The Power Of Forcing Factors

I recently had a chance to catch up in person with a good friend of mine, who is the founder and CEO of a mid sized technology company with about 100 employees.  It had been about three years since we’d spoken, and at that time the company he’d started years before was occupying every aspect of his life.  He was being pulled in every direction at work and putting in excessively long hours to the point where one might think he was living in the office.  Needless to say, he seemed very stressed the last time we spoke. 

As with most entrepreneurs, he has several other endeavours or side hustles to which he devotes his spare time.  One of these ventures had brought him to Santa Barbara for the day to meet with a vendor, and we made some time to catch up. 

As we sat in a small bar by the beach drinking beers, I was struck by just how relaxed he appeared.   He seemed less tense, he wasn’t checking his phone every thirting seconds. … heck, he was even laughing and smiling – something that was absent from our last conversation.  

Curiosity got the better of me, and I rather bluntly pointed out his new demeanor and asked him what had changed. 

“Well, it’s a funny thing”, he said.  “About two years ago, I got together with a group of colleagues and personally invested in another company.  Almost immediately after receiving our check – which was slated for investment to increase capacity, the CEO gave himself a pay raise and a bonus totaling almost the entire investment. He took nearly every penny. ”  He went on to describe his sense of responsibility to the other investors, the lawsuit that they filed, and the subsequent legal actions that followed.  

“The lawsuit consumed every aspect of my life.  I didn’t have time to spend on my company, I was so entrenched with the lawyers trying to recover our investment.  This went on for some time.“ He continued. 

“But a funny thing happened.   The team at my company stepped up in my absence.  All of the tasks and responsibilities that I thought only I could do … well, my team did them.”  

He went on to explain that now that his team was taking over the repetitive tasks he used to do, he was free to do other things to help the company grow.    Their previously impressive growth was even more impressive, as they continued to capture market share from competitors.  

This is the perfect example of a Forcing Factor.  Forcing Factors are events that happen, often outside of our control, and force us to make changes.  The recent global pandemic is a perfect example.  People who would never shop for groceries online, or use video chat to communicate, are now being forced to do so in order to get what they want and need.  The pandemic is a forcing factor.   They can happen to business owners, and consumers.  Sometimes we call them “ah ha” moments; the exact moment when it all clicks.   

I’ll never forget the moment I realized the value of texting.  “Back in the day”, I didn’t understand texting.  All of the phones were flip phones, and to text someone you had to type out the message using a numeric keypad.  Want to type the letter C?  Hit the number 2 button three times.  

I would think to myself “Why text someone when you could just call them.  Calling is so much easier.”    Then one night I went to a club to meet some friends.    As I made my way through the club looking for them, I tried to call them.  The music was so loud you couldn’t hear the conversation.  I stood in the middle of the dancefloor, the phone up to my right ear and my index finder in my left ear, yelling “hello? … hello!”.  

And then I got a text.  “Second floor, right side, tbl 34”.  And suddenly I realized the value of texting.   The loud music had been a Forcing Factor which pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to use something that I wasn’t accustomed to using. 

The great thing about Forcing Factors is that you don’t have to wait for them passively.  You can engineer forcing factors, and push yourself outside of your comfort zone to make them happen.   

  1. You start by identifying an action or activity that is standing between you and your goals.  I call this “The Blocker”. 
  2. Then you identify what enables The Blocker.  I call this (very creatively) “The Enabler”.
  3. Then you disable The Enabler.  

It’s just that simple.

For example, let’s say that you identity that constantly checking email is keeping you from getting your work done in a timely manner.   You’d then identify what enables you to check email (perhaps it is having a computer on, or having Internet access, or having the email client open).  And then you’d simply disable that enabler.  So in this example, maybe turning off the computer and Internet will inhibit your ability to do work, so perhaps you just set an autoresponder that you’re only available by phone for emergencies and you close the email client.   You’ve just become your own Forcing Factor.