Are You an IN or ON Hamster?


Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that you are a little hamster in a little hamster cage with a little hamster wheel in it and your only goal in life is to make that wheel go around as fast as possible.

So every day you train your hamster muscles in the hamster gym and you eat healthy hamster food just to improve every day. Every day you get in the wheel and you make it go faster and faster until one day -BOOM!- you just set a new world record. No hamster ever has made that wheel go as fast as you just did!

Now consider the same circumstances; same little cage, some little wheel and same goal: to make that wheel go as fast as possible. But only this time you take a step back, take out your little hamster laptop, go on eBay and purchase a little electro motor. You attach it to the wheel and -BOOM! – instant new world record!

And you did not even get in the wheel! The wheel turns by itself, goes faster then ever before and you can sit back and enjoy your hamster life, ready for the next step.

The first hamster is working IN his business, the second hamster is working ON his business.

In my daily work as a business consultant I always ask people in leadership teams how much they work IN vs ON their business and the answers are almost always between 80/20 and 95/5.

When we have the numbers on the board my next question is: “If you, the leadership team, are working so much IN the business, then who is working ON the business? And what is that costing you and your organization?”. This often triggers a moment of deep reflection and realization when people realize the costs of working like this.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to work IN the business. For instance, when a baker is working IN the business he is baking bread, buying ingredients, firing up the oven etc. When he working ON the business he is negotiating new prices for the ingredients, promoting his new products and finding the best possible way to get new customers. ON the business has to do with Marketing, Strategy & Innovation. The rest is IN the business.

In other words, ON the business assures that you’ll stay competitive, that you are ready for the future, that you innovate, that you see if you’re still doing the right things or that you maybe should make a switch. IN the business makes sure you deliver what you promise.

And here’s the dirty little secret: If you don’t consciously plan to work ON your business, you won’t do it. Why? Because there’s always more then enough work IN the business. So working ON the business is a conscious act of taking a step back and reflecting. Sometimes I hear people say: “Well, we first have to get all the things done IN the business and then we have time to work ON the business”. When I hear this I fear for the future of the company. I hope you see why.

This IN vs ON doesn’t only apply to business; it also applies to individuals. Are you working IN your life (in the hamster wheel, running) or are you taking a step back, get reflective, and work ON your life.

It’s makes a huge difference!