It was our senior year of college and we were all scrambling around to figure out our post-graduation plans. One very smart friend of mine, lets call him Lem, was applying for grad schools. He was in a very specialized field and his very high GPA meant he was not only getting accepted to schools easily, they were also willing to pay him to go to school there.
But at some point over the course of the year he got it in his head that it would be better to work for a year to get real world experience and then go to grad school. He turned down the grad schools, many of which wanted him so badly that they said they’d be willing to wait if he changed his mind, and started to look for jobs.
Except that we graduated into a terrible job market. A year passed. Then another. Lem still didn’t have a job. Again and again we’d say to him, “Why don’t you just get paid to go to grad school now and then see what the job market is like when you graduate? After all, the degree, connections and experience there would probably help you to get a job. You’d be making money instead of sitting around doing nothing.”
But he’d always respond with the same thing: Nah. He wanted to work for a year before grad school.
The last time I spoke with Lem was five years after graduation. He’d held down one job for a few months before he was laid off when the company folded and he had otherwise been unemployed since we left school. The grad school offers had all since expired. But he still wouldn’t apply for grad schools or even consider them because he was still obsessed with the idea of working for a year first and only then going back to school. For all I know he’s still sitting around somewhere unemployed waiting for that mythical year of work to come along so that he can go to grad school and start the rest of his life.
I tell you this story because sometimes we act like this with our businesses. We get an idea in our head or become obsessed with doing things a certain way and focus only on that until we can’t see the logical alternative right in front of us. Sometimes plans don’t work out exactly how we wanted. Sometimes our marketplace or just life in general changes so that our plan is no longer the amazing idea it was originally. Sometimes we need to admit to ourselves that what we are doing isn’t working and be open to alternatives.
Change is hard. Changing your mind can be even harder. But don’t get so obsessed with an idea or policy or marketplace that you become blind to the other options out there. The ability to adjust and adapt is one of the most important skills in business.