Small teams seem to look up at larger ones and think, “They must be smarter, better, and faster than we are.” Smarter systems. Better talent. Faster production.
It’s our choice:
- Smarter: They may have more practice, but that’s not to say they’re smarter. You’ve equal opportunity to out-smart the competition or disrupt your space.
- Better: They may have been at it longer, but that’s not to say they’re better. You’ve got the same potential to create the same results or to out-perform theirs if you choose.
- Faster: They may have created efficiencies, but that’s not to say they’re faster. They likely carry bloat you do not, allowing you to out-maneuver them if you decide to.
There’s more to the market than muscle: How will you out-smart, out-perform, or out-maneuver those who led your industry into status quo?
…are that there are no longer any rules.
- Deliberate focus on intrapreneurship? So be it. Nurture a team of irreplaceable individuals that stand shoulder-to-shoulder for the long haul.
- Deliberate focus on automation? So be it. Systemize operations so that it needs no single individual, and let it run all by itself.
- Deliberate focus on manualization? So be it. Make every touch-point with your business human, one-of-a-kind, intimate, unique.
The worst thing we can do is accept that there are ‘rules’ of business.
Some things in a company can’t be measured on a balance sheet:
- Extras for those you serve: An email is more efficient than a letter in the mail. But the mail lets you wrap and send gifts. It’s more work, but the value exceeds the effort.
- Extras for those you serve with: Following the script is more efficient than going the extra mile to make comrades feel special. It’s more work, but the value exceeds the effort.
- Extras for those who didn’t ask: Contributing to a cause that needs help but can’t return the favor has no economic value. It’s more work, but the value exceeds the effort.
Good companies are just groups of people who serve other people, not balance sheets alone.
How do we move the success of meaningful work from possible to inevitable?
- Matches: Something–or someone–needs to start the fire. To create fire where there is no fire. Even when others say you’re crazy. Leaders do this.
- Kindling: We don’t get things right the first time, but with enough kindling, we can keep the fire alive when it gets weak; with enthusiasm, vision and commitment. Leaders do this.
- Logs: When we find traction, we need to keep it crackling so the kindling and matches can explore new ground, methodically and systematically. Leaders do this.
So, how do we move the success of meaningful work from possible to inevitable? Leaders do this.
What happens when your work breaks?
- “We didn’t expect this”: Confusion and panic are the byproducts of ill-planning and carelessness. A rational mind supposes things will not go to plan every time, all of the time. Planning to negotiate failure is as important as planning to negotiate success.
- “You know what to do”: Systemized error-management is as important as systemized production because production is never perfect. When you know what to do, even problems become opportunities to demonstrate excellent service.
Success during failure is a choice.
…is that it only really gets to work once you’ve both given and received it:
- Please trust us: If we’re asking, we don’t yet have it. A demonstration of one-way trust can only paint half a picture of what things could be like were it to be reciprocated.
- Because you trust us: Since we’re not asking, we’re free to try unproven ideas, disruptive strategies and avant-garde designs while taking responsibility–together–for the results.
To put trust to work, we must earn it quicker; less pitches, more preeminence.
We like to do business with companies that believe the same things we do.
- Standing for something on busy days: This is easy. Turning away customers that don’t align with your values when you’ve too much to do anyway isn’t standing for something, it’s just being ‘too busy’.
- Standing for something on slow days: This is hard. Turning away those same customers when you could really use the money shows what you really stand for.
If you can’t represent a common belief with your target audience on the slow days, what makes you think you deserve busy days?
The decisions we make at work or in our personal lives create confidence or discomfort depending on how in sync they are with who we want to be.
Few things reveal this better than the way we ask this question:
- “What should I do”: This is a loaded question. You can do anything, which opens up a world of possibilities that are mostly noise. It’s harder to be congruent with ourselves when “everything” is on the table.
- “What would _____ do”: Where the space is your name. Asking in the third person queries the person we want to be seen as. It’s easy to be congruent with ourselves when we answer within this boundary.
