Theme for the year

Each year I pick a theme for the year. For obvious reasons for 2012 my theme was family. For me that was not just about my immediate family, but how I could bring those qualities to my practice.

How could I bring the best qualities of a father, husband, brother and son to my team, my partners, my clients and my work. Throughout the year, I’ve had the privilege of working with lots of exceptional, talented, amazing people … and many times it has felt like family. I get to do amazing work with people I love – how lucky am I?

And on the theme of family, here’s a final pic of our little girl to take you into Christmas – might be the best photo I’ve ever taken. Check out the drops of water coming off her feet (completely unintentional mind you).

My theme for 2013 is leverage. How can I have a bigger impact, serve more people, and as my friend Rowdy would say, play a bigger game, without taking more of my time and energy.

Love to hear your thoughts – what’s your theme for 2013? You can leave them below.

Who are you meant to serve?

In our book Sell Your Thoughts we talk about the aspiration of Thought Leaders to do work you love with people you like the way you want. In the sales process this translates to choosing your clients, making sure that you are working with people you like, not just anyone with a heart beat and a cheque book.

I recently heard Michael Port, best selling author of Book Yourself Solid, add a great perspective to this idea. He said two things that I really loved.

Firstly, that there are some people we are meant to serve, and some we are not. I love the idea that in my practice, my aim is to be of service, but not to everyone.

The second thing he said was that when we are working with the people we are meant to serve, we can do our best work.

What do you need to eliminate so that you are doing work you love with people you like the way you want, and serving the people you can do your best work with?

Love to hear your thoughts - you can leave them below.

Fighter planes, minimal viable products and the key to success in business

Have you ever wondered why during the Korean War the American F-86 Sabre managed to score a 10:1 victory ratio over the Russian MiG-15 despite the fact that by most measures the Russian fighter was a superior plane (it could fly higher and farther, turn tighter, and climb and accelerate faster)? Of course you have.

So did John Boyd, a fighter Pilot during the Korean conflict, military strategist, and fighter instructor. Boyd observed that the F-86's fully hydraulic controls, which allowed a pilot to transition more quickly from one manoeuvre to another, also allowed him to netralise and overcome what should have been the MiG's technical superiority.

Boyd concluded that all combat involves a cycle of observation, orientation, decision and action – which he named OODA loops.

John Savens describes the concept: “Under OODA loop theory, every combatant observes the situation, orients himself, decides what to do and then does it. If his opponent can do this faster, however, his own actions become outdated and disconnected to the true situation, and his opponent's advantage increases geometrically”.

(For more about OODA loops, check out Daniel Ford’s book, When Sun-tzu met Clauswitz: the OODA Loop and the Invasion of Iraq.)

Eric Ries describes a similar approach in The Lean Startup: “A core component of Lean Startup methodology is the build-measure-learn feedback loop. The first step is figuring out the problem that needs to be solved and then developing a minimum viable product (MVP) to begin the process of learning as quickly as possible. Once the MVP is established, a startup can work on tuning the engine. This will involve measurement and learning and must include actionable metrics that can demonstrate cause and effect question.”

Too many startups begin with an idea for a product that they think people want. They then spend months, sometimes years, perfecting that product without ever showing the product, even in a very rudimentary form, to the prospective customer. When they fail to reach broad uptake from customers, it is often because they never spoke to prospective customers and determined whether or not the product was interesting. When customers ultimately communicate, through their indifference, that they don't care about the idea, the startup fails.

All implementation is made up of feedback loops. Boyd calls these OODA loops – observation, orientation, decision and action. Ries talks about it as build, measure, learn.

Successful implementation is all about making these feedback loops as fast as possible. On a macro scale it is about implementing more projects, and failing them fast and cheap. On an individual project level it’s about building a prototype, or minimal viable product as quickly as possible, and then adjusting, or pivoting. If your team can get ten of these loops completed in the time it takes your competition to get three done, you win (even if your competition is smarter and better resourced).

The more businesses and practices I work with, the more I am convinced that the success is more a function of getting through more of these loops faster than of anything else.

Love to hear your thoughts – how can you make your feedback loops faster? You can leave them below.

Chopping feet off turkeys

There’s an old story of a woman who always chopped the feet off her turkey before roasting it. When asked why, she said that was what her mother always did. When her mother was asked why, she said that’s what her mother did. And when the grandmother was asked why, she said the oven she used to use was so small that the turkey wouldn’t fit, unless the feet were chopped off. I’m not sure how true the story is, but either way we can learn from it.

And I reckon there are a few modern examples of chopping the feet off turkeys.

Albums are all around 45 minutes. Not because that’s the optimal length for a musician to express their art, but because back when Scarlett’s grandparents were in their twenties buying music, that was the technological limit. A vinyl record could only hold enough data for 45 minutes of music.

Kids are taught in classrooms with one teacher at the front and 30 kids sitting behind desks. Not because that’s what cutting edge education theory says is the most effective way to learn, but because that made sense in a pre-internet, pre-video, pre-multi-media world.

Most office workers show up to a big building and sit behind a desk between the hours of 9 and 5, for much the same reason.

Love to hear your thoughts – in what areas do you see us still cutting the feet off turkeys? You can leave them below.

The Cobra Effect

A couple of weeks back I bought some clothes online, Jocks to be exact. They are being delivered to a friend in America who is bringing them to me in Hawaii at a conference we’re going to be at together. It’s probably a bit more effort than it’s worth, but I just can’t bring myself to pay three times as much here in Australia. (and I did get a few years’ worth). When I was checking out, the website had a box for a coupon code. So I Googled the website url with the word coupon. I then found another website which gave me a coupon for a 15% discount. Bingo! For me anyway, not for the online shop, which just gave away 15% for nothing. An unintended consequence of whatever their promotion was.

Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt shared another great example of an unintended consequence on the Freakonomics Podcast. In Mexico City there was a pollution problem – too many people driving too many cars. So they implemented a system where cars could only drive on certain days, depending on their number plates. The unintended consequence was that people who needed to drive every day bought a second car. And because people started needing a second car, instead of buying a newer (more efficient, cleaner) car, they bought two older cars. The ultimate effect – more pollution, not less.

It’s what economists call the Cobra Effect, named after an initiative in India that back fired. There was a problem with the number of cobras, so the government offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Because of the reward, people soon started breeding cobras just to get the money. When the government realised this they cancelled the reward. The cobra farmers then released all their cobras, and they were left with more cobras than there had been to begin with.

Running our businesses and our practices is all about influencing behaviour, but humans are difficult to predict. And whether its incentivising staff, or promoting a product or program, we need to watch out for unintended consequences, and make sure we don’t get bitten by a cobra.

Love to hear your thoughts, what unintended consequences have you seen (or caused) recently? You can leave them below.