My Proficorn Way (Part 41)

The Monkey Problem

Someone once told me a story that I have related to many others. Every person who walks into your cabin walks in with a monkey on their back. (The “monkey” is a problem that they have.) Their goal is to get the monkey off their back and leave it in your cabin – that is, make their problem your problem. Your goal is to make sure that when they leave the cabin the monkey goes with them! Else, you are going to be in a room full of monkeys which will make it impossible for you to get anything done.

It is a story that holds true. In most meetings, others are looking to pass off their problems. You have to ensure that they keep the ownership of the problem else before long you will be doing everyone else’s agenda rather than yours. You can discuss, guide, suggest but under no circumstances should you be taking up the ownership of the problem.

I learnt this the hard way in my early days as an entrepreneur. I would think that if someone had a problem, as the business owner I had to take up responsibility and solve the problem. Before long, my days would be just solved in addressing every new issue that came up. It became impossible to focus on the things that I needed to do and which no one else can do. I then started pushing back – much to the chagrin of the others who were so used to passing on their problems to me.

It was many years later that I heard the ‘monkey’ story, and realised it so well captured my early days – I was living in a room full of monkeys. As I look around, I see many people stuck solving problems they should not never have accepted in the first place. It is not about saying No to every problem – if there is something core to the business, only the entrepreneur can solve it. But there will never be time to address the real challenges in a room full of monkeys.

So, remember this whenever someone walks in with a monkey on their back – as they leave the room, make sure the monkey leaves with them!

Tomorrow: Part 42

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.

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