There’s a recurring problem with great strategies.
You risk “collecting” them instead of improving your execution:
- Don’t worry about having more strategies until you execute what you already have consistently.
- ‘OK’ can beat ‘great’ if the ‘OK’ is executed consistently and the ‘great’ is merely sporadic.
- Poor execution ruins good strategies; “Radio ads” are only strategic when coupled with “Great communication”.
Great strategies aren’t Pokémon. You don’t need to “catch ‘em all” to win.
We’ve heard the phrase, “Sales cures all”. Not so:
- If you’re not covering overheads, they’ll bankrupt the team.
- If you can’t deliver effectively, they’ll ruin your reputation.
- If you’ve no cause or mission, they’ll distract you from better work.
Momentum, on the other hand, can cure all: sustainable, well-executed enrollment and delivery that moves you closer to your collective cause. One step at a time.
Which feels more premium: a slick slide deck or a simple pencil sketch?
“‘Bespoke’ is a true collaboration between patron and artisan, where conception starts with a single line on paper.” – Rolls-Royce
When one of our teams swapped their (polished) slide decks for live pencil sketch presentations:
- Calls felt more personal: A sketchbook is an intimate space, so collaborative note-taking made the calls feel more intimate, too.
- Ideas felt more tailored: The offers didn’t change. But unique presentation made them feel inherently more unique.
- Experience felt more premium: A live drawing and annotating of ideas, despite being rough and low-fidelity, felt more premium.
Premium experiences are more personal, tailored, and unique. Sometimes all that’s required is a pencil and paper.
What are “leaders” actually supposed to produce on a team?
- We can’t lead teams we don’t understand. So leaders make leaders out of those who do.
- We can’t know everyone’s craft intimately. So leaders make leaders in each field so each craft is covered.
- We can’t focus on everyone all the time. So leaders make leaders who in turn lead others.
The outcome of designers should be more design.
The outcome of copywriters should be more copy.
The outcome of leadership should be more leaders.
How many times a day do you check your email?
Or any modern tool that beeps and dings for your attention?
Here’s a challenge for you:
- Count them. Each time you check a communication tool, take note, tallying up throughout the day.
- Gulp them. Set 2-3 times in the day where you will gulp the communications you would normally sip throughout the day.
- Go deeper. Use the time you saved to dedicate deeper focus to your work – deeper focus often means better results.
We can’t always choose to forgo these tools when they’re integral to our team, but we can choose to do the same, but deeper.
“There are no great things, only small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa
“Everything at once” is too many things:
- All the sales calls you“ll make this year and the sales you must make, versus simply giving your full attention to just the next call, counting success as having had the chance to serve.
- The book you’ll release this year and all that comes with it, versus simply giving the next sub chapter your full attention, bringing your best self to those pages.
- The whole new product roadmap and getting everything launch-ready, versus simply making next milestone your best one yet.
When we focus on what’s next, the remaining “everything” tends to take care of itself.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” – Zechariah 4:10 (Partial) (NLT), Bible
“If only they’d buy, then they’d know how great we are.”
We need not give away your permission to serve like that:
- You know better: Why wait for those who don’t yet believe in your work to give you permission to serve them?
- Adopt their risk: Consider the risks others have to take when choosing to work with you. Can you take on that risk yourself?
- There are few rules: There’s no rule that says value and transformation can only occur after someone pays for it. You choose your rules.
You’ve always had–and always will have–permission to serve. What will you do about it?
“The Koi that makes it to the top of the Yellow River waterfall is rewarded by being transformed into a Golden Dragon.” – Japanese legend
The “Dragon Gate” legend can teach us about great teams:
- Hundreds of years: That’s how long the koi in the legend fought the pounding current. Great work can take a while.
- Demons raised the waterfall: When the koi thought they reached the top, it got taller. Setbacks affect us only as our level of preparation allows.
- Many started, most fell: Some sooner than others. That’s fine. We get to focus on the peers who‘ll persist with us.
