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03 Jun, 2009 – 327 comments

how to be happy in business – venn diagram

venn diagram

click the pic for a full size image


UPDATE!: I’m blown away by how this spread, the comments I’ve received back, and the links across the web. In almost every post about the image, someone asked for a poster, or mentioned printing it out to hang somewhere close by. So I’ve created a poster, using Zazzle, with a much higher res image:
Get the smaller (and cheaper) version
Get the larger size with better paper

I’ve been working at start-ups and small businesses since I was 14 years old. My father and his father before him owned and operated their own small businesses. There’s something about the fight for survival for a small team that’s coded in my DNA. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy working at Undercurrent so much. We’re small and thus we’re nimble. We’re lean and thus we’re malleable. And our age and our medium demand both.

I doodled this little venn diagram in my notepad the other day when we were talking about our own kung-fu and I realized it’s basically the conversation I’ve had for the last 12 years.

Over the years, I’ve found myself facing the following scenarios. (and I’ve added my two cents on how to move forward)

We can’t determine how to make enough money from the things we want to do, and do really well. I’m constantly surprised at what can be monetized. And on the web, there’s a market for almost anything. But this problem requires you to rapidly iterate your positioning and the type of clients you serve. Often, we’ll get transfixed on a single direction early on (because we’re desperate to solidify our business) and we’ll miss our chance to radically experiment with the market.

We’ve found things we want to do, and can be paid for, but we’re not the best game in town. Mediocrity is not a sustainable strategy. Being able to recognize your own weakness is a profound strength, and acting to improve what you do is key to any kind of long term growth and stability. Find the best talent and steal them. Learn how your competitors run their businesses, and copy what works.

We’ve come across things people want us to do, that we do well (or at least better than the competition) that we really don’t want to do. This is perhaps the most fatal trap for any business I’ve worked in. These are the sirens calling you to shipwreck. You’ll hemorrhage your best people, you’ll stop loving what you do, and you’ll lose the passion that built your business in the first place. Start saying ‘No.’

Have I missed anything? Does this resonate for you?

Spelunk for more posts about:

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  2. Mike Skocko
    Mike Skocko October 18, 2010 at 2:25 pm .

    Thanks for permission to modify and repurpose your brilliant Venn for education. (As a former self employed graphic designer, I agree with yours 100%.) The kids in here are excited about expanding our own HOORAY!

    Couldn’t have happened without you. :)

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    Confession Session | Girl About O-Town November 3, 2010 at 2:57 pm .
  4. Feanne
    Feanne November 24, 2010 at 6:19 pm .

    How about the circle for “What we do that helps other people / contributes to society”?

    Can this perhaps already fall under “What we do well”?

  5. Nicola Cairncross
    Nicola Cairncross December 18, 2010 at 5:08 am .

    I stumbled over this Venn Diagram recently and saved it to my desktop (obviously subliminally spoke to me) and when I got my laptop back from the mender recently and started tidying it up prior to a proper backup, decided to sit and look at this, rather than just binning it. I must say Bud, you have had rather a profound effect on my business direction, as I’ve been flailing around a bit, wondering what to do next. Then I came and checked out your blog which is very interestinga and inspirational, so I’m now looking for your RSS feed or mailing list….I won’t give up till I find one or the other as I want to keep up to date. Well done! Nicola

  6. kompresör
    kompresör December 19, 2010 at 6:26 am .

    So simple and so powerful.. I print this out and put it above my monitor… thanks..

  7. Business happy man
    Business happy man December 19, 2010 at 8:29 pm .
  8. The Venn of Business Happiness |
    The Venn of Business Happiness | March 9, 2011 at 10:49 pm .
  9. Linda
    Linda April 16, 2011 at 9:34 pm .

    Wow – almost 2 years and I just found this. Great diagram.

  10. Permanente Haarentfernung
    Permanente Haarentfernung May 17, 2011 at 2:23 am .

    excellent. my favorite: “learn to say no”.

  11. Kevin Cullis
    Kevin Cullis July 7, 2011 at 11:42 am .

    Hey Bud, thanks for the graphic, I posted it and your link into my web/blog site. It tells a better story graphically of choosing your path in business.

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    What keeps you awake at night? November 1, 2011 at 2:47 pm .
  13. Cassandra
    Cassandra July 4, 2012 at 2:37 pm .

    i love vinn diagrams and i love this one especially because it doesn’t attempt to completely quantify the condition of being in business. the odd elipses out leaves room for the fact that life includes layers of overlapping and interconnected vinn diagrams- like a pile of bubbles- and very few of them completely terminate within their own set. the over all “center” is HAPPINESS and we use hundred and thousands of overlaps to get there.

  14. Ian L.
    Ian L. August 22, 2012 at 11:20 pm .

    I’ve had this image bookmarked for years and a print on my walls. I was reading this article in Harvard Business Review and really identifying with it until I saw the accompanying graphic and recognized its roots from here:

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    HAPPY PLACE | MStetson Design November 11, 2012 at 2:11 am .
  16. Kyle J. Baker
    Kyle J. Baker February 21, 2013 at 9:47 am .

    I just saw this posted somewhere today and tracked it back to this post…I haven’t read through every comment, so maybe this has been brought up by others (though I don’t see the issue resolved in the graphic or the post)…this is Jim Collins’ BHAG Venn diagram from Good To Great with slightly altered language. Without citation this is pretty blatant plagiarism.

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