“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. (Click to tweet.) 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.