A while back my wife and I walked past a pet store in the mall. Julie saw a King Charles Spaniel puppy in the window, and in the few seconds between recognizing the breed (which she loves), and saying ‘awww…’, she decided that the puppy’s name should be ‘Bella’.That simple act – naming the puppy – turned what should have been a simple, uncomplicated, 30-second interaction into a messy, emotional and ultimately futile detour into territory we ought not to have even been considering – getting a third dog.
We don’t have room for a third dog, nor do either of us have the time to train a puppy. And yet, once the anonymous puppy became ‘Bella’, there we were, charging down a one-end street faster than we could safely drive, only to eventually realize the mistake we were making, then having to spend time extricating ourselves by reversing out of the metaphoric cul-de-sac into which we had got ourselves.
Entrepreneurs do this all the time. We can’t just see someone else’s success (or hear about a great idea) and pass by it dispassionately. No, we have to name the puppy: we visualize this new product or service in our colors, in our store, on our shelves. We imagine what this would be like if this idea, this success of someone else’s was ours, if we did it our way – how much more special would it be?
We’ve named the puppy, and now we want to take it home. So even before we realize it, we’ve added another project, another plan, another commitment to our already over-stuffed to-do list. And everything else we have to do – every other (even more important) pre-existing commitment takes a hit, gets a little less attention, loses its luster – because it isn’t the new, new thing. Bella is.
The most productive leaders I’ve worked with all know not to name the puppy. Sure, they’ll nod and say ‘uh-huh’ when they’re confronted with someone else’s success or they hear about, read about or discover a great new idea. They may even ask for some data to make an objective assessment of whether this new new thing worth getting involved in – but they know not to call it ‘Bella’.