You are not who you were, or who you will be. Neither is your business.

At a recent TED conference, psychologist Dan Gilbert shared his research on a phenomenon he calls the “end of history illusion”. It seems most people acknowledge that their values and ideas have changed over their lifetime, but somehow they assume who they are now is who they will always be.

Based on his research, Mr. Gilbert says we are wrong. While our ideas shift more slowly, we continue to change our ideas about the world, and our place in it regardless of our age.

Watching the video, I realized the same is true for small business owners as they evaluate their business. Often, as owners, we look at our business and assume we have arrived. Yes there were struggles and changes  in direction and structure, product offerings and people, but this is it. We are finally exactly where we need to be. No more changes!

If Dan Gilbert is right and we just can’t see into our future, then we need to force the vision. When you feel everything is going perfectly well in your business, it is time to shake things up. How? Start by looking backward.

Look for the pivotal moments. These are the times when something caused you to change direction. Maybe it was only a little shift at the time, but the change put you on an entirely different path. When you see the pivotal moments from the past it is easier to look for them in the future.

For Roundpeg, a pivotal moment was the day Dave Anderson introduced me to WordPress.  At the time, we were building traditional HTML websites and blogging using Blogger. A short conversation and a quick demo was all it took for me to see possibilities. Of course I assumed WordPress would be an addition to our product offering, I never expected it would become the core of our web design business five years later.

Look for the times you let go.  These are often those tough moments when you realize what worked in the past was no longer working. Typically we hold on to things, processes, ideas and even clients too long.  We assume the down cycle is temporary and things will turn around, come back or work again. Unfortunately they rarely do, and you know that. Remember what happened when you let go. Suddenly there was room or time to do something else, something which worked.

Over the years we have had a few clients who just weren’t right for us. The meetings were sometimes adversarial, nothing we did was exactly right, and they wouldn’t really listen to us. Eventually we parted ways. It is always tough to say goodbye to a paying customer, but every time I have done so we find a new one who is willing to try the things we are suggesting, value what we bring to the table and make us wonder why we waited so long to make the change.

When you are done looking backward it is time to look forward. Look for those small changes which lead you down new and interesting paths. Look for inspiration in new places. Read new books, talk to new people. Spend time with peers and ask about what they are doing and spend time with business owners in completely different industries. Then give yourself permission to let go of things which just aren’t working and find something new to fill the space. Remember, your business is not all it will become. Start making changes now.

And take a few minutes to watch the interesting video which inspired me to to write this blog post.

Then download our strategic planning worksheet and start working on shaking up your vision.

Photo credit Lorraine Ball