Nicholas Dancer is the owner and operator of Dancer Concrete Design and he chats with Ramon Ray about concrete, entrepreneurship, leadership, and his new book, Day In, Day Out: The Secret Power in Showing Up and Doing the Work.
The Beginning of a Business
Nick runs Dancer Concrete Design out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. They don’t actually pour concrete, but they refinish existing concrete by polishing concrete floors and applying epoxy floor coatings. Nick was a janitor at his high school where he would strip and wax the floors when school was out for summer. He says that the job was “pretty low-key, you work with friends all the time.” Nick says that right out of high school he wanted to recreate that environment and he found in with a buddy who was working in construction. He says when all of his friends went to college when the summer ended, by process of elimination, he became a team leader when everyone else went back to school. Nick liked what he was doing, got a promotion and did traditional concrete construction for the next two and a half years.
On a Friday afternoon, Nick was involved in a traffic accident injuring his ankle which made going back to outdoor construction for the time being impossible. During that time period, Nick’s now father in law introduced him to Fu Tung Chang, a Japanese artist in Berkeley, California who was working with concrete as an artistic medium. While he was on the mend, Nick attended a training academy in Berkeley and was introduced to concrete in a whole new way.
Nature or Nurture
Ramon asked Nick whether he things the drive behind being an entrepreneur is something learned or something you are born with. Nick says it’s hard to differentiate at this point in his life whether certain things were shaped by experience or if he was born with that inherent ability. He also touches on the narrative today that says everyone should be a business owner and that he doesn’t agree with that sentiment. Nick says that he has been lucky enough to possess the skills to be a successful business owner, but that he’s not a specialist in anything. What he says he is good at is connecting with people and that has served his business well.
Nick adds that “you should embrace the gifts you’ve been given.” He says that when people are looking for their purpose they can get caught up in being too specific. He says when looking for your purposes, he finds that it usually ends up being something that “serves the others around you rather than yourself.” He also believes that it’s “working hard to be the person you want to be.”
Day In, Day Out
Nick is the author of Day In, Day Out: The Secret Power in Showing Up and Doing the Work which is not about concrete. Nick wanted to write an essay-format book that mirrored the books which helped him develop a love for reading.
Nick says that his book focuses on not discounting the little things that get done over and over again. Nick adds that in his younger years he thought the only way to see results was through big projects that get done right away, but those take a lot of resources. “But if we can just make small, incremental improvements, little by little each day, we can have a different life.” He says working out or eating right are perfect analogies for this. To get results, you have to develop daily habits which are a culmination of lots of small decisions.
He says it comes down to “being ok with where we’re at now, while still being excited for what the future may hold…being content with where we’re at while still pursuing that drive.” He says that drive sometimes looks like just showing up and putting in some work, and doing that over and over again.
Define Your A-Players
Who on your team can do the work and has the right attitude and a good culture fit? If you have a person that has one and not the other, they might be a “B” player. If they have neither one they might be a “C” player. Nick says you want to continue to refine your team until it’s full of “A” players.
The Grocery Store Test
Nick says that when making personnel moves, they always use the “grocery store test” which means that he would be comfortable running into someone they let go at the grocery store. He says they do everything they can to give grace and be fair.
Nick says leadership is a lot simpler than people make it out to be. He defines it as “acting in a way that you would want repeated by other people.” Nick asks “if what I was doing was repeated 100 times, would we be a better organization for it?” He referenced another guest Ramon had on and liked that person’s perspective of what can I do for the business rather than what can the business do for me? Nick says that as a leader he is always learning from the people on his team and that they give him opportunities to be a better leader. “If they did everything perfectly, there wouldn’t be a purpose for me.”