If you’re not yet done, you’re not yet a Golden Dragon. But perhaps you’re a Golden Koi?
How much “adulting” do you get to do at work?
- Managing the managed: If oversight accompanies well-documented, peer-reviewed tasks, competence is in question. Adulting: bring trusted to use the processes you were led to use.
- Pouring over time sheets: If time sheets are studied for ethical use, integrity is in question. Adulting: being trusted to do the right thing.
- Security clearance level 14: If fancy internal protection systems must be in place, trust is in question. Adulting: being trusted to protect team secrets.
Doing work that matters needs trust. Trust is determined by character. Character can’t be fixed by micromanaging.
Teams are often eager to automate tasks, especially in marketing. Sometimes too soon, based on a promise of leverage and compounding growth.
Like cruise control, it’s helpful when used at the right time:
- We don’t use it in traffic because we don’t know what’s going to happen next. Starting, stopping, turning, we’re “driving”. We can’t automate what we can’t anticipate.
- We use it on the highway because we know what’s going to happen next. Occasional lane changes aside, we’re not driving, we’re “cruising”. We can automate what we can anticipate.
Man comes before the machine.
“Let’s have a meeting to discuss.”
Nope. First, these:
- Who’s is it? This person will lead the meeting. If it doesn’t belong to someone, nobody is responsible for its success.
- What will be transformed? Noting this keeps the meeting focused on that end. If “nothing”, perhaps a structured written note will work better.
- What excites me about it? Noting this let’s you bring that energy to the meeting. If “nothing”, perhaps you shouldn’t be attending.
Meetings shouldn’t be to merely “discuss”. They should be to create transformation that could only occur if this particular group of people come together in real-time.
Put your meetings to the test, and see if ownership + mutual excitement + a focus on transformation don’t change how they unfold.
Can careers exist in the age of the gig economy?
I think so, but under different circumstances.
Rather than dying, the ‘career’ is now exclusive to teams that gift members the freedom to “make it their own.”
In that environment, you get to:
- Pick up a spade: There’s always work to be done on “the building site” of a growing team. So please, pick up a spade and join in the meaningful work.
- Build the house you want to live in: As you contribute to growth, leave your mark and make it your own. Teams are only as good as those who get to make choices and belong.
- Be house-proud: We get to choose to be proud of the work we do. After contributing your genius, maintain and defend that standard for the whole team.
The spades are right over there.
You may have heard the quote, “Those who can’t do, teach.”
This is only half a quote.
- Those who teach, learn more. If you’re learning while knowing you must teach it to others tomorrow, you’ll be sure to learn deeply and thoroughly.
- Those who teach, learn faster. Students ask questions and teachers answer them. More perspectives means more ground covered.
- Those who teach, learn twice. Once when you learn it and once when you deliver it.
The quote should really go like this: “Those who Can’t do, teach, so that they Can.”
Does your team have advisors?
While every great team should strongly consider an advisory board, there are some people you won’t be able to recruit.
Inaccessible-or perhaps passed-greats need not be inaccessible:
- Read their best works: Lots of them. Learn their journey, expertise, and bodies of work (what can they teach you?)
- Get some time, if possible: Use live events, interviews, or one-on-one calls to learn their quirks and their personality (how do they talk?)
- Ask them questions: In your mind. The better you know someone, the better you’ll know “what they might think about that” (what might they say?)
While there is no substitute for real-life advisory, for those who are unavailable to you, mental masterminds keep genius closer: privately, and on-demand.
How we do anything is how we do everything.
Being habitual creatures, the beliefs we have are largely universal:
- Panic and worry: Opportunities are scary. Emails are bad news until you can confirm otherwise. You can do it if you sweat all the details.
- Energy and confidence: Opportunities are worth considering. Emails are worth reading at the the appointed time. You can do anything.
- Reckless and bravado: Opportunities mustn’t be missed. Emails must be responded to at once. You can do everything.
