Steven Covey’s 7th habit. I like much of what Covey writes in his “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” but sometimes find his work bordering on almost religious, somewhat “culty” territory. Still, there is wisdom at the core.
In the next few posts, I’m going to synopsize his seven habits and add my own flavor. The seventh, this one, could be your most important. It’s mine.
Different themes strike different chords in people. Because of that, I see no need to present the seven habits in Covey’s original order. You can arrange them to suit you. You might add a habit (I’d like to hear from you if you do) or drop one of Covey’s.
Sharpen the Saw. We live in the “information age”. You hear that all the time and it’s probably true. Information is readily available if you have the time to mine it and the sense to filter it. I can use “Google” to find the answer to just about any question I have. I’m enrolled in Amazon’s two-day shipping plan. If I order a book it’s delivered in 48 hours.
We are also in a world of rapid change. What is hot, exciting, innovative or profitable today, is the flop of tomorrow.
In spite of the information available and the rapidity of change, most managers perform in a thinking rut. They don’t seek out new thought or ideas. They manage.
If your business is cutting wood and you never sharpen your saw, your productivity will gradually decline. That’s obvious. Continually learning and looking for new ideas about your field is sharpening your saw. I didn’t say continually changing—that could lead to more confusion than growth.
What about a restaurant owner? Better yet, let’s consider a pizza place as an example. A simple pizza place. Does Vini need to sharpen his saw? He makes a great pizza. His customers have been going there for years. What’s to sharpen? He’s got the “formula”, right? Wrong. Even Vini will eventually fail if he does not sharpen his saw. I know of two family-owned pizza places that were booming businesses when I was a kid that are now dingy, low-profit businesses. I know of another little pizza place from my youth that exploded into two new large and very successful Italian restaurants when the son took over the family business. He came into the business with a sharp saw.
The point is, the times they are a changin’. The pepperoni pizza of yesterday is outsold in many areas by the vegetarian pizza. The thirty item combination pizza costs more to make and sells for less than the new “less is more” smoked salmon pizza. If you’re in the pizza business, you’re facing rising energy costs. You’re also facing competition from chain establishments that offer FREE delivery. If you’re reading about pizza and paying attention to trends you’ll be smart enough to change ahead of the curve. The first to innovate will always gather more profit than the second to arrive. You know that you cannot compete with the chain on price or by offering delivery. But you easily can make a superior pizza.
I use pizza as an example because it’s a very basic business on the surface. Everyone would think of their business as more complicated than a pizza parlour. I’ll bet you know of a pizza place from your younger days that isn’t so nice today. Dull blades.
No matter what business you are in, you need to continually sharpen your saw. Here are a few suggestions:
Join an association. This gives you exposure to what’s happening (trends) in your industry and some insight into what others are doing.
  1. Read a book. Just about any book will sharpen your saw. If nothing else, it will stimulate your brain and improve your communication skill.
  2. Spend some time each week searching the internet for information about your field.
  3. Take a class. Any class. I guarantee you’ll learn something.
  4. Call me. If you spend an hour in conversation with me, I’ll have your brain craving more. Seriously, stimulating conversation about your business will get your juices flowing.
  5. Read a book. Okay, I already listed this but it’s important. I wish more people would simply read a book.
Shameless Promotion: A good coach is always discretely helping the athlete improve. Tiger Woods still takes golf lessons! I can help sharpen your saw.
Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog