The Invest/Divest See-Saw
Written by Erik Hansen
I can’t speak for every entrepreneur or CEO, but I can speak to my 20 years of experience and those whom I have observed, served, adored, and despised. There is a fundamental struggle that most of us face every moment of every day in almost every aspect of our lives: whether to invest or divest your energy. It seems simple, but it is very exhausting. Generally, the only respite from this exhaustion is the moment you can take a deep breath when your decision to invest or divest has paid off. And then, you’re on to the next decision.
A great read that speaks to this loop of constant decision making is The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin. As Mekanic moves into year five, I have spent a lot amount of time thinking about this pattern, and I have broken it down into five fundamental areas of concentration:
Do it fast? Do it right? Don’t do it all?
When you start a business, time doesn’t seem to matter—it is merely a measurement. The only limitation is that you need to sleep. Volume, profitability, and even value are afterthoughts to winning, producing, and delivering your best work at whatever cost to keep your head above water and bills paid. Now, as my business, my family, and I have continued to mature and evolve, my time has become the most valuable asset I have. It’s what needs to be invested wisely in the other four fundamental areas of concentration. The proper investment and divestment of my time are how I balance everything that happens outside of business—from sleeping and thinking to enjoying life with family and friends.
The second fundamental area of concentration and perhaps the most challenging is the investment or divestment in other people. My dad has deeply influenced how I make these decisions. On a personal level, I’ve realized over time that my friendships (or perceived friendships) are such an important part of my life, and they require me to consciously invest my time and energy or choose to divest, wish the other person well, and move on. Naturally, those who may have been my close friends twenty years ago aren’t as close anymore, and these relationships continuously have to be re-evaluated. Friendship should provide something important to your life—love, a listening ear, insight, perspective, or positivity. Without that, why invest the energy? Sadly, I’ve had to divest a few close friendships, but it’s allowed me to invest myself in others where I feel the investment is genuinely reciprocated.
In business, people become increasingly important to the investment equation as your organization grows, expands—or maybe even contracts. Having the right people on your team is perhaps one of the most challenging parts of running a business. All the literature and content filling bookshelves and LinkedIn feeds will tell you to trust your talent, lead from behind, and invest in developing people. All of that is true, but we must also recognize that as an entrepreneur and CEO, there is always more than one person to consider. It is a two-way street. When evaluating everyone on my team, I must also consider the residual impact that my investment in one person has on the other team members, the clients, and the partners we serve. I have also learned to recognize that sometimes the best thing for both of us is to divest our professional relationship sooner rather than later. Over the past ten years, I have learned that my intuition is usually my greatest asset when it comes to evaluating my investments in other people. But, as Martin’s book notes, my intuition can also be my greatest downfall when I trust it to a fault. Sometimes your gut isn’t right. This is when people are even more important. The right people I have invested in and surrounded myself with become my check and balance.
Admittedly, I have made some very bad decisions when it comes to investing and divesting money. As a business owner, when do you buy the next computer? Upgrade your office? Hire new staff? Buy those new sweet kicks? This is an area of lessons learned for me, and I can’t provide much guidance in a blog post on how to evaluate your capital investments or divestment of financial resources. What I can encourage is to seek counsel from financial experts. The lesson I have learned over the past two decades is that I’m equally as good at making money as I am at spending it. Therefore, when we started Mekanic, one of my first investments of money was in people. My wife, Katie, and I knew that starting Mekanic was going to have huge financial implications on our lives and the success of our business. So, from day one, we brought someone in to drive the financial operations of Mekanic and be an advisor to help us manage the ebb and flow in our personal lives. Our Partner and Chief Business Officer at Mekanic not only oversees the Mekanic financials but also provides management coaching and education to our brand transformation clients, so they can invest and divest according to a strategic plan—not the whims of an entrepreneur or CEO.
Deciding not to invest in your intelligence is like deciding not to eat. When you have built years of expertise, it becomes increasingly difficult not to invest your knowledge into every opportunity and every challenge you are faced with. That said, investing in your intelligence is a delicate dance – what do you want to learn more of? What do you want to become better at? What can help you grow? What knowledge will provide value? I know that my success and career trajectory have been built mainly on being a sponge and investing in my intelligence bank as much as possible. However, as my business and I have matured, I have been forced to become more selective in my investment or divestment of knowledge. Do I need to invest in understanding everything about the next hot social media platform, or do I need to invest that time into understanding why people are engaging on the platform?
Although those questions aren’t mutually exclusive, it’s good to be aware of the boundaries of your investments—and your knowledge. Looking back twenty years ago, I did invest tens of thousands of hours into my design intellect—building it as deep and wide as my waking hours would allow. Over the years, this investment broadened my subject matter expertise in design thinking and execution, and that subject matter expertise continues to grow every day. This is the lesson I believe everyone on my team and everyone I work with must learn: pick a lane, own it, and evolve with it over time. The investment and divestment into intellect is fluid and ever-changing. In today’s world, we all need to become comfortable learning and re-learning throughout our entire lives. It’s arguably the most rewarding part of life that we can invest in as humans.
The last of these five areas that bleeds into all of the other areas is your investment or divestment of emotion. Simply said, how much should you care, and why? A great read on this subject is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. It may change your life and perspective on business, family, friendships, religion and beyond. It’s a best seller for a reason.
I once worked for a respected agency—one that I think has great leadership and vision. One of their guiding principles was “Everything Matters.” It is this principle that is one of the reasons I no longer work there—because everything doesn’t matter. It is important to be human, to be empathetic, to care—but if everything matters, then nothing takes priority, and thus the ability to manage your investment or divestment in any specific area of life becomes impossible. What’s important about investing and divesting your emotional energy is taking the time to understand your values, your trajectory, and your path. Letting go of the things you cannot control or the things that do not matter is a learned skill. More often than not, you may have yourself convinced that something matters simply because you have been conditioned by outside influences to think that way. In reality, it may be just a vanity metric that is ultimately meaningless. I care deeply about many things, and I invest a tremendous amount of heart into some people, some activities, some deliverables, some designs, some strategies, and some goals. I have also spent the last few years truly understanding what is important to my personal wellbeing, the health of my business, and the prosperity of the people I surround myself with through these daily investments and divestments. That process has taught me so much about which things aren’t worth caring about.
This constant see-saw of investment and divestment is not unique to entrepreneurs, CEOs, or any other job title—but it is a critical skill for those who need to make calculated decisions for a better future. Know that it never ends. It begins the moment you wake up and continues until the moment your head hits the pillow. I hope giving your decisions a framework like mine can help you make better ones in the future.