The dog ate my homework and other hurdles to change

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As with most clichés, the old saw about “the more things change, the more they stay the same” undoubtedly has a modicum of truth to it, but I wouldn’t want to build a business model around it. Not in this industry. Not in any, for that matter. And not these days.

We’ve said it a bunch of times: Things aren’t going back to the way they were. But I sometimes wonder whether we aren’t just giving more lip service to the notion than really taking it to heart. Change is hard. Inertia is the great immovable object. It’s not easy to reinvent yourself or your business, but what’s the alternative? The status quo might make you a sitting duck.

Stay close to your customers — their likes and dislikes, their dreams, their concerns, how they get their news and information these days. How they communicate with one another. How they spend their time on the water. Force yourself to learn something new, to do something uncomfortable, to stretch.

I know a talented, versatile boat guy who can build just about anything from scratch. He can repair woodwork, wire a boat, put down a new teak deck, troubleshoot myriad problems. Knows power and sail. He’s got a good eye and a good pair of hands and a shop full of tools.

When boating was humming he had to turn away work. But as the industry contracted he went from having too much work to not having enough. The problem is that he has always relied just on word of mouth to grow his business. He’s too much of a well-kept secret.

Several years ago I suggested he have someone build him a simple website where he could post photos of his work, brag a little about his experience and accomplishments, and, of course, make it easy for people to contact him via email, Facebook, phone, smoke signals. He’s yet to get around to the website, and the wolf is prowling at his door.

The point is, you’ve got to cast a wider net when fish are scarce. And don’t wait for business to come to you — you have to go out and get it.

As we start the new year, I made up a short list of expressions that sometimes suggest a reluctance to see things in a different light, to try something new, to get your arms around change. I’ve got a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old at home, so I’m fairly up to date on the list of excuses we all fall back on from time to time. But they’re certainly not the exclusive province of the young.

That’s not the way we do things.

• It’s not my fault.

• It’s not my job.

• No one tells me anything.

• It won’t work.

• It never works.

• I’m too busy.

• I forgot.

• We tried that already.

• They never let me try anything.

• No one does it that way.

• I’ll get to it when I can.

• I can’t do everything.

• I only have two hands.

• Don’t blame me.

• I told you so

• I’m not good at that.

• No one showed me how.

And sometimes the dog really does eat the homework. When my son was about 9 and our black Lab was just a puppy, she didn’t exactly “eat” his homework one morning, but she mouthed it to a point at which he couldn’t turn it in.

Happy New Year.

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