Comfort – the enemy of progress

Monday 14th May 2018 saw the much anticipated release to DVD in the U.K. of the smash musical film “The Greatest Showman”. It’s catchy soundtrack has received much airtime and there were many who wanted to once again enjoy the spectacle surrounding the music. But there were a number of lessons that could be learned from P T Barnum himself for the budding entrepreneur.

The film starts with a boyhood P T being disciplined for mis-behaving whilst assisting his tailor father on a visit to a wealthy mans mansion in the high society of New York. As Barnum moves through the film we see how his career took him through a number of jobs before he eventually uses some ‘creative’ methods to obtain funding from the bank to start-up his own business. His story is like many other entrepreneurs in that he faces many highs and lows ultimately is hugely driven to do better every day. His motivation may come from a number of sources but there is no doubting his drive for continuous improvement.

The moment of the film that perhaps sums up the greatest lesson for today is when he seeks to bring in a ‘partner’ to his business. Through a number of shots consumed at the bar, Barnum observes a truth that resonates with many. He says to his would be partner “Comfort is the enemy of Progress”. Whilst at first glance this might be an amusing quip from a generation gone by it has never been truer than it is today.

A little closer to home

Managing Partner of Menzies Julie Adams with Richard Reed of Innocent SmoothiesAt the inaugural Menzies client conference (Managing Partner Julie Adams pictured with Richard Reed of Innocent Smoothies) there was a session around Digital Disruption. This is an area that increasingly impacts businesses in every sector of every size. From the news of HSBC making its first financial trade on blockchain to the ice cream van in the park taking Apple Pay for the fab lollies, disruption and transformation is impacting on every business and every entrepreneur.

So with this impact all around us and the pace of change accelerating all the time – what should the response of the entrepreneur be today? It seems that another lesson from Barnum might help! The idea that his show can continue to be a success is built around a freshness of new acts being added all the time – in short – CHANGE! Change not for change’s sake, and not at the expense of what it is a the core of success, but change to enhance, to modernise and to build on a successful foundation. Change is a positive and essential part of a successful modern business and the U.K. has some of the most agile and forward thinking examples on the Owner managed business community.

Of course, for every shining example of success, there is sadly an exception to prove the rule. It seems so many of our greatest retailers are failing to make the change. Not a week goes by without another story of how a long standing high street name is struggling. The lack of change in their business model is seeing footfall drop at an alarming pace and business’ that seemed unstoppable in the past are now on their knees and ready to come crashing down.

Ultimately, too many business have not been comfortable to progress. Growth is being achieved, profit margins are acceptable and the business is holding up. But as the disrupters enter the market, the competition begin to respond and the ‘comfort’ begins to diminish. Being too comfortable causes a failure to respond and a failure to respond is leading to business failures time and time again.

Too close for comfort?

In order to be the ‘greatest’ it really is best to be quite ‘uncomfortable’ for as much of the time as possible. Uncomfortable with the status quo, uncomfortable enough to strive to improve, uncomfortable enough to challenge established business models and processes and uncomfortable enough to take the steps forward that others are ready to.

With that drive to progress comes the need for careful planning. Nothing that Barnum achieved was through luck. Everything he did was carefully calculated and even when he took risks, he knew exactly what he was risking, why he was doing it and when the point of payback and success would be realised. Carefully planning out the changes to push for progress was and is an essential part of running a business and something that is part of the key role that Menzies play with its clients through its advisory services.

As the film draws to a conclusion we reflect how Barnum has gone from the poverty of a tailors assistant to a trailblazing entrepreneur in the entertainment business to a bankrupt that has lost it all before finding a new way to be successful again with an equal partner. No one said it was easy and no one can guarantee success. But one thing for sure is that if you want to keep making progress towards you goals it really is time to take an honest look at yourself and see just how comfortable you have become.

If you’re embarking on a period of change or digital transformation for your financial management systems contact Oliver Finch, to discuss how to streamline and embed systems that do more than just work.

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