In your current project or challenge, if you’re unsure of what to do, what would _____ do?
Every day, same time, the clock strikes: It’s time to start–and finish–a blog post.
The things you really ought to do–but don’t–need us to be clock-wise:
- When there’s no set time of day: We have many ways out. Excuses include, “I don’t have the time”, “It doesn’t fit into my current lifestyle”, and, “Maybe later.” It’s clock-wise to set a time to do the things that matter.
- When there’s a set time, every day: Now there’s only one way out. We either choose to do it, or we choose not to. The excuses are gone, this was the time. It’s counter-clock-wise to expect things to always happen by force of will alone.
Where are you allowing yourself to be counter-clock-wise?
We like to search for the ‘best’ way to do things. But what we often find is a subjective ‘either works’:
- Accessibility: Elite and rare, or available to all. One removes access, the other makes it a goal. Either works.
- Longevity: Lasts forever, or limited time only. One can become an heirloom, the other exists for the moment. Either works.
- Quality: Hand-crafted with care, or mass-production economy. One carries meaning, the other carries savings. Either works.
What matters is that we’re consistent with the values behind our work and our audience and that we deliver on the promises we make to the market.
If you had to repeat last week every week for the rest of your life, would you?
- “I worked too hard, it’d burn me out”: If it’s too much, we can create a better balance. If it’s not too much and it’s just how we handled it, we can learn to manage ourselves better.
- “But what about vacations”: They’re great. But if you live for them, that might suggest you’ve designed a work life you don’t truly enjoy. That’s something you can fix if you give yourself permission.
- When you have TGIM: Thank Goodness It’s Monday. It’s rare for someone to look forward to the new week. You can be one of those people if you choose.
I’m fortunate enough to experience TGIM all the time. It’s a choice. You need only make it.
The world may not be fair, but does that mean we need to protect ourselves or our work all the time?
- Most warriors die in battle, not because they weren’t good soldiers, but because they spent a lot of time around people who were trying to kill them.
- Defensive freelancers lose accounts, not because they weren’t good at their work, but because they think everyone’s out to steal their clients away from them.
- Good ideas often don’t get implemented, not because they weren’t good ideas, but because the possessor tried to make everyone sign an NDA before hearing it.
Lose the armor, everyone isn’t out to get us. Our ideas are unlikely going to be stolen. Surrounding ourselves with good people and sharing our ideas always outperforms a fearful pursuit of being independently ‘self-made’.
If you have important work to do, which is better: 6 hours, or 12 hours?
- 6 hours: That’s a short day. If we only have 6 hours of focused work, with time to prepare and reflect on either side, can we be confident that those 6 hours will be well spent?
- 12 hours: That’s a long day. We won’t be productive for 12 hours straight, though, will we? Really? To celebrate 12 hour days is to celebrate inefficiency.
We can’t over-work ourselves with more hours, we can only make ourselves more inefficient. I prefer working efficiently, how about you?
The Blame game is an ugly game played by people who are scared.
If you’re trying to do meaningful work and the game comes up, here are the rules:
- Ricochet: If a finger is pointed at you, be sure to deflect onto somebody else. Bonus points if they aren’t paying attention, or aren’t part of the conversation.
- Poker face: If you mess up during this game, be sure to not let anybody know. You lose points if you’re found out, instead of owning up to a mistake and using it as an opportunity to show your greatness.
- The winner is the loser: The best player learns how to make good excuses, makes his/her colleagues doubt their integrity and, worst of all, gets better at playing the Blame game.
It’s a lousy game. You probably shouldn’t play it.
Which is better?
- Ideas are solutions in search of a problem. “What if we were to…” is the foundation of most ideas. A theoretical solution which needs connecting to an underlying problem.
- Challenges are problems in search of a solution. “How on Earth do we…” is the foundation of most challenges. A real problem which needs to find some sort of solution.
If we want to make impactful work, we don’t always need a great idea. We simply need to set a challenge.
Sometimes we just want a re-do on our work.
