Most entrepreneurs are familiar with that trap, of course: that you have to work on the business rather than in it to progress. Standing still is rarely enough.

But breaking out of the cycle of doing things a certain way is definitely something that needs a real plan, plus some well-directed investments – and a willingness to take risks.

I talked about this challenge earlier this month when presenting. I was one of three speakers at an event on London’s South Bank for an invited audience of agency heads, but this idea of how to break this cycle is one that really got people’s attention.

Is your thinking getting in your way

Where to start? One good place is by acknowledging that every business has a whole bunch of unhelpful interference factors that will limit it reaching its full potential.

If the performance of a business is its idealised potential minus the interference imposed by real life, we can map the following:

Potential Interference Performance

In the abstract, the object of a business is to reach peak performance. That means that working out just what is blocking potential is a good place to start. 

The headline work you do here is also immediately meaningful, because what you end up documenting is real-world blockages that need answers. It might be something as tangible as an inefficient process that means a service is loss-making rather than profitable. In that situation, another way needs to be found – and fast.

Limiting paradigms

Alongside this potentially big piece of work, there is also the connected question of whether any habits of thinking across the company are standing in the way of development. 

In other words, are the assumptions hard-wired into the leadership and the wider business culture the right ones? Is positivity and a can-do approach widespread, or do more negative habits of thinking hold sway?

These limiting paradigms might be at the individual level, and to do with confidence in your ability or your career, or they might be engrained more widely – say, a general feeling and unspoken agreement about the strengths of the competition and the ability of the business to compete in certain contexts.

These are all unhelpful and potentially divisive. 

Look at it this way. Lots of businesses of all stripes have blamed any recent under-performance on the market and in particular on Brexit. Jamie Oliver, for example, recently said the closure of several of his restaurants was down to Brexit. Yet the real story is the less-than-optimal locations of those closed restaurants. Pinning anything on the market is usually false – your decision-making and choices are the main culprits.

Another version of this is an excessive focus on the competition. ‘The competition is really good at x’ – or ‘they always beat us at...’ That kind of mentality never helps.  How does anyone know what the competition are really thinking and planning?  So don’t base your own behaviours or actions on hearsay.

Here’s a final word. Challenge your own paradigms. Break them if needed, and rewrite the best ones so they really deliver. But don’t live under false or limiting ones.

Partner at Waypoint Partners

Waypoint Partners are a leading growth advisory firm, working with shareholders and their leadership teams in the creative, marketing and technology sectors to grow and realise value. Are you planning for agency growth in the next 1-3 years? We would be happy to help you achieve your growth targets. Please feel free to give us a call on T +44 (0) 203 282 7598 or send us an email via We look forward to starting the conversation.

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