It started with a few grains of rice
I came across an ancient story recently that goes something like this:
One upon a time there was a King in India who was a big chess enthusiast and had the habit of challenging wise visitors to a game of chess. One day a traveling sage was challenged by the king. The sage, having played chess all his life, gladly accepted the Kings challenge. To motivate his opponent, should the sage win, the King offered any reward that the sage could name. The sage modestly asked just for a few grains of rice in the following manner: the King was to put a single grain of rice on the first chess square and double it on every consequent square thereafter. The king, surprised by the sage’s simple and apparently inconsequential reward, gladly accepted.
Having lost the chess game to the sage, and being a man of his word, the King ordered a bag of rice to be brought to the chess board. Then he started placing rice grains according to the arrangement: 1 grain on the first square, 2 grains on the second square, 4 grains on the third square, 8 grains on the fourth square and so on. Doubling the number of rice grains on each subsequent square.
But of course, as the sage knew along, the payment of his reward had exponential growth. The king quickly realised that he was unable to fulfil his promise because by the time they got to the twentieth square on the chess board the king would have had to put approximately 1,000,000 grains of rice. By the fortieth square, that had increased to around 1,000,000,000 grains of rice.
And, finally, on the sixty-fourth square, the king would have had to put more than 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 grains of rice which is equal to about 210 billion tons.
It was at that point that the sage told the King that he didn’t have to pay the debt immediately but could do so over time. And so the sage became the wealthiest person in the world.
It’s an ancient tale and a nice story. But what’s the point?
Last year I read a book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. When I came across the story of the grains of rice and the chessboard it reminded me again of the Power of Habits. The premise of the book is that when applied correctly, good habits have the power to change things. Massively. A good habit at first may seem small and inconsequential and the changes imperceptible, just like those first few grains of rice on the chessboard.
However, over time the change becomes exponential.
So, what does that mean for us as business owners. One area is how we spend our time. Often as business owners, we spend all our time working IN our business and very little time working ON our business.
When we work in our business it usually involves being busy, answering emails, dealing with customer queries, fulfilling orders. All of these are of course important tasks and need to be done. But often we get ‘sucked in’ to dealing with problems and short-term issues.
On the other hand, when we work on our business, it involves activities that will ‘move the needle’. Activities such as creating and building a lead generation funnel, identifying a new customer segment and writing and sending them an email campaign, writing and publishing content as part of getting potential customers to know, like and trust you. Working on our businesses also includes taking time to think and create.
The point is, the ‘working on’ activities often get side lined by the busy, ‘working in’ activities. Or to put it another way, the important becomes a victim of the urgent.
One habit you might find helpful in overcoming this problem is to find between 90 minutes to 2 hours every day to work ON your business. Switch off your mobile, don’t take calls, don’t check emails. Lock yourself away if you have to. But find time every day, I find first thing in the morning works best, and take 90 minutes to work on your business.
Like the first few grains of rice in the story, at the beginning, 90 minutes may seem inconsequential. But as you do it every day, for weeks and then months, gradually you will begin to see change. And over time you’ll find the change and the growth in your business will become exponential.