Micro-Ambition: Setting Your Sights Lower

Attainable, short-term goals could be the key to success for your business in 2018.

It’s the end of the year, and as things wind down, the natural thing to do is to start thinking about next year. Everyone does it; lots of people write about it. One article after another will point out that you need to set lofty, challenging, huge goals for your business. “Climb that mountain!” (Not to sound hypocritical, but, um… maybe I’ve been known to say that, too.)

So, how did setting those big goals work out for you this past year? Or the year before? Are you any further along?

Rather than aiming for the moon, I’m going to suggest you throw that approach right out the window. Instead, try being “micro-ambitious” in developing your plan for 2018.

Why set your sights lower? The definition of ambition is “the strong desire to do or achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.” That already sounds scary. No wonder that big idea of yours never got off the ground. (Again.) Maybe you had big dreams, but they aren’t being realized fast enough. You have a gigantic goal that you are always talking about, but it never seems to get any closer to reality.

Being micro-ambitious, a concept popularized by comedian Tim Minchin, might be a better way to go. Minchin describes micro-ambition as the “passionate dedication to short-term goals.” That already sounds easier, doesn’t it? (And I like easy.) It gets down to pursuing the objectives that are right in front of you with everything you have.

So instead of planning a big project that is going to take all of 2018 to complete, maybe you should apply that same dedication and passion to your daily work. First, that means setting some short-term goals. And by short term, I mean today. Let’s say the micro-ambitious goal would be to start, work on, and complete a small project every day. You’ve just made yourself one percent better – a small improvement, maybe, but those add up.

What might a company-wide commitment to micro-ambition mean for your business? Let’s take a look.

If your shop is like most, you wait for the phone to ring or an order to drop in your lap. Sure, you might have some type of outward sales effort, but it always can get better. The key is to create opportunities rather than react to them.

So instead of waiting for business to come in, today you are going to make 10 outbound calls. That’s your short-term, passionate goal. It will take maybe 30 minutes to an hour.

Five of these will come from your connections on social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – it doesn’t matter). Cull through those contacts and pick five people who you’ve always wanted to talk to. You may even know who they are before you get started. The other five will come from that stack of business cards you have in your desk drawer. You met these people somewhere – at the park, or maybe at a networking event, who knows. You’ve probably forgotten. The point is that today, your short-term, passionate goal is to grab five of these cards and make the calls.

So that’s 10 people you’re going to reach out to. If you are like most folks in sales, you might get something going with two of these people. That’s 20 percent. But you won’t know which two, so that’s why you have to call 10.

For the sake of easy math, let’s just say that each of the two sales is $1000. That’s $2000 for an effort of less than an hour of your time. All you have to do is make the calls.

You can also apply the concept of micro-ambition to your creative team. Every artist I’ve ever met has an idea up their sleeve that they’d like to try out. I’m sure the members of your team have thoughts on things they’d like to try to design in the back of their minds. They never find the time, and that’s your opportunity.

Commit to carving out that time. Tell them to start working on that fantastic concept. Challenge them to use it for a new client that sales just snagged. Or, maybe it can be the new shop shirt. The trick is to help them get it out of their heads and translated into an image that can be used to decorate a shirt.

If they can’t think of anything, try this: Write about 50 to 100 words down on small slips of paper. Use some nouns like dinosaur, skull, flower, or warrior. Add colors like red, green, or black. Throw some funky production curveballs in there too – glitter, metallic, rhinestones, high-density, puff, translucent, glow in the dark. Let them go wild. Whatever interests your team or makes sense.

Now, mix all the slips in a hat or a bucket and pull three to five out. Whatever combination results, tell the artists to design that.

Many articles have been written about how to improve workflow. I know I’ve written a few. They tend to be pretty big in scope. So where can you take the micro-ambition concept on the production floor?

A natural choice might be to have a small Kaizen event daily. This is a concept from the Six Sigma lean-manufacturing approach involving small meetings where the people responsible for a process gather and try to make it better by the end of the day.

Maybe your event should be in the receiving department about how they check in arriving inventory. Or perhaps you can spend the day on your equipment preventative maintenance program. Your goal is to examine the bottlenecks and friction points in these processes and make them simpler. You just need one small idea. Think it up; try it; test it. If it works better than before, great. If not, find out why. Do another Kaizen event and think of something better.

Your employee training program is another place to apply the concept of being micro-ambitious. This industry is filled with a million things to learn. As we all know, you can’t learn them all in one day. But what if you set out to learn one new thing a day, every day? Or, as a manager, what if your goal were to teach someone one new thing every day? Imagine how much better your shop would be if everyone was always learning.

One thing this industry sorely misses is the apprenticeship-style method of teaching skills. We have such a fun mix of craftsmanship, art, and science. Yet owners constantly complain that there aren’t enough trained people to operate their equipment. One place they should look is within their own shops. Do they have a nurtured learning environment? The idea of teaching and learning one new thing a day could collectively push your crew toward excellence.

Customer Service
Let’s consider the front end of the shop. Customers are the lifeblood to any business, but the way shops interact with their source of revenue could stand improvement, too.

Think about it. How often are you asking your customers how you are doing? I’ll bet you have former customers you haven’t spoken to in years. Are you scared of them? More likely, you’re too busy trying to find new customers to worry about ones who have already bought from you.

A 2014 article in the Harvard Business Review stated that increasing your customer retention rate by just five percent will increase profits from 25 to 95 percent. If there is any reason to give being micro-ambitious a shot, it’s to try to hold onto that five percent.

So, let’s say your goal was to reach out to a customer that hasn’t bought from you in awhile with a phone call – one customer a day. Reintroduce yourself. Have your CSR rekindle that relationship.

It’s All About Acting
The thing I want to impart to you with this article is to seize the day.

Being micro-ambitious is about taking the opportunity in front of you, and doing it now. Set a small goal, ace it, and move on. It’s about accomplishment.

This doesn’t mean that huge projects and long-term thinking aren’t necessary. But consider how much of an impact a simple idea such as picking up the phone and reconnecting with a customer could mean. That’s 10 minutes of your day. Showing a press operator how to zero out an ink scale and mix ink could be a lifesaver when you need to get a Pantone color on press in about four minutes. It’s all about doing one thing today to make that one percent difference.

Read more from Screen Printing's December 2017/January 2018 issue or check out more advice from The Marshall Plan.

View more from this Screen Printing issue