Learning to Grow: You Can’t Grow Without Opening Your Mind

Jennifer Adams is a successful interior designer turned TV personality, appearing on the nationally syndicated TV show “Better” and HGTV’s “My First Place.” Her most recent accomplishment is creating a line of home furnishings that is now available at select Costcos. She was also named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008 by the Portland Business Journal and recognized as one of Portland’s most successful “Forty Under Forty.”

small business, women entrepreneurs, business growth“I want everyone to be able to create an environment they love coming home to, even if you can’t spend a lot of money,” said Adams. She has segued from designing the interiors of high-end residences, luxury hotels, country clubs, and resorts (others in her company now do this) to showing women how to design their own space and providing affordable, quality furnishings for them.

Adams attributes her success to:

  • creating clear goals
  • not putting restrictions on herself
  • surrounding herself with people who complement her skill set and giving them the authority to act
  • never stop learning

Successful women seem to have these attributes in common. Goal-setting is the bedrock of Dareth Colburn’s rise past the multi-million dollar revenue mark. Eliminating the restrictions on bragging about accomplishments and being tough have been cited by many women as essential to leadership of a high-growth company. And that team-building stuff: You can’t get past the million-dollar mark without it.

Adams has added that last one -- never stop learning -- which really is the sum of all the above. Every entrepreneur I know has built a successful business on the many varieties of learning available.

Admitting that you don’t know everything -- and never will -- is key to growth.

Day-to-day lessons learned by asking lots of questions. Mentors and professional advisors (such as accountants and lawyers) are learning resources. Adams advises spending on money professional advisors even when you think you can’t afford to. Often, you can’t afford not to. So, too, are networking events. You never know who you will meet and how useful their insights will be.

Listen to learn from all your company’s stakeholders, from employees to customers. That means more than lending an ear; it means attentive listening to what you hear, body language, and nuances of words. You can get great insights into what people really want from a product like yours or where the bottlenecks in production really are.

Access written resources, whether online or off. Adams reads lots of books and business publications like Forbes and The Wall Street Journal.

Trial and error. That “error” thing sounds bad but it’s a great teacher. Adams supports that more positive take. She views her mistakes as a chance to learn. Give yourself permission to fail without the burden of judgement.

Formal professional development, from an MBAs to online classes to seminars and peer advisory groups, which are informally formal, giving their members a chance to explore challenges in the company of others who have been there and overcome that.

No fixed mix of learning tools fits every entrepreneur. In fact, the mix should change as your company evolves. The focus of a start-up entrepreneur may be professional advisors and small business seminar. The leader of a growing business may opt for the peer advisory group or risk trying something new with the understanding that it may be a learning rather than profit opportunity.

What doesn’t change is the need to be open to new ideas. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. Markets change. Technology changes. Employee expectations change. Your company’s growth depends on your ability to understand what’s happening and work with it. That means learning.

Flickr photo: By OC Always
 

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