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.