Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, August 31, 2020
Why is it so hard to get anything done?
Over the past year or so, I have been keeping a mini tally of frustrations — some experienced by me personally and many experienced by my friends, peers and associates. The lens I am looking through is wide and deep.
The basic premise of the entrepreneurial spirit is to try to get something done. Some of my friends are real estate developers. One guy is renovating a restaurant. He tells the story of one inspector telling him to move the grease trap 3 feet to the left and then two weeks later, a different inspector comes out and says put it back where it was. It turns out it should never have been moved, but the cost to do it twice is borne by the developer.
The stories are relentless about the inconsistencies for what can open and what can’t during COVID. A toy shop was closed for three months, Target was open. If you make the rules, at least try to keep them consistent for more than 48 hours. In my own little world, one of my companies is interacting with government. Enough said. When that deal is finally done, I will be 97 and using a drool cup.
What I am exploring here is the tension between the status quo and change. The entrepreneur sees a problem that he thinks he can solve. Along the way, he encounters barriers — some of his own making and also some that just seem stupid. For example, his potential customer says, “I admit that we have overpaid for stuff in the past that doesn’t work, but we can’t change now, because we have already spent so much money.” (Review concept of sunk costs.)
“Your product/service is terrific, but you’re a startup, untested, so we will go with the name brand guy, we can’t take the chance, he’s big and you’re not.” (Sounds a bit like Chevy Chase from SNL).
“Sure, I know I agreed to our deal last week, but I just want to double-check with my attorney at Belt and Suspenders and Associates.”
I hear your frustration, but beware of the desire to seek redress or worse, revenge. The law of unintended consequences is always lurking. A friend of mine was thrown under the bus by an angry associate, only to find out that the bus driver’s brother happened to also own the bus company. The associate is currently traveling on foot.
I have friends who want to start a food truck business. The permits are arduous. Some of the concerns are rational such as cleanliness, and then there are the bureaucratic concerns that are more along the lines of “but what if it rains on a Tuesday when someone is ordering the enchilada, and slips because the cheese sauce has overflowed — who’s liable?” This insanity creates significant stress for my client.
Emma Pattee writes in the New York Times, “Nearly 40 million people in the U.S. suffer from an anxiety disorder.” My guess is that a high percentage of those are entrepreneurs. Sometimes it feels like you get up, go to work, battle the forces of sloth, inaction, rejection, disappointment and unreasonableness — and then like Sisyphus, you go home, and the rock slips back down the hill and you start again the next day.
After stress comes worry, followed closely by anxiety. Those are the three witches (Macbeth) who chase our entrepreneur every day. Our country promotes the idea of entrepreneurship, of small business, can-do, self-reliance, independence and innovation, but sometimes it remains just a story.
I confess that at this time, in late summer while the country struggles with COVID, I am just tired and a little bit angry. It feels like the forces of evil line up each day and like bowling pins, they challenge me to knock them down. I roll the ball and then the relentless automatic mechanical pinsetter sets them up again. And then I put my fingers in the ball and it’s déjà vu all over again.
I ask forgiveness from my readers this week. My goal is to express empathy and compassion and understanding for everyone who is trying “to get something done” and is challenged daily by a system that is formidable and does not take kindly to change.
Rule No. 674
“Hasta la vista, baby”