But should we do a do-over?
- Do-over: When it’s unreconcilably, unpivotably wrong. When it needs to be done in one take, and your take wasn’t right. When perfection is absolutely required.
- Do-not-do-over: Every other circumstance.
Most things are fixable. Most things don’t need to be done in one take. Most things can’t be perfect, nor is anyone expecting perfection. Except perhaps you.
Could you be over-doing do-overs?
Effective teams have both. But which is better?
- Discipline is hard to nurture. Living from it comes the ability to ensure your meaningful work thrives, eventually.
- Feelings require no nurturing. But living from them means getting up late, putting off important tasks, and breaking your own rules.
- Discipline can’t tell you where to go. It doesn’t know what matters most to you holistically, only what does in the moment. It keeps you on course, but cannot plot a path.
- Feelings can help you see where to go. They know what matters most to you. They can keep you on course, so long as they’re treated as a signal to observe, not a noise to follow.
One is a compass and one is a map. Know which is which.
Most markets, industries, and cultures have ‘common sense’:
- “Common sense” is within our market. It’s common because everyone has it…in common. Lawn care does retainers. Agencies take a percentage of ad spend. Common.
- “Uncommon sense” is everywhere else. Your market rules likely seem alien to other markets, going against what they would deem to be “common sense”.
- Change exists outside of your idea of “common”. Market disruption often means taking another market’s “common sense” as your own. Markets don’t like when you break the rules. That’s why it’s called “disruptive”.
Common sense keeps us safe in the wilderness but marginalizes us in the marketplace. What happens if you consider taking leave of your (common) senses?
If your team’s work were a car…what gear is it in?
An odd question that conceals a lesson about not paying attention to your competitors:
- The right gear at the right time creates economical gains. You’re growing as a team, but not at a pace that works for where you are right now.
- Holding a gear too long loses economy and gains. By not continuously improving your team’s performance, you’ll outgrow your systems and lose ground.
- Shifting up too early risks gains or even stalling. A competitor may be there, but rushing up to their level will only slow you down, or stall you out.
If your work is important, what others are doing doesn’t matter – copying them won’t create you results like picking the right gear for you will.
What’s the biggest difference between prestige and heritage?
How much it means to you:
- What it ‘says’: This is a prestige parameter. Buyers choose to express it (such as with a display of wealth) or not (such as a commodity purchase). There are many options in this category.
- What it ‘means’: This is a heritage parameter. An item either means something special, or it doesn’t. Be it a family heirloom or a monogrammed gift, it’s not prestige that gives it value, but heritage (where it came from, why it was made, what it represents).
The un-fired clay pot on my desk which I formed alongside my family is unique–one of a kind. It ‘means’ quality time spent with my family.
There’s no prestige there. Only heritage. And that makes it priceless.
When you don’t know how to do something, remember, you do:
- 20 years makes a big difference: There’s more information available to you in your pocket than The White House could access 20 years ago. It’s hard to not know things these days.
- 300 hours a minute: That’s how much video content is being uploaded to YouTube. If we want to learn how to do something, there’s likely to be a few videos covering it somewhere.
- Trial and error: Unless we’re doing open heart surgery, there’s likely to be a forum for practicing our work safely, privately, and inexpensively.
From now on, we only don’t know when we choose not to know.
Don’t wish for it to arrive, just yet:
- Longing for the goal misses the trip: If you don’t like the journey, why take the trip? It’s the journey there that you’re giving your life to.
- The prize at the end of life is death: It’s not arriving at death that makes life worth living, but how we lived along the way.
For teams doing important work, it can be easy to fixate on the difference we want to make. Don’t forget to enjoy the ride.
Most teams competing in the marketplace have a lot of worries, be they spoken or unspoken.
Many have simpler answers than we’d care to admit:
- If you’re premium, don’t worry about those who can’t afford it.
- If you’re niche, don’t worry about the outsiders that don’t understand it.
- If you’re viral, don’t worry about those who haven’t yet heard about it.
