Focus on what you can do with what you have

“Now is no time to think of what you do not have.

Think of what you can do with what there is.”

– Ernest Hemingway

In the rush of a new year, it’s easy to get caught up in change mania. Headlines everywhere ask me to change, go exploring, be a new me. But for most of us, an endless series of trips to exotic Instragram-worthy locations is no more likely than a business that suddenly has bottomless resources to do whatever it can think up.

Ernest has it right. Perhaps instead of longing for what we don’t have, we could instead focus on what we can do with what we do have.

This is especially true in matters of brand, which is continually under assault from the tyranny of what you don’t have. The shiny objects of other organsations are relentlessly dangled in front of you, via the media (social or otherwise), in business case stories, or at networking events. It can be almost impossible to feel good about your efforts, ideas and progress.

And instead of letting what you don’t have get to you—because let’s face it, it’s incredibly hard not to—I’m here to tell you that what there is, is plenty. All across your organisation are opportunities to use what there is to make you shine. You have so much you can do …

Can you take a bit of extra time and make the next person you hire someone who deeply fits the culture, not just someone who has the right skills?

Don’t know what your culture is? Start with the question, “When don’t people work out around here?”, and you’ll start to get an idea.

Can you look at your existing customers and make a bit of extra effort to stay in touch with them instead of advertising for new customers?

You’ve never stayed in touch with your existing customers? No problem, a friendly note of thanks is always a good start. Don’t have their contact information? Start collecting it today (with permission of course) so you can.

Can you use your values to decide how to handle a sticky problem with a supplier, or customer, or partner, or employee?

Don’t know what your values are? Forget the top 10 all stars and ask yourself: “What are our non-negotiables?”

What do you always put first even if it’s a competitive disadvantage? Start there and you’ll get something you can use that reflects what is.

Can you apply the ripple effect to the decisions you’re making?

Don’t know what the ripple effect is? Read about it here.

Can you do just one small thing differently to make your customers’ experience better?

Don’t know what to do differently? Ask your employees, or even better ask a few customers. They’ll tell you—probably more than you want to know but that’s okay, you can do more than one thing. Don’t want to ask customers? Ask yourself. You’re a customer of something so what would you want if you were your customer?

Thinking about what you can do with what there is isn’t about scarcity. It’s not because you can’t have more (okay maybe it is, and that’s okay too). Sometimes more is just more.

And if you layer more on people who don’t fit, on customers who don’t know you, on values you don’t care about, on decisions that are made in isolation of the wider impact, on customers who leave unhappy. more will not help.

What can you do with what there is?

See you next week.

Michel is an Independent Brand Thinker and Adviser dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. You can find Michel at or you can follow her on Twitter @michelhogan


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