“Everyone knows the tactics by which I am victorious, but no one knows the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” – Sun Tzu
“Watch your lane.”
Spend a little time around Army teams and you’ll hear that statement. Although it has many uses, one of the most common is from the lessons you learn at the firing range.
The Army uses timed pop-up targets for weapons qualification. You basically have a long line of 15’ 30 firing lanes that soldiers have to fire down, and right before the targets start moving, the range officer will end his instructions with, “Watch your lane.”
With all those different targets popping up and going down, you’ll get lost if you try to see what’s going on in your buddy’s lane. So many soldiers end up having to try again because they get distracted and start shooting at the targets in somebody else’s lane.
Of course, this training becomes even more important on the battlefield. In that context, soldiers are assigned a certain lane to watch and guard against enemy advancement. If you’re not watching your lane, you weaken the defenses of the entire perimeter.
In both cases, the best thing to do is just watch your own lane.
Mind Your Own Business
The statement “mind your own business” has a similar meaning, although it’s normally used by people who want you to get out of their own affairs. In business, though, the statement has much more power.
Many entrepreneurs — especially those in earlier stages — spend a lot of time watching what other people are doing. It’s only natural, though, as we learn by watching other people. Humans learn best in social contexts.
You never know why different entrepreneurs are making their different moves. You don’t know if they’ve got a side hustle or if their business is a side hustle. You don’t know if they’re making enough to keep the roof over their heads. You’re not yet challenged with managing social asymmetries. You don’t see their plans for the next 18 months and how this piece makes sense.
It’s as if you’re a novice chess player watching more experienced chess players in a match. Sure, you know that they moved a piece, but you don’t know why they moved that piece then. You can’t see four or five moves in advance like they can — and, even if you could, it may not make sense to you.
You can waste a lot of time playing lookyloo. It’s easy to spend so much time watching what others are doing that you don’t actually do anything yourself. (Tweet this.) The surest way to not get any business momentum is to do nothing at all.
There’s a Time, Place, and Method For Watching
I’m not saying you should hole up in a cave and remain ignorant about what’s going on around you, but, rather, that you need to be careful that it’s not your first place to turn to when you don’t know what to do.
Set some dedicated time to watch what others are doing, but do it with an eye on how you can incorporate what you’re seeing into your own endeavors. It’s quite common for people to choose the wrong tactics for their strategy, or to choose tactics that aren’t tied to any strategy at all. The tactic that failed for someone else may be a nice option for you because of your strategy and vice versa.
However, when it’s time to sit down and do your work, it’s not the time to be watching everyone else. Even if it’s not quite the simplest way to do it, you’re far better off most times to plow through it and learn as you’re doing it rather than spending time seeing exactly how everyone else is doing it before you get started.
The best way to become a better runner is to run. The best way to become a better writer is to write. The best way to become a better person is to get out there on the front lines of life. And the best way to rock your own business is to — wait for it — rock your own business. (This assumes, of course, that you’re actually assessing what’s working, what’s not, and how you can get better.)
It’s hard to do those things if you spend too much time watching and trying to figure out why other people are doing what they’re doing.
Watch your lane. You’ll be surprised by how much more effective, happy, and prosperous you’ll be.
Jon-Erik Lido says
Beautiful, simple advice. It’s so easy to get distracted by what others are doing, but what others say you should be doing, or by the craziness of life. Everyone is trying to catch our attention!
I know it’s when I’m focused and clear about my intention that I have my most powerful results.
I agree, it’s easy to get distracted, especially if you are online, the main thing is to stay focus.
Elle B says
I’ve never thought about the bigger meaning behind “mind your own business.” I think I’ll make it my mantra when I start to feel that social media burnout. Thanks, Charlie!
Life is Good says
You can say that again. There are some people who are always focused on the wrong things. Always look at someone’s else life. I try to always stay in my own line, and that really has helped me improve my life and focus on me.
