Let me tell you about a man with a dream. This man had a vision of a society united in one thought, one system of belief. The ruling authority of the time also shared this vision, and gave him wide-sweeping powers to act against any who didn’t conform to their standards, and he did this with a zeal that some later described as fearsome. Yet one day, he had an epiphany. He quite literally gained clarity of vision from the very one whom he once regarded as the principal opposer to his way of life. His story has profound lessons for business people today? Who was he?
Saul of Tarsus, commonly known as the apostle Paul (don’t worry; this is still a business blog, so bear with me).
First, some background. Saul belonged to a religious group known as the Pharisees, one of two prominent schools of Jewish religious thought in the first century CE. In Jewish society, religion wasn’t something you did on the weekend. It was a way of life, and it defined daily activity, even though Roman rule made inroads into some areas of Jewish customs. Already dealing with Roman domination, the last thing the Pharisees wanted was another distraction from the laws that gave their life meaning. So, when Christians appeared on the scene, they didn’t take to them kindly. The Jewish Sanhedrin, composed of prominent Pharisees and Sadducees, conspired to have Jesus, known as the Christ, delivered to the Romans for execution. With that in mind, you can understand why the spread of Christianity deeply troubled the Pharisees. Saul was more zealous than most his age for the religious teachings he learned and held dear. So when it came to stamping out this fledgling religion, he rose to the task in a masterful way. With full blessing provided by the officers of the Jewish synagogue, Saul entered homes, dragged out both men and women, and had them delivered to the courts for judgment. He went so far as to vote for the execution of those put on trial! There was no doubt in anyone’s mind, friend and foe alike, regarding his zeal. – Matthew 26:57-66, 27:1, 2; Philippians 3:5, 6; Galatians 1:13, 14; Acts 8:3, 9:1, 2
Saul wanted to see all Christians removed from Jewish society. So, with letters from the high priest, he left Jerusalem for Damascus to ferret out all followers of Christ in that region. On the way, the resurrected Christ appeared to him. This encounter affected him physically and spiritually. First, it left him blind until one of Christ’s followers named Ananias visited Saul, laid hands on him, and healed his vision. More importantly, he had an awakening. During the three days it took Ananias to arrive at the place where Saul waited, that devout Pharisee prayed for guidance. The result? As soon as Ananias restored his sight, Saul went forth as a Pharisee no longer. He was now a Christian, a follower of the way he formerly persecuted. Changing his name to Paul, he became one of the greatest champions of Jesus’ teachings. – Acts 9:3-22
As business people and entrepreneurs, we learn many things from Paul’s experience. Consider the following:
Paul’s vision was of a unified people, serving with the same beliefs and the same line of thought. Did that change? Not at all! In fact, he worked just as hard (if not harder) as a Christian to bring about unity of belief and thought as he did formerly as a Pharisee. What changed was his vehicle, the methodology for spreading that unity. Therefore, the first lesson is sometimes you have to change your methods in order to realize your dreams. What caused him to change? The revelation of the Christ while he was on the road to Damascus. It’s hard to imagine anyone having more wisdom than a resurrected spirit who lived countless millennia before us. Thus, our second lesson is trust in the advice of those with more experience. Finally, Paul was praying for guidance when Ananias found him. He went through some incredible circumstances, and needed to process all that happened to him. Prayer helped him center his thoughts and put into perspective his recent experiences. Thus, the final lesson we’ll consider is take time to reflect on what we’ve learned from our experiences.
Sometimes You Have to Change Your Methods
We’ve previously discussed the difference between a Vision and a Mission Statement. Essentially, your vision is what you see yourself or your business becoming. Your mission is what you do daily to achieve your vision. In Paul’s case, his vision remained as clear and strong as ever. His mission changed. From his perspective, his experiences taught him that he based his previous actions on a faulty premise, and therefore they had to change. In order to achieve his vision, he needed to follow a different path.
In business, the same is often true. We develop a vision of the future, what some may call our dream. This we should always pursue. However, sometimes we find that our methods aren’t up to the task. Perhaps we need to develop different skills. Maybe our assessment of the need in our marketplace isn’t comprehensive enough, or perhaps it’s simply wrong. There’s also the possibility that we’re doing the right things, but not doing them in the right way or not to the extent necessary in order to have significant success. You need to make an honest assessment of your methods and their effectiveness.
This gets tricky. If you’re working with an established system with a proven track record, then you simply need to correctly apply what’s known to work. This is a case of either doing the necessary things better, or doing them more often. However, what if you’re charting new territory? For example, suppose you’re taking a proven methodology but applying it in new and innovative ways. Since there is no established metric, you’ll have to set benchmarks for yourself, then closely monitor your progress. Allow a little leeway; you may have set a goal that you can’t reach within the specified time-frame, but you make positive progress nonetheless. If you find that the results don’t materialize after a reasonable time period passes, then you may want to re-evaluate your methods and make adjustments. What can help you make an honest, fair evaluation?
Trust in the Advice of Those With More Experience
Saul didn’t come to the conclusion to make changes on his own. He had help, someone who knew how to accomplish what Saul envisioned. As entrepreneurs, we also need mentors, those who have gone down a similar path and lived to tell the tale (professionally speaking). These mentors have more experience in specific areas and a proven record of success. They don’t necessarily need to have done exactly what you’re trying to do (this is especially true if you’re developing something completely new). Additionally, while not having lived for eons, they should have a wealth of knowledge in navigating the business landscape, and are willing to share their knowledge.
You likely know people who fit this description. If not, seek out these experienced business owners through business associations, networking functions, and services like S.C.O.R.E. (a division of the SBA). A word of caution: Don’t be swayed by titles. Look at results. You want to make sure that whomever you choose as a mentor not only talks the talk but also walks the walk. They should not simply give advice, but have proven success in business, giving weight to whatever suggestions they offer. Here’s another key thing: develop relationships with them first. You probably wouldn’t take well to someone who runs up to you on the street and tries to pick your brains on the spot, or who tries to drag you to lunch so they can grill you. But if a friend or trusted associate asked you for advice or offered to take you to lunch and talk, you’d be happy to receive the invitation. With the help of your mentor, analyze your situation, and get their insight on what you’ve done and whether or not it’s working. Then you can go to the next step.
Take Time to Reflect on What We’ve Learned
Saul took to heart what he heard and took three days to reflect on his past and future actions. This was not simply an emotional choice. It was the result of combining a powerful testimony and compelling information with thoughtful introspection. Entrepreneurs must periodically go through similar self-examination.
We’ve often heard the phrase “Plan – Do – Review.” That’s a litany every successful person applies. You make a plan and put it into action. Once that action yields results, it’s time to review them. Did things go well? Did they fail miserably? Based on the results, what should I do next? At this point, you should have input from a mentor, and now can reflect on their advice in addition to examining your own experience. Since none of us have all-knowing advisors, we must take time to seriously reflect on any advice given to see if we’ll use all, part, or none of it (the latter is particularly likely if we get conflicting opinions from different mentors).
If you see value in the advice offered, then put it into practice immediately, just like Paul. After all, success favors speed. By following his example, we can achieve similar success and accomplish great things – and yes, this can equally apply to other areas of life.
See? I toldja it was a business blog!
What were some areas in your business life you had to adjust? What helped you pinpoint the specific things that required change, and how did it turn out? Let us know in the Comments below.