Jul 15, 2018


Tourism is changing in response to changing visitor demands.  Visitors moved on from buying products to buying experiences and it seems we’re already in the post-experience phase.  Now visitors are seeking more than ever to really get under the skin of a place, to have authentic local experiences with authentic local people.  This pursuit of localhood means that we can expect more and more small, single-person and owner-managed businesses to play an ever more important role in tourism.  We can also expect more businesses, whose main purpose is not tourism, to begin providing visitor experiences e.g. a food or craft businesses that diversify through providing food or craft-based visitor experiences.  Such businesses will be fundamentally different from those that exist largely for tourism sake e.g. hotels, resorts and visitor attractions.

This got me thinking about Michael Gerber and his renowned book ‘The E-myth Revisted’ and how his thoughts might apply to this evoloving landscape of tourism businesses.  Gerber’s book examines the reasons why small businesses fail and how this failure can be prevented.  One of my biggest takeaways from this book was what Gerber called ‘The Fatal Assumption’ i.e. “if you understand the technical work of a business, you understand a business that does that technical work.”  He points out that this is completely incorrect assumption but one that leads many technical experts to become business owners, often with fatal consequences. 

An example would be a chef who opens a restaurant or a hairdresser who opens a salon.  Gerber points out that being a good hairdresser is an entirely different thing to running a good hairdressing business.  Because they are fundamentally technicians and not business people or entrepreneurs, these technicians end up getting swallowed up by their new ‘business’, working more hours than ever and becoming more entrapped than they ever were before. 

It strikes me that this is something the tourism industry needs to be wary of as we see more and more people whose core expertise is not the provision of visitor experiences starting to in fact provide visitor experiences.  We are seeing cheese-makers and pottery-makers offering cheese-making and pottery-making workshops.  We are seeing farmers offer farm tours, families offer dine-in-our-home dinners, walkers become walking guides, surf instructors opening holiday surf camps and so on. Supports will be needed to enable successful diversification from one industry into another.

A useful tool that Gerber explores is the existence of 3 personality-types in every new business owner – the Entrepreneur, the Manager, and the Technician.  Each personality is important, each plays a fundamental role in setting up a business and, at the outset and in single-person businesses, one person must embody all three personalities.  So what are they?

  • Let’s start with the Entrepreneur.  This is the one that saw the business opportunity and the potential and ran with it.  It’s the visionary, the dreamer, the creative innovator and strategist.  It’s the one who sees nothing but opportunities and who is very future-oriented, always figuring out what a better future would look like, what a different future would mean for the business.
  • Then there’s the Manager.  This is the pragmatic one, the planner, the one who craves order and puts in place systems and procedures to create that order.  The Manager is past-oriented, seeking to maintain the status-quo and on the lookout for problems and challenges, always seeking to prevent them and reduce risk.
  • Thirdly, there’s the Technician.  The Technician is the do-er, the individualist, the one who doesn’t spend too much time thinking about the future or the past but sits solidly in the present, doing whatever needs to be done to keep things going.

The three personality types are very different, each with an important role to play, each essential to the success of the business.  In an ideal world, they would be in harmony and would have equal influence on the running and development of the business.  However, there’s also great scope for conflict between the three as each one tries to dominate and take control.  One part craves order while the other is dreaming about the future.  At the same time, the third part sees all that thinking about order and the future as a waste of time while so many things need to be done right now!!

Gerber’s Myth, as per the title of the book, is that The Entrepreneur is in charge.  His research has shown however that it’s actually The Technician who most often ends up in charge. It was The Technician who had an entrepreneurial idea that then got developed.  However, The Technician remained The Technician and once the business was established, got busy once again doing the technical work. Only this time, the managerial and entrepreneurial work also required attention. 

What Gerber found is that the amount of time a small business owner spends in each personality role breaks down like this:

Entrepreneur      10%

Manager     20%

Technician 70%

On average, only 10% of our time is future-oriented while a staggering 70% is devoted to doing what needs to be done right now!!  This is the equivalent of baking bread all day long just to eat it all for supper tonight and then get busy doing the same thing again tomorrow and the day after and the day after.  That’s really what happens.  The Technician is in control and The Technician works themselves into the ground, doing all day long and getting up the next day to do it all over again.  Eventually, The Technician burns out, resenting the work they originally loved.  The business fails.

So what can you do about it? The obvious answer is to ensure you achieve more balance between your personalities in the early stages of your business.  As the business grows and more people are involved, the managerial and technical work can get shared out among more people.  Initially, however, it’s wise to nurture The Entrepreneur, the one most likely to be neglected in the busy-ness of day-to-day operations. 

In fact, it’s essential to nurture The Entrepreneur at every stage of the business process. It’s The Entrepreneur who is able to envision the business as something different to the owner.  It’s The Entrepreneur who challenges the way you do things and challenges your imagination to think of better things.  It’s the Entrepreneur who knows what you want deep inside (e.g. less hours, not being tied to the business, less seasonality) and wonders how you can get it.  The Entrepreneur wonders ‘How would this change how I experience my business? How would this change how my visitor experiences my business?’  The Entrepreneur has a clear vision of what your business is like when it’s fully finished and this future orientation is essential to identify opportunities and challenges and to continuously shape and re-shape the business accordingly. 

So here are a few practical things you can do to nurture your Inner Entrepreneur:

  1. Imagine an organizational chart that differentiates all the roles that you carry out.  Mentally divide your activities into your entrepreneurial,  managerial and technical roles. 
  2. Imagine looking at yourself from outside and check which personality type dominates for you.  Check if you have balance across the 3 types and, if not, identify the area that needs attention. 
  3. Find a mentor, someone who has traveled the path before you and can share their experiences with you. 
  4. Hire a coach, someone who will ask questions of your Inner Entrepreneur and support you in reminding yourself of your own vision and what you want from this business.
  5. Build visioning into your business, embed it as a regular business process and, through this, cultivate innovation and imagination.   

Here’s to your lasting success. Bua Buan!



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