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Plain Talk from Ed Lowe

Pondering: going one-on-one with yourself

Think back to when you launched your business. I doubt whether you dashed out and did it on a whim. You probably considered and reconsidered a million different areas: your product or service, your market, your competition, how to get money and what could go wrong.

Some entrepreneurs’ think that this reflective time ends after you’re off and running in the throes of your new venture. I maintain that the need to contemplate your business is only beginning, because you will face many equally important decisions in the future. For me, the “big idea” that led to the cat-box filler that became universally known by my name of Kitty Litter, was only the beginning. I needed another revelation when I couldn’t get stores to carry the product at first; or when I tried to break into supermarkets 20 years later; or when corporate giants entered my market 15 years after that. These and hundreds of other challenges along the way required more than snap decisions.

I’m a firm believer in good, old-fashioned pondering. I’m not talking about daydreaming, which is a procession of idle thoughts without context. It’s even deeper than the thinking we use in such daily routines as talking or simple mathematics. Thinking is how we get by. Pondering is a deeper type of thought process; a sort of one-on-one dialogue with your mind.

When you’re pondering, your brain is a step removed from immediate tasks. It’s like strolling a woodland path compared to motoring down a crowded freeway. Your pondering mind is free to roam, but you take careful note of what it discovers along the way. Wherever such musings may lead, you focus on what your inner consciousness tells you.

I make a point to spend some pondering time every day. I seclude myself and relax totally, sometimes squinting or closing my eyes to feel more in touch with that creative tool behind my forehead. I try not to control my ponderings too much. Often they center on my business, but sometimes they concern my family or a broader issue. While pondering the problem of residue from making paper going to U.S. landfills, I came up with an idea that became Biodac, a process that converts such paper sludge into reusable carriers for agricultural and industrial chemicals. I’ve never felt like my pondering time was wasted, and more than once it has changed my life.

I’m fortunate to own beautiful, natural acreage in Michigan. When I’m home, I like to sit at the edge of a pond or some other outdoor place to do my pondering. But any entrepreneur, regardless of where you live or what you do, can effectively ponder. Some people tell me they don’t have time, but that’s not true.

When I was building my business, I was constantly on the road traveling to pet stores and cat shows. Driving down back roads, sometimes in the wee hours of morning or night, I had plenty of time to myself. That’s when I used to do a lot of my pondering. If you fly on the airlines, it’s even easier because someone else is piloting the vehicle. Some entrepreneurs ponder over an early-morning cup of coffee, or even in the shower. Wherever you can seclude yourself and your thoughts from the rat race for a few minutes, you can ponder.

The important thing, wherever you ponder, is to make sure to record your inspirations. Keep a notepad close at hand, and write down your reflections before returning to the “real” world of demands and deadlines. Losing a great idea is as sad as never having one.

This column is one in a series that will explore the thoughts, ideas and unadorned advice of an entrepreneur who made it, Edward Lowe. When he “brought the cat indoors” with a revolutionary cat-box filler, Kitty Litter, he created an industry that changed the lives of millions of cat lovers, not to mention cats. During his life, Ed Lowe used “plain talk” to speak about the bottom line from the bottom of his heart. We believe these writings, revised and updated after his death, offer value for both your business and personal life.

Edward Lowe (1920-1995), Founder of the Edward Lowe Foundation

Born in 1920 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ed Lowe grew up in Cass County, Michigan. After his Navy duty, Ed returned to Cassopolis, Michigan, and joined his father’s company, which sold industrial absorbents, including sawdust and an absorbent clay called fuller’s earth. In 1947 Ed was approached by a neighbor who was tired of using ashes in her cat’s litter box and the resulting sooty paw prints. She asked for some sand, but Ed suggested clay instead. Soon the neighbor would use nothing else, noting that the clay was much more absorbent than sand and didn’t track all over the house.