This guest post was written by Laura Williams, M.S.Ed., the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Girls Gone Sporty, and the Host of the High Impact Blogging podcast.
The Power of Staying Flexible and Embracing Gray Space
You’ve got an idea. A big idea. An earth-shaking, mind-blowing, never-before-seen idea, and you’re going to turn that idea into a business that changes the world.
And like a dog with a bone, you charge forward, determined to make it work.
That’s a good thing. It takes passion, drive, and an un-erring confidence in yourself to get a business off the ground. But if you’re not careful, tunnel-vision can slow (or even stop) your path to success.
Tunnel vision – sticking to one path without contemplating outside opportunities – is a black and white way of thinking. When you approach your business in blacks and whites, you’re assuming there’s always a right or wrong, yes or no, a must or a must-not.
One of the best skills an entrepreneur can cultivate is flexibility, and the ability to work within a “gray space.”
The Gray Space
While pursuing a master’s degree in Exercise Science, I took a course on management and leadership in sport. We were tasked with reading the book, The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership by Steven B. Sample, a former President of the University of Southern California.
One chapter stuck out to me – the chapter on thinking gray and thinking free.
“Thinking gray” is the idea that you don’t have to automatically form (or voice) an opinion on every subject. Most people form opinions before they have to, frequently with sparse or flawed information that leads to poor or ill-formed choices.
Learning to think gray is tough – it requires an acceptance of ambiguity and a tolerance of unanswered questions. This is challenging for entrepreneurs, who assume to move forward, they must be ready to act at a moment’s notice, and always have the answers to every question.
But thinking gray isn’t the same as living with inaction.
Thinking gray, when done correctly, makes it easier to live with flexible action. It’s as if you create a “gray space” in which you learn to live and act in accordance to your business principles, but not in accordance to a specific, predetermined line of action.
Here’s another way to see it: To develop gray space is to develop comfort flexing within boundaries. When I managed gyms, there were always rules and standard operating procedures. These rules and procedures were boundaries, but I always retained the right to flex them based on circumstances. Rules aren’t laws – they’re guidelines.
Entrepreneurs can use this same gray space to approach their businesses.
Go ahead and write your business plan, your vision and mission statements, and your guiding principles. Set one-year, five-year, and ten-year goals for your company, and determine action steps to meet them.
Write everything down, then (wait for it)… put them away, and give yourself the right to approach your business with greater flexibility than your boundaries allow.
Gray Space in Action: A Picture of Flexibility
Sounds good in theory, right? But how in the world do you actually make it work?
Set your ego aside and listen to your audience
Two and a half years ago I launched my business, Girls Gone Sporty. The goal was to create a non-weight-focused online health and fitness magazine that would encourage active, healthy living in a female audience. To this day, I believe strongly in the original goal and mission of Girls Gone Sporty.
But Girls Gone Sporty has not, and will never be, the wildly successful money-maker I dreamed of.
Why? Because my actual audience is different from the audience I had imagined.
About eight months into our business (my husband and I run it together), I took a moment to really look around. Most of the women interacting with our website were health and fitness bloggers. And most of them wanted more engagement with other bloggers – they wanted to connect, share information, and ask questions about the health and fitness blogging industry.
I had an “ah-ha” moment
I launched the Girls Gone Sporty Ambassador (GGSA) program to serve this audience, and the group exploded.
After a year of running the program, I started realizing how many GGSAs had questions about blogging – how to grow their blogs, how to interact on social media, how to make money, how to be self-hosted, and even more so, how do successful bloggers become successful? What were their secrets?
I had another “ah-ha” moment, and launched the High Impact Blogging podcast – an interview podcast that asks successful bloggers and influencers about their roads to success.
The podcast was originally wrapped into Girls Gone Sporty, since the audience was largely coming from the Ambassador group, but as I watched and listened, I realized there were two audiences – the original, health-focused audience, and the new, blogging-focused audience.
Another “ah-ha” moment led to the High Impact Blogging website.
Around this time, I also received an email from the Blog Genie, a woman whose target audience is the health and fitness blogger. We started talking about bloggers who want to attend blogging conferences, but can’t due to time or money constraints.
Cue the collective “ah-ha” moment
Together, we decided to launch the online freemium blogging conference series, Blog Well Summit, with the first summit taking place in October 2014.
A Whole Lot of “Ah-Has”
I’m not sharing this to give you a list of everything I’ve got going on.
I’m sharing this to emphasize that never in my wildest dreams did I expect to host podcasts or blogging conferences as an outshoot of my original, Girls Gone Sporty business plan.
I flexed. I took action and made decisions based on general principles and guidelines (my gray space), rather than a supposedly infallible business plan I wrote before I ever had an audience.
When you’re willing to live in the grays, to flex and respond based on data and circumstances, that’s when the “ah-has” happen. That’s when your business has the chance to really grow.
Laura Williams, M.S.Ed., is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Girls Gone Sporty, the Host of the High Impact Blogging podcast, and the Co-Developer of Blog Well Summit.
When she’s not launching new businesses, Laura can be found working out at the playground, watching trash TV, and suckling a glass of boxed wine, all while wearing yoga pants. She’s a classy one.