Monday, April 6, 2009

Revisiting the E Myth, Again

One of my favorite books is The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber. The reason they don’t work is that, in order to succeed as a small business owner, you have to be three people: a technician, an entrepreneur, and a manager. In other words, you have to be a little on the schizophrenic side, carefully balancing your different personas.

The technician is the part of you who does the work (writes, designs, bakes pies, builds cabinets); the entrepreneur is the part who grows the business (markets, networks, dreams, sells); and the manager is the part who runs the business (keeps records, sends out invoices, collects money, buys stamps and supplies, backs up computer files). If you can’t be all three, you’re supposed to hire the parts you need.

For most of us, the person we really understand is the technician. That’s who we are. We do whatever we do very well — in my case, write — but we usually do it for somebody else. Then, one day, according to Gerber, we are struck by an “entrepreneurial seizure.” That is the moment “when the idea of being our own boss, doing our own thing, singing our own song became obsessively irresistible … and we had to start our own business.”

That is also the moment when we fall victim to what Gerber calls “the fatal assumption: if we understand the technical work of a business, we understand a business that does that technical work.” We are wrong. We don’t. At least, I didn’t.

The longer I am in business (20 years now), the more I think about that fatal assumption and wonder whatever made me think that, because I could write, I could do all of those other things. To be honest, I didn’t know about the other things, so I probably didn’t think at all. In the midst of my personal entrepreneurial seizure, I just jumped off the cliff, and I’m sure I am not alone in the way I executed that brilliant business model.

I have read The E Myth Revisited so many times, it’s dog-eared and Scotch Taped together. I think Michael E. Gerber is a genius. I could quote him endlessly, but what I think I will do instead is contemplate how I have tried to master and integrate the three sides of my business self over the years. Then, I will share my musings with you.


Kim said...

In the drive to be your own boss, it is easy to forget that you will also be the employee. As such, you have to be very self-motivated, because sometimes that employee doesn't want to put in a full day's work!

Marty Thomas said...

I'm Interested in your thoughts.. Does 37signals or E-myth have the right philosophy for business start-ups today?