Finding Diamonds in Your Past

“Been there, done that” has become synonymous with boredom or lack of challenge for some people. For others it is a mini retirement statement. We think it can represent a great place to look for new opportunities.

Maybe you or someone you know has made money in one area then gone on to try something a new area and ended up with lousy results. A bit like Michael Jordan once having left the NBA to play baseball.

Google keeps trying to find other ways to make money besides its simple service of providing text ads that are responsive to search terms input by users. In 2007, contextual ads still generated 99% of the company’s $16.5 billion revenue. Google keeps trying a bunch of other things but most don’t work and those that do don’t become big cash generators. But they keep trying, or at least buying, new things.

Most successful business people take an idea that is good in one industry and do it again – often in that same industry. The best ones do it again and again and again. They don’t automatically abandon a successful business and head off in other directions. They might try new things like Google does but they don’t abandon the stuff that is already working.

The core message here is the value of reflection to find those things in your past that have worked for you. Do them again. But there is a disconnect. Why aren’t we automatically doing this? Why isn’t it as obvious as it seems? We do we often move away from things that are working? At least part of the answer lies in finding new excitement in the “been there, done that.” Here are some reasons for repeating things that have worked for you in the past:

  1. Tried and true. No need to speculate whether or not it will work for you if it already has.
  2. You have the people. They are excited about the last thing you did and the success that was achieved there.
  3. Relearning is relatively easy. You already have the skills and it is usually much easier to improve upon them than to start from scratch.
  4. You have the pieces. Chances are that if you were to restart a business today that you last operated 5 or 10 years ago, you would quickly be able to put together the technical aspects, marketing materials and begin calling on customers. If you were to write a second book in an area you have already published in, it would be similarly easier.
  5. Credibility. You have a proven track record in the area so don’t need to work as hard on establishing credentials as for the first time.
  6. Visualization. No need to work yourself into a lather establishing what success in the area will look like if you have already been there.
  7. The test of time. If your past business was for manufacturing a plastic product used in exterior applications, it would be nice to be able to point out examples to show the product didn’t shrivel up or turn to dust. For something less technical like say a past workout or diet program that kept you in great shape, there are likely others around who were on it with great results.
  8. You know the downsides. Being able to avoid the pitfalls and knowing where the risks are from your past experience makes it easier to move forward on solid ground.

The Coca-Cola Company is a great example of repeating past successes. They didn’t really plan it that way. They tried a new taste in 1985 and after offending numerous old coke drinkers, were forced to reintroduce the older version under the “Classic” name. The company is still number one in the world at what it does. They have been basically producing the same stuff for almost a hundred years – repeating it 1.5 billion times per day.

You might not have the Coke formula in the back of an old drawer but that doesn’t mean you won’t have something in there you could put to great use again. Take some time to reflect on your past successes and bring something forward from your past. Michael Jordan gave up on the baseball after one failed season and rejoined the NBA.

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