Lauren @ ELD says
Such a great post, and so true- we all need to focus on our own things. So very often I spend way too much time focusing on what others are doing and not enough time implementing things that I myself want to do. Thank you for this! 🙂
Russ Henneberry says
I started fishing in earnest when I was about 16 (I’m 36 now.) When I started out, I used to troll my boat past other fishermen and look at where they were fishing and what kind of bait they were using. Then I would copy them.
Sometimes it worked, most of the time it didn’t. The problem was that I didn’t know what kind of fish they were after. I also didn’t know if they knew any more than I did. (Side note: If they were wearing camouflage anything I found them to be more reliable)
But when it did work, I made a note of it. And when it didn’t I made a note of it. And I got better. Now, I don’t worry about what guys in other boats are using or where they are fishing.
I know where the fish are and what they will bite on.
Thanks for writing this Charlie!
Tito Philips, Jnr. says
The quote from the beginning of the post was all I needed to read to know that this was going to be a great read, and that’s what you made a reality Charlie.
I see this error in almost all facets of life, people sit back and copy results rather than the strategies that created those results. They start out from the output rather than focusing on the input and the process that created the output they now want to copy.
Tactics [how] will fade and will only confuse if the strategy [why] is unknown. The only way to be outstanding is to uncover your own strategy and adopt tactics that will fit into your strategy. Without a why, your how will take you no where.
There is so much noise out there that unless you are completely in tune with your strategy it becomes so easy to get off track.
Thank you Charlie for the great piece, once more it is a needed reminder that progress is relative to the individual. I must do what only I know will get me closer to the place only I see and is heading to.
Archan Mehta says
Thanks for writing this post. As usual, you provide sage counsel here.
It is important to learn from people who have preceded you. Role-models and mentors provide you with the opportunity to learn the ropes. However, don’t allow them to cramp your own style.
Just as they have something to teach you, you have something to teach them as well. It is not a one-way street. Relationships are reciprocal.
As an entrepreneur, you have to constantly use the ideas of other people in a way that is suitable and relevant and appropriate for your particular situation. Such ideas need to be tweaked to suit the circumstances of your life.
You cannot expect yourself to be a Tony Robbins because you are not Tony Robbins; nor is there any reason to be just like him. One size does not fit all, after all, the only thing to do is find out what works for you. And then just go out there and do it. Until it becomes a habit.
Emma Hobes says
Such insights could really be used by a lot of us these days, as competition is everywhere. When we start out your first business, and it’s not something big, it’s only wise to know the competition and watch them per se. But that is not to say that whatever we discover, especially if we find out that it produces actual result, that they necessarily become our bench mark.
It may be true that they are making tons of money with what they have and how they do it, but we must not also get overwhelmed with this. Instead we should remind ourselves that they too didn’t start out this way. That they too had plans then that may have even cost them hundreds and thousands of resources. The point is, every business is unique as its market strategy and everything involving it, and we should not waste time in always checking the competition. Rather, we have to focus on our own “stuff” and concentrate on bettering our market strategy and devise a plan on how to reach our own “unique” goals.
My new fwend (yes that’s an unfortunate baby accent sneaking in).
I appreciate your thoughtful pace and balanced approach.
One thing I’ll add, is when the fledgling entrepreneur finally DOES emerge from the observation-cave to start running, they would do well to expect some maJOR fall-downs.
That’s why they’re holding back. Then usually…upon the first stumble there is panic, giving up, awfulness-es. Yes?
So, I like to remind my lovelies that YES, certainly start running and falling, but expect to fall and most importantly, learn how_to_get_back_up!
Love and Onions from almost-Portland,
I love this advice and I think it’s extremely important to understand as a budding entrepreneur. Another reason “minding your own business” is so important is because just like you can subconsciously start talk and acting like your closest friends, you can start talking and acting like your favorite business “idol.”
When this happens you are doing yourself a tremendous disservice because one of your most powerful differentiating factors in your business is you (ESPECIALLY if you have a personal brand). Even still, if you have a more traditional business model your influence can be tainted by that which influences you.
Watching as you suggested here is very helpful, but you have to maintain a solid level of awareness to prevent it from becoming harmful.