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Published on February 3, 1997

TIME TO GET TOUGH WITH YOURSELF

No matter what business you're in today, the demands and expectations are increasing, and there's less time and patience for getting the job done. Getting ahead isn't getting any easier. More hours, more responsibility and more knowledge are the ingredients for success. It's tough now, but indications point to it getting even rougher because the stakes are escalating. Just a few years ago, for example, it took six years to bring an automobile from concept to production. Now it's two. What will it be next year? The pressure is on to do more and more in less time.

The message is clear: Yesterday's success is tomorrow's failure. The work ethic is changing to meet new demands. No longer does hard work alone count. We're in a performance-based business mode that requires more than long hours. To become oriented in the new direction, here are 11 concepts for success in running a business. To get to the top, get tough with yourself.

1) If you think you're doing your job, you're obsolete. Only The Paranoid Survive is the provocative title of Intel Corp. Chairman Andrew S. Grove's book. It's easy to spot those who believe they have completely mastered their craft; they are oblivious to what's going on around them and have become functionally obsolete. What they do they may do well. Unfortunately, it is not enough.

2) If you think you fully understand what's happening, you will never get up to speed. It's easy to understand yesterday's technology and issues. But this could mean you're behind the curve. The business strategy is to avoid playing catch-up because there's no way to make up for lost time.

3) If you talk about what you've accomplished, you're useless. Past accomplishments are today's useless baggage. To dwell on past successes is to stop learning and that renders you useless.

4) If you feel you've paid your dues, your business is bankrupt. The idea that we can earn a permanent place at the table is gone. The dues are never paid in full. We should expect demands to increase—not decrease—over time, and there's no room for ``stepping back.'' Start losing responsibilities and you're on the way out.

5) If you're glad you have a job with little stress, you won't have it for long. Some people hold that stress is the current workplace enemy. But the real culprit may be the notion that stress is abnormal. What may be harmful is the inner turmoil that develops when we act as if pressure or stress is inappropriate. Learn to cope with the most common elements of business life: confusion, complexity, contingency and contradiction. Only those who can survive in this type of environment will flourish.

6) If you're not pushing the envelope, you have nothing to contribute that's of value. Risk taking is the mental attitude that cuts costs, provides better and more timely service and finds solutions. Be a creative resource for your company, whether you own it or work for it.

7) If you're not focused on the present, there is no future. People who are most valuable to business organizations have an ability to separate themselves from what happened yesterday and what might happen tomorrow—and focus totally on the now. If they're in sales, they listen to the customer instead of trying to get the customer to listen to them. If they're in management, they tune out themselves so they can hear the message.

8) If you have time to do your job, you've lost it. There's never enough time. Thinking about how it was or might be only makes it difficult to focus on the present.

9) If you're not willing to put yourself on the line, you'll hang on it. Taking responsibility is perhaps the most necessary quality in running a business or working in one. Respect for responsibility is missing in too many organizations.

10) If you believe this is just the ``Information Age,'' you're out of touch. This is the age of ``Information Organization.'' Simply having more information is irrelevant unless you know how to process it in productive ways.

11.) If you're not wired, you're no longer connected. And if you're not connected, you're nowhere. This runs counter to those who go on vacation so they can ``get away from the telephone.'' That's past.

If we want to succeed, the best place to begin is by getting tough with ourselves. Taking out our frustrations on others or blaming the times we live in only make us less effective at coming to terms with the issues that make a difference.

Only those who are relentless in making sure they're ahead of the curve are valuable both to themselves and their businesses.

Mr. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm in Quincy, Mass.

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