This all goes both ways. We can trace our worries back to what we ought to become in order to quell those worries.
It’s not what we say, but the energy and conviction with which we say it, that makes the difference:
- The nervous sales representative doesn’t make the sale. If he doesn’t truly believe what he’s saying, why should we?
- The broken web page citing product reliability gets no opt-ins. If the owners don’t live out their priorities, why should we think they’ll be any different with us?
- The teammate that promises camaraderie but ‘disappears’ when everyone needs to pull together, isn’t someone worth keeping around.
A brand (just like a person) is only as strong as the promises it keeps, not the promises it makes.
“I should prefer to lack success than to lack faith” – Seneca
While doing work that matters in the marketplace, what is success without faith? What is faith without success?
- Without faith that our work creates a better future, we’re punching the clock. Given that time is finite, and given that there are causes out there worthy of our time, why pursue this work without faith?
- Without success as a result of our faith, be it in learning, awareness, or disruption, we simply dreamed. ‘Meditation’ without subsequent ‘action’ is merely ‘sitting quietly’.
What we believe about our work is as important as the work itself. Otherwise, the work doesn’t get done.
We don’t like to think about it when things are going great.
But one day, it’ll be dead. Either due to a market correction, being too slow to market, becoming obsolete, bad changes in leadership, or something else. All things come to an end, eventually.
- How can our work live a long life? If it’s worthy of a long life, it’s worth remembering what that reason is every day we’re fortunate enough to do this work. Otherwise, we risk drifting and squandering this opportunity.
- How can we make the time it has as valuable as possible? It’s short–finite–make the most of it. Make decisions in light of the fact it’s short, from what products to build and markets to serve, to what clients you’ll accept.
- What will it leave behind? What happens when it’s all over? What impression will your work leave behind? It’s worth asking ourselves the question in every project, “Is this moving us closer to making that happen?”
How many times a month do you rush at work?
The greatest works of nature weren’t rushed. Yet we believe we should:
- The best-growing businesses to work with don’t force deals and sales, nor do they force growth beyond that which is healthy for long-term success. They simply focus on being the best option to work with. They toil without force.
- The best teams to belong to don’t go on hiring sprees and rush to fill slots. They simply let their culture grow naturally, each addition thoughtfully considered, resulting in a team worth belonging to. They toil together, without force.
- The tallest tree in the rainforest got that way not by forcing it, but by maximizing on its opportunity to reach the most light. It just grew, without force.
Most things in life and business don’t benefit from adding force or strain in the long run. We should take a leaf out of nature’s book and toil without force.
You, and those you serve. It goes something like this:
- The bit that went great: We don’t talk about it much. At least, not without us bringing it up. That’s okay. We both know what the other means.
- The bit that didn’t: We talk about that a lot. You come worried, but then we remind you that we’re in this together. We’ll work it out, just as we always have before.
The more we’re “in this together” with those we serve, the more there’s no path that’ll lead you (or them) wrong.
We see a lot of teams and individuals in the marketplace that are inconsistent with themselves:
- Perception: A poser with a fancy car and a $30 website template sends a conflicted message. How clear is yours?
- Value: Do you advertise your value but close on price? What does that communicate to your prospects?
- Care: Are you more (or less) attentive to your clients as you are with prospects? What does that say about how much you care?
If your team were to be completely consistent with yourselves end-to-end, from attitude to attire, who is your company?
“If you stop supporting that crowd, it will support itself.” – Seneca the Younger
‘Sort-of-delegating’ is the worst kind of delegating. It’s when we show others how to do something, then don’t give them the space to try, fail, then succeed.
- Making room to fail: When we only “sort-of-delegate”, we deny team talent from owning their work–a full delegation. Why even bother, then?
- What you’re missing: Could our team’s cause, chosen charity, or community be underserved due to our “sort-of-delegating”? How much more of a difference could we make if we made room for others to succeed?
Sharing the load isn’t just for the efficiency of what we see today, but for what’s possible tomorrow.