How Often Should You Change Things?

You know how bad I think most small-business periodicals are. Fortune Small Business might be the worst. Staffed by a boatload of (I’’m sure) very smart and capable (mostly) young women, it is full of feel-good stories and equal opportunity reporting. There is also an inexcusable level of innocence when it comes to commentary and perspective. Oh well. I read it anyway.

I read each magazine with the same thought that I have when I read business books: There is one (and probably only one) good idea to be found here, and two or three useful facts. In the February issue of FSB, the one good idea came from Laura Groppe, a youngish woman (35) who spent “eight years in Hollywood’s independent film business” and then left to begin a business called Girl Games, an interactive entertainment company that aims to become “the voice for adolescent girls.”

Groppe doesn’’t say whether she was successful at the film business or whether Girl Games is making a profit, but she does make an observation about growing businesses that struck a chord . . . “But what no one could teach me, not even Dad, was the rule that would ultimately make my company a success: Being flexible is everything.” She says she discovered that in business the model and plan change almost quarterly — “at times, daily.” She points out that you have to anticipate and adapt to every shift in the landscape. ‘”As you grow, you’’re thrust into new levels of financial sophistication and higher returns on investment expectations.

You fly by the seat of your pants, while mapping out your next destinations.” She tells a funny story about doing demos of a CD-ROM that had a section where the customer could select one of several faces and match it with different hairstyles. Customers kept asking her if it could do the same with the customer’s face — whether there was a way to scan it. She says she said, “Absolutely. In the sequel.” And then furtively phoned her suppliers to make it happen. So true. I remember when I first noticed that all my one-year business plans needed to be changed every three or four months.

At first, I figured I wasn’’t doing the plans right. If I put more into them, I’’d come up with a plan that could last. But as the years passed, I found that no matter how much preparation I gave them, one-year plans never lasted a full year. I still do one-year plans. I advocate them. I do five- or seven-year plans too. But what is different now is that I expect my plans to change every three to six months. So when circumstances turn out differently than expected, I’’m not chagrinned. I see it as an opportunity to get ahead of the competition.

Change is not just inevitable. It’’s good. It keeps you from getting bored. It gives you energy and ideas. It keeps you young. Even in your daily routines, you should welcome change. Even create it. It’s a natural law. If you always exercise your body the same way, it will never get stronger. To continue to improve physically, you must vary your routine — surprise your muscles, as it were. The same holds true for your business ventures and all your goals in life.