Think about when you had the idea for your business. Where were you? At work? Or somewhere else?

I bet in virtually every case the answer is ‘somewhere else’. Great ideas don’t come when you are stressed out at work. Great ideas come when you are relaxed and have a clear head.

It’s perhaps ironic that most successful startups begin with an idea formed while on holiday, walking in the hills or on the golf course – or wherever it is that the idea’s owner finds it easy to kick back and relax. But then once the decision is taken to pursue the idea, most people throw themselves into their work, expecting all the little great ideas that must follow one big great idea will come automatically – whatever the environment.

You start your business, things take off and then all of a sudden it’s a couple of years later and nothing is clear – you’re so involved in day-to-day stuff that you’ve lost track of where you’re going and chances are al you can see are problems. I call this the ‘gutter view’, and I’ll let you know how to avoid it later.

Some of my best business decisions – in fact all of my best business decisions – were made away from the office. I used to think that spending long hours in the office seemed like the correct response to a challenging business environment. But after I felt the onset of burn-out and started to take time off I realised what a great thing it is for your business for you not to be there.

The opportunity for startups is to learn from this mistake and realise the value of time away from the office early on. This will help to retain a strategic handle on your business and avoid the gutter view. You might think you’re skiving, but what you’re doing is maintaining the ‘helicopter view’, the perspective of your business and the market you’re in that gives a clear and overall picture – not just a view of the gutter.

There are a number of ways of maintaining the helicopter view. I took it to it’s literal extreme and actually started learning how to fly helicopters – you don’t get very good ideas while trying to hover at four feet off the ground while talking to air traffic control on the radio but it’s a great way to take your mind off work for a while.

Less literal ways to maintain the helicopter view – apart from the obvious one we must all do which is to speak to customers regularly – are to work from home regularly, take holidays – as many as you want – and to have off-site meetings.

When I was running a business full-time I used to work from home two or three days a week (to put this into context this was way before the pandemic). I didn’t do nine to five on these days, less than a ‘full day’ in terms of hours, but I was able to focus on issues much better than in the office and concentrate on external communications – with customers and suppliers – better than when I was in the office where communications were almost always internal.

As for holidays, I tried to take more than anyone else in the office. I don’t feel any guilt about this. As an owner manager I rarely went more than a few hours without thinking about work, however hard I tried to do otherwise. And when I did think about work while on holiday, the clarity of thought was often incredible – leading to some great ideas and decisions to implement on my return.

I aimed to schedule an off-site meeting with my management team at least every six months. We review where we want to be in three to five years and how we’re going to get there. Day-to-day operational issues crop up but the main focus is strategy. By being out of the office it is easier to put the day-to-day stuff to one side. Use venues that are a world away from the day-to-day – one off-site we had was on a boat. Regular off-site strategy meetings makes everything easier – knowing where we are headed makes every decision so much simpler.

When you have the helicopter view, you have a huge advantage over the competition – you can see the opportunities and dangers ahead and retain full sight of what’s going on in the right-now. That’s a powerful thing for any business.

Photo by Piers Hulford