Aaron Grossman, CEO
I have probably watched the last 10 NFL drafts. While I am curious who my hometown team will draft, I enjoy studying the film that the TV analysts broadcast after a player is selected. I go so far as to surf online to view the detailed draft analysis of that player. I have such curiosity about why a player is drafted and what are the triggers that show NFL scouts that this college player will transition successfully to the NFL.
7 rounds make up the NFL Draft, and the assumption is that if you are drafted in the first-round, you have a high probability of having a successful career in the NFL. This is actually a far cry from reality. Recent statistics show that only 56% of first-round NFL selections have a productive career at the next level. Outside of injuries, the number one reason for failure is the inability to adjust to the speed of the game.
Now, let’s transition this curiosity to business. I have always considered myself to be incredibly fortunate. I started a business from scratch at 27 years of age. Within 15 years, I was able to recruit an amazing team that has helped me grow our company to almost 200 people with offices throughout the United States. I have learned many things over the past 15 years, and one of them is that the speed of the game of business when you are trying to scale it, is very similar to the transition of College Football to the NFL.
Most people know that it is almost impossible to start a business from scratch and actually sustain its existence. I think there is a 95% failure rate within three years of starting a business. So, it is an accomplishment all on its own that I have a business that is now going on its 16th year. What I think is even harder than starting a business is figuring out how to grow it significantly.
While there are a lot of obstacles to growing a business, I feel being able to adjust to the speed of it all is a critical piece of it.
While there are a lot of obstacles to growing a business, I feel being able to adjust to the speed of it all is a critical piece of it. If you are trying to grow your business significantly, you have to maintain laser focus around areas including finance, talent, technology, operations, legal and sales.
When you are scaling a business, often, the guardrails are not set up, and the foundation for managing the growth doesn’t exist. It all has to be created as you go. While mistakes along the way are expected, you can’t make mistakes that will cripple your long-term ambitions. This is a conundrum because you have to have the confidence to push forward knowing you might make a mistake and not let the fear of making a crippling mistake detour you from taking the actions you need to take. Confusing, right?
Going back to my NFL analogy, I believe this part is why Quarterbacks have even less success transitioning from college to the NFL than other drafted positions. QB’s are the most vulnerable to having their mistakes cripple the success of their team. They can throw a bad pass, miss identifying wide open receivers, or even throw a pass to the wrong team! Not only are they trying to adjust to the speed of the game, but they are working to overcome the anxiety that builds when you are trying to maintain focus while not making crippling mistakes.
Over the past two years, my company has more than doubled in size. We have gone from 80 employees to almost 200. Trying to keep up with the growth has been nothing short of a struggle. Have we made mistakes during this time? FOR SURE!!! Have any of them crippled us? At this point, NO… Phew.
Personally, the struggle to keep up with the speed of this new game has taught me a lot. As a smaller company, I was able to provide strategy, innovate and evolve the business continuously.
If anyone ever asked me, I always have said that starting a business was easy for me. I have always wanted to give a different answer, but this was my reality. I have used the NFL analogy above to help me understand why it seemed so natural for me while the statistics clearly show how hard it is to start a business. For whatever reason, I have always been able to see the field (vision). As is in NFL, everything is about mechanics and positioning. Creating focus around the mechanics in business and the positioning to grow it effectively helped me maintain the focus I needed to while giving me the confidence to take actions that I knew might cause mistakes, but never crippling ones. These actions ultimately allowed the business to continue pushing forward.
For the greater part of 2016, I felt for the very first time what it must feel like for a college football player to transition into the NFL. Everything was moving so fast. I had a hard time maintaining the proper focus, and it was hard to see the field clearly. The NFL analogy helped me work through this difficult time. I knew I was transitioning. I knew I had to teach myself how to adjust to this new speed. I had to maintain patience while working to understand how I could continue to create success at this new level. Ultimately, I knew that the NFL doesn’t slow down for anyone. As a player, you either adjust to the speed of the game, or the NFL will spit you out with no regrets. I didn’t want to be one of the many successful college players who can’t cut it at the next level.
Sometime in the fourth quarter of 2016, things started to slow down for me again. I began to see the field with more clarity. I finally was able to breathe again. As I enter 2017, I feel highly confident that I can create success in this new game I am playing in. While the speed is hard and fast, I can work with it now.
… even though I knew that nothing slowed down, I was just finally adjusting to it.
One of the big takeaways that I want to share is how I have worked to overcome this obstacle. I willed myself to EMBRACE the speed. I didn’t try to fight it. I didn’t try to stop it. I didn’t try to control it. I think knowing that the speed of the NFL game doesn’t slow down for anyone helped me realize that to win this battle, I couldn’t fight the speed; I had to embrace it. I knew that by embracing the speed, I would give up temporary control, which was VERY scary. I didn’t know what to expect on most days, but I was deliberate in my intention to try and move with the speed rather than to try and control it. By embracing the speed day in and day out, I eventually started to acclimate myself to it. Then, things began to slow down… even though I knew that nothing slowed down, I was just finally adjusting to it. As I reflect, I think I know why a lot of college football players don’t transition successfully to the NFL.
They work to control the speed to try and slow it down rather than embrace the speed and work through the stress that comes with trying to adapt to it. It’s natural for people to want to have control over their lives. In business, processes are put in place to create and sustain the comfort of control. Unfortunately, you can’t leverage control to slow down the speed of a new type of game. Attempting to do so will ultimately result in failure. Second, if you choose to embrace the speed rather than control it, the stress that it causes can be overwhelming and can mentally break a person down.
If you can learn to embrace the speed and cope with the stress that comes with hyper growth, I can assure you that eventually, things do slow down, and when they do, you will be primed and ready to take that next big leap with your business or in your career.
For those still reading, I hope you can recognize the moment this experience will happen to you, because I know it will.
Wishing you a healthy and prosperous 2017!