Michael Feuer's columns

Column: Second thoughts can be a good thing

In his March 2011 column for Smart Business, Michael Feuer points out that second thoughts are necessary in business, but timing is everything. He encourages evaluation in “that time between an idea’s inception and the launch of implementation” to confirm you’re on the right path before plunging in.

It’s happened to all of us. One night you go to sleep without a thought in your head, and inexplicably, you awaken at 3 a.m. and find yourself sitting straight up in bed with an idea in your head that you think could change the world and make you a legend in your own time. You may have no clue where the idea came from, but at that moment, you are energized with the possibility of fame and fortune. In a panic, you scribble your thoughts on a bedside pad of paper in fear of losing them. You then pause for a few minutes before your somniferous state overcomes you, and you fall back into la-la land.

Fast-forward about three hours and you get up feeling a little restless, not totally recalling the epiphany you experienced earlier. Then it comes back to you as you find your notes. You begin to sort out the elements of your Holy Grail discovery and begin to apply logic to your revolutionary concept. Then it hits you. Perhaps, what you thought was an earth-changing breakthrough might just be more of a jumble of fragmented elements that no longer pass the smell test. You just experienced the inevitable second thoughts.

This reconsideration is completely normal, very necessary and a part of the discovery process. Second thoughts are critical and invariably occur with just about everything we do in business, but it all comes down to the sequence and timing. Second thoughts are good most times, except in situations where you’ve already made a commitment, made your idea public or, worse, promised to do something. They are particularly bad after the wedding vows conclude with the obligatory “I do’s” or after you decide that you can beat that train at the crossing and then change your mind as you hear the “thump, thump” of your tires rolling over the railroad ties as the freight train’s bright light shines in your eyes.

In business, second thoughts should be your standard modus operandi when you or one of your charges come up with that possible big idea. It’s important to use that time between an idea’s inception and the launch of implementation using a simple discipline that can help ensure you’re not off on a wild goose chase.

When you have your next revelation, begin the process of evaluation, knowing full well that you may have second thoughts, and either bag your little gem completely or fine-tune it further after it has been time and stress tested.

First, flesh out your original notes and prepare a basic outline of what it is you may attempt, what it will do, and how and why it could pay off. Don’t waste time on form; just drill down to substance. Secondly, sleep on it, either literally or figuratively. Think about the idea for a night or two before you drift off to dreamland. Alternatively, put your narrative in your top drawer for a day or so. After this mandatory timeout, pull out your notes, read them thoroughly, thinking of the ramifications and nuances, and then, if it all still makes sense, take your thoughts to the next step, which can include discussing the idea with a colleague, friend or significant other.

This simple respite in your race for success can give you the opportunity to bag the idea and move on, concluding your concept was nothing more than the result of a little too much indulgence of food or drink before you hit the pillow on that fateful night. However, if you make the decision to continue to proceed, the rest will come naturally as you more fully flesh out the concept during the ongoing discovery, fine-tuning and testing stages.

New ideas are almost always an iterative process, often with the finished product emerging dramatically different from the initial idea when lightning first struck. Creation is one of the most exciting, yet challenging, aspects of building a business, but without following the vetting process, it’s almost guaranteed that inertia will set in and your concept will drift into oblivion.

Second thoughts are an integral safety valve for success. Taking an idea from mind to market is all a matter of sequence and timing, and when done right, it can be satisfying and very lucrative.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, will be published by John Wiley & Sons in late spring 2011. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com