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Piggy in the middle?

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Although, to me, the picture above looks rather comfortable and cosy, being the piggy in the middle is rarely so. Unfortunately, it can also be a pretty common place to find yourself in when setting up a new business.

This chapter of the new business start-up story is going to look at what happened in this particular case, and draw out the lessons from it that can apply to us all when we find ourselves in that position.

The pressure mounts

We’re now just a few days away from the grand opening of this new business, which was scheduled for May 1st 2010 in the business planning process, and that date was not going to move, at all. In addition to the reasonably successful planning (see here) that had gone on, our entrepreneur had worked out that she didn’t need to do absolutely everything herself (see here), had concluded the major business start-up negotiations (see here), and had, with admitted difficulty, kept her motivation (see here.) going as obstacles had leapt out at her.

Now though, it became more than simply a case of addressing problems as they confronted her and batting them away - things were becoming more complicated, and she felt like the piggy in the middle of a series of conflicting priorities. These included:

So, what were the lessons? How did our plucky entrepreneur manage her way through this situation? Here are some thoughts that can apply to all of us, regardless of our business, management, leadership or organisational challenges:

Change the rules

Piggy in the middle is not the only game in town, so why not play a different one. One technique to use is to change the rules so that, instead of you trying to catch the ball, the job of the other players becomes to help you catch the ball. That way, instead of expecting you to solve their problems, their role is to help you solve them - one small step away from solving them for themselves.

Use a different ball

Something defined as a problem is usually a problem. Changing the definition can help. Playing piggy in the middle with a small, hard ball is far harder than playing with something like a beach ball. Challenge people to redefine problems, and keep on challenging them (using any conflict between them as a motivator if necessary!) to come up with the best, most useable, least problem-ish definition possible.

Become the umpire

Another option is simply not to play at all, but simply to be the umpire. Either get someone else to be the piggy so you can step back, or, even simpler, just step back and let people throw balls at each other until they get so tired or bored they simply move on.

Different solutions will be appropriate in different circumstances, but the unifying factor is that permanently being the piggy in the middle is not one of the better ones.

The next article in this business start-up series is going to look at what can happen to you once you’ve launched - do you breathe a sigh of relief, or is it only then that the real problems emerge?

As always, I’d love to get input from all of you entrepreneurs out there!

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