Our habits follow us everywhere. Which bucket do yours fall into? Which does the best work?
We’ve all heard of “working well under pressure”. We may think we’re good at this.
But what about “learning well under pressure”?
- Working under pressure: “I think I know how to do this, and the stakes are high. So I will take action.”
- Learning under pressure: “I don’t think I know how to do this, and the stakes are high. So I will pause, learn what I need to learn, then take action.”
When are you “working well under pressure” when you should be “learning well under pressure”?
What does your team focus on when going into sales calls?
Making a ‘sale’, or making a ‘give’?
- Making a sale. Measured in dollars up-front; they happen or they don’t. Convincing someone to buy right away, regardless of whether it’s a good fit or the right time.
- Making a give. Measured in value given up-front; it’s either given or it’s not. Offering to solve real problems right away, regardless of whether or not they’ll buy something.
Ironically, the more we focus on the latter, the more we tend to get the former anyway. The same can’t be said about the reverse.
On your team’s next sales call, which will you focus on?
Numbers can be both impressive and deceptive.
- Ten thousand followers: But are they engaged? A hundred loyal advocates beat droves of lukewarm followers.
- Ten million in revenue: But is it profitable? Twitter was $167 million in the red last year. One million and profitable beats ten million and sinking.
- Ten new leads: But have they the intent to buy? Many lead generation firms bring empty numbers: ten with intent beats 100 cold leads.
- Ten new reviews: But are they positive? Customers tend to trust the neutral/negative ones more. One glowing review beats ten weak ones.
Knowing what we’re measuring allows us to see through the numbers and find what truly matters.
How do you decide if something’s worth your time?
Great teams ask themselves this question before embarking on a project or task or risk losing time to distractions.
Consider these four parts:
- What difference will this make? This question lets us sell (or unsell) ourselves on ideas based on how much of an impact it’ll have on the team’s mission.
- What’s the worst that could happen? This question gives us a motivating dose of fear around the stakes involved should this ‘go south.’
- What’s the best that could happen? This question gives us a vision of what’s possible so that we can visualize the success we want to achieve.
- What must happen to ensure success? This question reveals the steps or maintenance needed for this project to achieve the desired impact.
Get sold on projects and tasks that make a difference. Get unsold on the rest.
Are you proud of your customers?
Who we serve becomes a part of who we are:
- They’re your portfolio: Those you serve in are wearing, consuming, sharing and reviewing your work. They’re your spokespeople.
- You get more of what you have: Those spokespeople will hopefully–if your work is great–bring along those they know. You’ll get more of what you have, for better or worse.
- They guide your growth: Product development should better serve your audience. Your solution is molded by their problem: choose the problem carefully.
Before enrolling your next customer, consider whether they’re someone you’ll be proud to serve or not. If not, consider who would be. Otherwise, remember the commitment is mutual.
We don’t hear much about ‘Patience’ and ‘Focus’ in business magazines these days.
Ironic, since missing either is catastrophic:
- Patience without focus = waste. The long road to knowing everything and doing nothing.
- Focus without patience = churn. The short road to pushing everybody trying to help you away.
- Patience plus focus = momentum. The long road to making a difference.
‘Hustle’ and ‘Hacks’ sell more magazine subscriptions than ‘Patience’ and ‘Focus’ do.
Subscribe to your cause.
Which is more likely to get your energy & enrollment:
Something quick, easy and likely, or something slow, hard and unlikely?
- Quick, easy, likely: These projects are easy to imagine and achieve, yet they often lack significance. “Did we make something that matters?”
- Slow, hard, unlikely: These projects are much harder to imagine or achieve, yet–with good leadership–they radiate significance: “We’ll make a difference or go down trying!”
Great teams get that way when they realize the latter is actually made up of doing the former, lots of times.
Do you follow ‘best practices’ in your work?
That may be unwise:
- Best practices enforce the map. The more people who follow it, the less valuable it becomes. We don’t have to follow.
