country road in rearview mirror

Entrepreneurial coach Dan Sullivan—who created the Strategic Coach® program—talks about the importance of recognizing (and avoiding!) the “Gap Mindset.” His idea is that many of us have a tendency to continually measure our progress against the ideal. While it’s obviously important to know your ideal and strive for it, if we only measure progress against that ideal, we devalue our experiences along the way and diminish our future accomplishments. 

Sullivan suggests we should avoid this gap analysis by periodically focusing on the gains we’ve made instead. Where The Gap is a reactive and external approach to measuring yourself and your experiences, The Gain is a proactive, creative, and internal approach to doing the same. With a gain mindset, you only measure yourself backward against where you were and who you were before.

“The only way to measure the distance you’ve traveled is by measuring from where you are back to the point where you started, not from where you are toward the horizon.”*

– Dan Sullivan

Generally, I’m a hopeful, positive, and upbeat person. But I’ve certainly fallen into the gap at times by putting too much emphasis on where we’re going without appreciating how far we’ve come. For the next few minutes, we’re going to focus entirely on The Gain. 

The occasion is Rare Bird’s 25th anniversary.

Compounding interest has been cited as the 8th Wonder of the World. Any financial planner would agree. But I believe the same principle applies to our lives and the relationships we build with people along the way. If we invest in each other, if we give more than we expect to receive, if we help where we can without consideration of return, then we’re contributing our time, energy, and values into creating our own relational compounding interest benefit.

We opened the doors to Rare Bird on August 3, 1998, with one idea as our North Star: We set out to create a place where talented people could have fun doing the work they love. This idea was born from the crucible of our previous experiences, including those where we felt we may have been mistreated, misunderstood, or even misused. But those experiences also shaped us, taught us important lessons, and provided the foundation from which we could work to create something different.

office at cedar place drive

We didn’t think we had all the answers, but we did think we had one important one: We would value people for who they were and treat them with honesty and respect. We encountered people along the way that made this easy (and a few people who made it a bit challenging!). We did work we are still proud of. And—I sincerely hope—we invested some compound interest (literally and figuratively) to the people who helped along the way. 

People like Charlie Williams and Gerry Randall, who both taught me a lot about creativity and business, and were fair and reasonable when we left to chase this dream. Though we had decided to go our separate ways, we accomplished it with dignity and mutual respect. There was no bridge burning here.

People like my brother-in-law, Kurt, who handed me a check for $5,000 with no strings attached and no expectations. “Take this,” he said, “and use it if you need it. You can pay me back later.” When Rare Bird celebrated our 10th anniversary, I gave it back to him with my thanks. I had carried that check around like a security blanket for 10 long years; he had forgotten all about it. 

There were dozens of people who trusted us with their work in the early years, including Dr. Spahn, Nancy Pugh, Marylee Klinkhammer, Mac Burris, Dave Stewart, Ed Coburn, Helen Hoart, Mary Atteberry, Joe Solari, Stan Potratz, Dave McDowell, and Cathy LaValley. There are hundreds more who were instrumental in our continual transformation over the years, both as clients and mentors. The list is too long to mention, but I hope you know who you are.

In each of these cases, I—the whole team, really—was enriched by the experiences and improved for having had them. We continue to learn valuable lessons from people smarter than us at every step of the way. We have benefitted from working with our clients to solve tricky problems, some of which have become a part of the fabric of the Rare Bird story. (Two of which happened with the leadership at Annie’s, which isn’t surprising in retrospect, since they’ve been a client for all of our 25 years.)

new office in Carmel

We have grown as an organization, from three of us working in Troy’s converted garage to 20 of us in our office in Carmel’s Design Center. We’ve expanded from a few clients to nearly 350 over the years, in industries as varied as healthcare, publishing, manufacturing, professional services, technology, and education. I’ve lost track of what we’ve learned from conferences, books, webinars, and articles over the years, but I’m keenly aware of how our experiences have shaped who we are and what we do. I’m deeply indebted to the members of my advisor group who have held up a mirror to help me see around corners. I’m humbled by the members of the Flock who have trusted me with their livelihoods and have committed their time and talent to our mutual journey.

But mostly I’m overwhelmed by the idea that all of these remarkable people we’ve known over the years have allowed us into their lives, shared their organizations, and invested in us to enrich our experiences together.

All of this is to say that I’m spending some time in The Gain today, and you are on my mind. Looking back, I’m admittedly a little staggered by how far we’ve come, and I’m fully aware that we couldn’t have done it without you and the role you’ve played in our development, growth, and success. The view from this vantage point fills me with gratitude and awe at the compounded interest that has fueled our time together, and I sincerely hope you feel the same.

Now, on to the next 25!

*You can go much deeper into this concept in Dan’s book The Gap and The Gain.