In business, as in life, having the right tools and knowledge is essential to success

My daughter is staying with me for a few months, and recently signed up for Farm Fresh Miami, the fresh, organic, local seasonal fruits and veggies delivery program that for a set fee you can have in- season produce for six months or a year delivered weekly, and the fee depends on how much produce you want. Another good thing about Farm Fresh Miami is that you never know what you’re getting until you open your bag. This allows subscribers to try new food items that you would have never tried otherwise.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with business, knowledge, and the right tools. Well, this week on our first bag of produce, along with kale, squash and mustard greens, we got a tall stalk of sugar cane. This immediately brought a big smile to my face as I remembered as a child in Cuba the joy of chewing on small sticks of sugar cane and extracting the delightfully sweet juice as snacks while I ran around and played after school and weekends. And I immediately told my daughter, I got this. We will refrigerate the sugar cane stalk, and I will cut it into sticks so we can snack on it.

Millie Herrera

Millie Herrera

Not owning a machete – nor wanting to own one either – as an experienced management consultant and business analyst, I assessed the task at hand and the tools I needed to accomplish it. My set of knives laid out before me, I selected the one I thought would be best, a big, sharp pointed cutting knife that was strong enough to cut through steel pipes, as the commercials advertised. I then proceeded to try to cut the stalk into smaller pieces below the knots, taking care to tuck my fingers away so as to not lose one in the process, and applying the right amount of pressure so the stalk would not slip from under me. Nevertheless, I found myself straining to cut through the stalk and almost cutting myself several times. I changed to a serrated version, and the results were similar – the stalk was not ceding easily to my efforts to cut through and produce the desired 3-4 inch long, cold, delicious sugar cane sticks I was now craving more than ever!

After cutting the stalk in four places, both knife and fingers intact, but with red bruised, hurting hands, I dreaded the remainder of my task of cutting the large pieces into small sticks because it had been so painful to cut them in the first place. There had to be a better way! I then started peeling away the bark of the first piece. And this is when it hit me. A vague memory rose up from the depths of my brain of my step-dad peeling away the bark of tall sugar cane stalks with a machete BEFORE he cut them into smaller pieces, then easily cutting it into smaller chunks around the knots, and eventually into small sticks to give to my friends and I, who then happily carried away our stash for snacks on our next adventure of hunting for crabs, or playing hide and seek around the neighborhood.

He would do this often as we watched his strength and dexterity at handling the machete, then giving us loads of sweet sugar cane sticks, efficiently and with ease. He had the right tools and the knowledge, so he was successful every single time at performing his task with excellence, and producing the desired results! As I remembered this, I quickly changed my technique. It was the hard bark that was keeping me from cutting the pieces all along! I peeled away the bark from all the pieces next, and was able to easily cut them into small sticks. Success, and a lesson well learned!

Running a successful business or career requires that we come up daily with solutions to common problems, and to be effective, we must use knowledge and the right tools to get the job done. Knowledge is acquired with a good education and experience. In my example above, I had the education, even though it took me a bit to remember, of watching my step-dad as a child time and time again, cutting the sugar cane stalks the right way, but I did not have the experience because I had not done it before myself. Business leaders and employees must continue to train and learn new and better ways of doing their jobs and refining their skills, through formal education and training, attending business conferences, webinars, workshops and seminars, and on the job training, learning from each other and mentoring opportunities.

The right tools are as important as education and experience. Again, I had a good knife, just not the right one for the task. Investing in the right equipment, tools, software, and technology to run your business efficiently is crucial. Other tools are certifications you can use to go after more business. Certification as a Woman Business Enterprise, Minority Business Enterprise, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, Small Business Enterprise, Veteran Business Enterprise, etc., is the first step to opening doors for contracts with local, state and federal government, and large businesses with supplier diversity programs.

Once a business is certified, the real business development work begins. You can start by registering with these entities, and attending conferences to meet the procurement staff, preparing compelling capabilities statements, and signing up for match-making opportunities with large companies, sponsored by the certifying organizations.

Learning is a lifetime commitment, be it in life or business. Knowledge, experience, and the right tools, together with tenacity, perseverance, flexibility, a big dose of humor, and the ability to adapt to new challenges are the key to success in everything we do. I had a sugar cane stalk handed to me in a bag of produce, which amounted to a great opportunity. The challenge was to select the right tools and use the knowledge and experience to create the desired result from this opportunity. One without the other made the task difficult, and it could have easily ended up in a disaster.

The lesson learned from this experience is invaluable for my next stalk of sugar cane, or other important opportunity or challenge that comes my way.

Millie Herrera is the owner of The Miami Group & Associates, a management consulting firm that helps entrepreneurs and business leaders reach their next level of excellence.

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