The Human Potential: Overcoming the #1 Roadblock to a Successful Business


Roadblocks to Success

What obstacles, as entrepreneurs and business owners, keep our companies from reaching their full potential?

Is it fear?   Perhaps it is the fear of trying and failing.

Are we stuck?   We feel beholden to a status quo where the perceivable pros affecting our situation seem to  outweigh the cons.  Our dissatisfaction isn’t yet high enough to warrant  the effort required to change.

Do we know?  Perhaps  someone, or even multiple people, put a limitation on our capabilities  that we just can’t shake.  The invisible boundaries blind us to our real potential.

Are we in the right place?  Whether it be the right town, company, role, friends, or associates these factors unconsciously guide our day to day potential, or lack thereof.   Our environment contributes to the tangible emotional factors that alter our mental state.   An unhealthy environment creates fear, inertia , or places limitations on what we believe to be possible.   

The environment we create has the ability to trump all other roadblocks to realizing our potential.   

The Essence of Successful Environments

For many years, I believed the best businesses in the world made the most out of mediocre talent.  In more recent times, I’ve realized this statement is false at worst, misguided at best.

The most successful businesses in the world are best at maximizing the potential of every single person in the organization.

There is no such thing as mediocre talent, only mediocre leadership, systems, and values.   These attributes constitute the environment of the business.   The real work of running a successful business is creating an environment where everyone in the organization is propelled to their highest potential.  

The Goat or the Environment?

Michael Jordan won six out of six NBA championships.  A great player, even at the beginning of his career,  he didn’t win a single championship until he figured out how to involve the rest of his team.    Michael is known for his unabashed competitive nature and harshness.  However, Michael’s teammates increased their level of play and work ethic because Michael and his coach, Phil Jackson, created an environment that made everyone better.  

There is a widely held belief that Steve Jobs is the sole genius behind Apple’s success.   No doubt Steve was a great visionary and pioneer.  However, his true genius originated in the creative and collaborative environment he built around him.   Steve didn’t make Apple into the company we know today  because of his own genius.  Apple became a great company because Steve brought the genius out of everyone.  From Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor”:

“…Steve got it right by being willing to be wrong and by insisting that the people around him challenge him…he hired people that were not afraid to argue with him, and then pushed that fearlessness further.”

                                                                          –  Kim Scott, Radical Candor

Steve created a safe environment for his team to challenge him while also reinforcing the need to bring their best effort if they were to succeed.  He made everyone around him better.   He removed the negative fear and replaced it with a healthy fear.  Steve ignited a passion for his team to be the best because he knew their potential.

Most people want to perform at their best, to realize their highest potential.   The million dollar question remains.  On an everyday basis, are we setting up our environment to ensure everyone around us is in a position to succeed?  Or are we relying on a select few superstars to carry the majority along? 

Methods to Maximize Potential

Learning from Others

There are many great books, articles, and other media available to provide guidance on the necessary components to build positive environments.  One of the better resources I’ve encountered is Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman.   Liz provides an exceptional account of how great leaders guide their business to success by accessing all of the available intelligence within the business.  

A few other amazing reads on the subject include:  

For my own part and success in leading others, I tend to live by the “Keep It Simple Stupid” (or KISS method).   Here are the simple steps I’ve used and observed in other businesses to build positive, successful environments.  This might seem over-simplified. However, it takes a fair amount of effort, flexibility, and diligence to actually make it happen.

Three Simple but Hard Steps to a Healthy Environment

  1. The first critical step is believing the pool of people who can add tremendous value to your business is large.  Without this belief, you’re dead in the water before you start.
  2. Invest vigorously in matching the roles in your business with your team members’ individual talents and skills.   
  3. Ensure team members have what they need to succeed.   This includes the proper tools, training, coaching, and expected results.   

As previously stated, the concepts to build a healthy environment are simple. It is in the day to day execution that  business owners and their organizations fall short.   Tasks for building a healthy environment are too often found at the bottom of the to do list.  Immediate issues and opportunities take precedence over these tasks. The necessary work to build a successful environment is a long term investment.  The beauty is that you, as the business owner, get to use your own creativity and interests to build your ideal environment.   This is your story.  Job #1 is to make all of the other characters a hero in it.   

To state it explicitly, the #1 key to a successful business is setting up an Environment for Success.   Good luck in your journey, here’s to you achieving your potential.

Stories to Inspire

Below are some other inspiring examples of how different businesses (large and small) created exceptional programming to inspire, nurture, and foster a healthy, high performing work environment.  Even when the odds are stacked against. 

Cafe Momentum

Cafe Momentum is a restaurant and culinary training facility in Dallas, TX that transforms the lives of at-risk youth by providing job, life-skills, and mentorship training.  Their story is the epitome how success can be achieved by investing and believing in others, even in the most unlikely of places.  

Chipotle Restaurateur Program

Chipotle created the Restaurateur Program in 2006 to help train and develop future managers for its fast growing business.   While the program has evolved over the years, it’s a great example of creating a roadmap for developing team members at a large scale.

Oakland Athletics

Brad Pitt’s 2011 hit movie “Moneyball.” made the story of the Oakland A’s underdog rise to baseball prominence famous. This story highlights what is often most valued may not actually deliver the value sought.


One of Zappos’ fundamental tenets for success is how they treat their team members and their company culture. A team centric culture creates a safe environment. Subsequently, this allows team members to focus on the most important aspects of their role.

Physical environment is also an important component when it comes to team empowerment and motivation. By integrating culture and fun into the office environment, work can feel like a home away from home. People tend to work harder and smarter when they feel connected. Note, while this space probably cost a fair penny, it doesn’t require breaking the bank to achieve the same effect.