How Entrepreneurs Lose the Big Picture

Because of the thousands of messages they’re hit with daily, most successful entrepreneurs have developed an uncommon focus on what’s truly important in their lives. If we get too caught up in the glitzy stuff -- the fame, the new social media fad of the month, or whatever else takes our eye off the ball -- it can draw too much time and energy away from the awesome opportunity that’s right in front of us.

When you’re confronted with a new thing, here’s an important question to ask: Is this shiny new toy a realistic long-term option for my success?

It doesn’t mean you can’t do new things. It just means that you have to make sure you’re in balance. 

When “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” had auditions at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines earlier this summer, it became a shiny new toy in my life -- not for me, but for my family. They’ve always wanted me to try out for a smart-guy game show, so I gave it a shot. I also thought it'd be an interesting study in human nature. It was.

There are three steps to becoming a “Millionaire” contestant: First, there’s a 30-question multiple choice quiz. If you pass the quiz, you’re given an immediate three-minute interview by a show producer. A few weeks later, if you make it that far, you’re in what’s called the “contestant pool,” where you may be called at any time during the next two years to fly to New York City -- at your expense -- to sit in the studio audience and be a potential contestant on the show. Even if you get to the studio, your odds of playing the game depend on how many are needed during your week. Not exactly the kind of opportunity on which I’d bet the farm.

What kinds of people showed up? A bizarre cross-section of Chicago-area humanity. Seniors, young people, soccer moms, businessmen, oddly dressed people looking more appropriate for a costume party than a game-show audition -- all looking for their shot at an instant payday. By 9 a.m., there were well over 700 people in the casino lobby, each clutching their numbered Wonka-esque tickets for entry into the testing room.

One middle-aged gentleman and I got into a conversation; he was an unemployed chemist from the southwest suburbs. “This is my retirement plan,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I didn’t have much put away before my company canned me three years ago, so this is my shot.”

So you have nothing else lined up? “No one’s hiring, so for the past two months I’ve been studying how to make it on to this show,” he answered. “That’s been my job.” He flew to New York two years ago and passed the test, but was never called from those in the pool. “I know what to say in the interview this time,” he said confidently. “They ask things like, ‘Why do you want to be on the show?’ and ‘What would you do with the money?’ I’m ready with my answers.”

The first group – me, the chemist, and 218 others -- were called downstairs into a jam-packed testing room. We were given a manila envelope with the quiz questions inside, an answer card and a No. 2 pencil. Each question had four possible answers, just like the TV show. Some were easy; others were next to impossible for anyone but my new chemist friend.

I was confident with about 70 percent of my answers; the others could have gone either way. The staff collected the answer cards, which are fed immediately into a scorer to determine who gets an interview.

Out of 220 people in the room, 72 people passed the test.

The chemist didn’t make it. Neither did I.

“What? You didn’t pass?” my shocked family asked that night at the dinner table. We had a good laugh, but I couldn’t help but think about what a different conversation was going on at the chemist’s dinner table that night. He had bet it all on a shot at the big prize, and now he had nothing but a No. 2 pencil from Meredith Vieira to show for it.

As entrepreneurs, we like to have several potential options going at one time. As you decide which ones to focus on, be careful not to focus too much of your time, energy, and future success on a glitzy long shot.

That’s my final answer. And I don’t need a lifeline.

Bill Guertin is CEO (Chief Enthusiasm Officer) of The 800-Pound Gorilla, a sales training and consulting company based in Bourbonnais. He is the author of The 800-Pound Gorilla of Sales: How to Dominate Your Market, and can be reached at, or at

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