- Best practices are often false-positives. A successful project may not be successful for the reasons the mapmaker thought.
- Best practices become fables. The mapmaker’s fame and fortune depends on people wrongly believing the map’s destination is typical.
There are times to follow the map and learn from those who went before us.
But we should always remember to draw on that map as we go.
What’s your first reaction?
- “Did we screw up?” If you know you have loose-ends and weak links in your team workflow, this is how you’ll feel.
- “Well screw them” If you’re insecure about your workflow and don’t want to admit it, this is how you’ll feel.
- “That’s impossible.” If you know with certainty that your team provided unchallengeable value, this is how you’ll feel.
Each of these first-reactions speaks volumes about whether or not you believe your team provides unchallengeable value.
Now that we’ve asked the question, we’re lucky enough to answer it before it becomes a reality.
Most of your work likely doesn’t come with a checklist.
But what if it did?
- What would be on it? Each item would be there for a reason. Pondering these items enables us to cover all the bases when we may otherwise forget.
- What would your GPA be? How often would you miss items? What categories would they be in? Pondering this shows us where we need to grow.
- What would you do about it? If we wanted top-marks, we’d need to study where we missed items and commit to doing better in those areas next time.
Great teams often do things that transcend conventional checklists. But by keeping even an imaginary checklist with us as we work, we get through the basics and standards quickly and focus more on what makes our work truly great.
Is your team’s offer the best on offer?
Or can your audience go another route without losing out?
The answer often comes from starting in the wrong place:
- Starting with what you know: This feels comfortable. Here we must ask, “Who needs this?” A solution in search of a problem.
- Starting with what you have: This feels sensible. Here we must ask, “How can we package this?” A solution in search of a problem.
- Starting with what they need: This feels reckless. Here we must ask, “How is it possible to do such a thing?” A problem in search of a solution.
When we start with them–rather than with us–we ask a much better question, one that serves more deeply and converts more effectively.
Who do you start with?
Ever read Haiku before?
They’re short, 17 syllable poems that inspire creativity from constraint.
I wonder, why stop at poetry?
- We fill the space we have: If a project has two weeks available, it’ll take two weeks. What if we made it one?
- Too much choice makes us soft: If your toolbox has everything in it, we risk over-complicating things. What if only a few tools were available?
- Too many ideas: New technology, new ‘hacks’, new strategies, there’s always something new to try. What if we quit dabbling and focused on seeing just one through to mastery?
Great teams create move the needle when they outthink (vs outmuscle) their opposition, be it a market competitor or a social issue.
Adding “a haiku approach” to our work–inspiring creativity from constraints–forces us to resourcefully create something better, simpler, new.
The house at the end of our street was removed.
And it changes the way we see things.
- When things don’t change, we find it more difficult to see beyond “the way things are”.
- When things do change, our perception of “the way things are” changes forever. Then it’s hard to remember “the way things were”!
Great teams should take comfort from this. It’s hard to see where you’re going when you’re doing important work. People don’t often see what you see.
That’s what makes your work so important.
Doing great work once is nice.
But getting ‘another go’ means you’re in business.
You can get ‘another go’ in one of two ways:
- Trust earns you ‘another go’ in proportion to your level of care.
- Deceit earns you ‘another go’ in proportion to your level of slyness.
One attracts a team that thrives, where everyone’s a winner.
The other attracts “crabs in a bucket”, where nobody wins.
Both ‘work’. Which would you rather belong to?
We all know what MPH is.
But what’s MPD? Milage per decision:
- Task-switching: By preventing focused, deep thought, we make fewer decisions that push our work forward.
- Fire-fighting: By rushing from problem to problem, our decisions become short-sighted instead of strategic.
- Stress-outs: By not allowing ourselves to think clearly and calmly, our decision-making ability becomes weaker.
All of these result in decisions that require new, better decisions to happen in future to fix today’s key issues. By enabling yourself to calmly focus on what matters, you’ll increase your MPD.