Often, sometimes what we think we need, is just a subjective desire that has no bearing on reality or our real business needs. What then, is the fuel that powers and propels a business for the long haul?

I am a fan of the “Big Bang Theory” sitcom, where humor sprouts from a bunch of scientists.

In one episode, Sheldon (Cooper), a brilliant scientist who lacks emotional intelligence and social skills, demanded his roommate Leonard (another physicist) to fetch him to work. However, Leonard had a night shift and was too exhausted and asked Sheldon to take the bus. Sheldon insisted that he could not possibly take the bus, and so pestered their neighbor Penny (a waitress) to drive him to work. He was so sorely lacking in social etiquette that Penny had to dump him by the roadside. Thereafter, Sheldon pestered the rest of his friends to drive him to work, until all of them told him together, that it was time for him to learn driving.

Howard, the aerospace engineer, built a driving simulator just for Sheldon. Sheldon insisted that his on-screen car color should be a specific neon blue. Howard then promptly replied, “Okay, it will be black.”

The reality is that colors may appeal to the subjective bias of a person. You may like blue. I may like gray. Someone else may like red. And nobody is right, or wrong. And frankly, who cares?

More importantly, as the example of the driving simulator in “Big Bang Theory” was demonstrating, was that something has to work for its intended purpose. The simulator served the need for someone to learn how to drive, and that is sufficient. Whether the on-screen vehicle shows up as blue, green, white, black, or red, has no relevance whatsoever.

In life it is exactly the same. For a business, you have to look for the fundamentals and focus on them. What are these fundamentals?

1. Bootstrap

While some business may have the deep pockets to go the long distance, not every business can throw money freely at the wall and hope something sticks. Whether you are a startup, an emerging business, or a successful global enterprise, the agile and lean mindset should govern the operations for sustainability.

If you have a million dollars sitting pretty, would you rather spend it all on a single grandstand event, or would you rather stretch it intelligently and strategically on a multi-platform, integrated communications campaign that spans 3 years with money left over to hire at least 2 earnest young upstarts? The choice should be obvious, if you intend your business to be built to last, and especially to outlast your competition.

2. Function

Aesthetics for a new or existing business is not unimportant. It is. I am a creative director and an artist (since 1970s) and so I appreciate aesthetics. However, as a business process re-engineering (BPR) practitioner too, I have to also discern the importance of aesthetics versus functionality. A business is not merely a window dressing. The systems and processes behind such a business, are paramount to its success.

If you can only spend a $100,000 dollars, on either an expensive visual identity revamp, or to re-engineer your business for efficiency, productivity, and crisis preparedness, which would it be? A pretty front may have its short-term appeal, but an integrated back-end system may be the turbine that continues to propel your business onwards.

3. People

People are the fabric of a business. That includes the founders, the top executives, and the entire team behind the business. Very often, the frontline employees of a business face your direct paying customers, and will be your brand ambassadors more than you imagine. Find the right people, treat them well, keep close to them, and they will fight your competitive battles, and care for your customers.

So, if you have a fresh injection of funds, say a million dollars, the best thing you can do for yourself is to put a part of those funds into recruitment, retention, and development. Keeping good people is a must, and building agile and responsive teams are critical. And if there are people who simply can’t fit in, a good system of termination should be in place too. There may be no “bad” employees, but they may just be unsuitable for your corporate culture and roles. Rather than spending all your funds in a “superstar”, it may be wiser to find a good team of people with various talents and experience instead. As the Chinese proverb goes, “三個臭皮匠,賽過諸葛亮” (loosely translated to “two heads are better than one”).

It is about sustainability

The euphoria of starting a new business often wears off quickly when funding runs dry and business is slow. Likewise, the excitement of a burst of capital injection may be uplifting for a while. But, what really drives your business forward and for the long haul, depends on how far you can stretch your dollars, how intelligently you spread what you spend, and who you hire to build your business with you. There is no short cut, and there is no magic formula, but simple rules that apply to every business big or small.