Is There Enough Emptiness in Your Business?

Last week, a friend sent me a slide presentation that has been circulating on email for a while.  Based on Joseph Newton’s  writings: “The Principle of Emptiness,” the presentation includes captivating visuals (including the one above) along with philosophy.

The gist of the message (for so many of us who tend to be pack rats) is to get rid of useless things and create an emptiness in our lives.   The distilling thought to me was: “It is necessary to make room to leave an empty space in order to allow new things to arrive in your life.”

While the narrative is personally-directed, I think it also applies to our business lives.

After submitting a proposal last year to a company that said they desperately needed my marketing consulting services, my contact got back to me in February and said that their budget was already spent for the calendar year’s marketing efforts.  It seems the company fielded a large marketing research survey that consumed their marketing budget for the entire year.  So much for leaving an empty space to implement the ideas suggested by the findings of the study.

Later in the year, in a conversation with a fellow consultant, I revealed that I turned down a potential client last year because the fit wasn’t right and I was overwhelmed with work at the time.  I wanted to do a thorough job for my existing clients, so I referred this potential client to a colleague who really was the right fit for the project.  My friend’s reaction was “never turn down a consulting project!”  With his warning ringing in my ears, I came out of that very busy period and had no business.  Then, just as my empty space was starting to nag me, an ideal client and project appeared on my horizon.  

In business school, this concept of “emptiness” is often referred to as “opportunity cost.”  According to Investopedia®, opportunity cost can be defined as “the benefits you could have received by taking an alternative action.”  If we have all our plans committed, all the boxes filled on our charts and all our resources spent, how can we let the fresh breezes of new opportunity waft into our offices? 

In the business and marketing planning process, any funds that are not assigned to a specific program usually get cut before final plan approval, or get scraped when the first round of spending cuts are mandated.  But if you don’t leave a reserve to use for testing new ideas, taking advantage of remnant media buys or opportunistic programs, how will you discover new ways to make your brand grow? I think the most important part of a budget is the uncommitted portion–the portal for unbidden magic to enter our careers and our lives.

If you follow to the end of the “Emptiness” presentation, you’ll discover another quote that relates directly to business and shines light on the root cause of why we find it so hard to let go of old ways and old possessions: “It is not the objects you keep that stagnate your life, but rather the attitude of keeping.”

As you start to implement your new plans and budgets this calendar cycle, see if you can include an open space for prosperity to arrive in your business.  As change invariably happens, we’ll all need fresh solutions that won’t come from keeping the old attitude of sticking to “the tried and true.”

Image © Gregory Colbert

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