72: Too much cavalry

Is there such a thing as “too much help”?

We’ve talked before about how to “call the cavalry” on teams, to offer help and support when needed.

But cavalry can be overused.

By our definition of A+B players, team members grow (B-to-A) rather than regress (B-to-C).

  • Growth means getting cover when needed, ensuring the calls are both rare and unique.
  • Regression means not asking for the call when it’s needed (thus dropping the ball) or repeating the same mistakes.

Fire-drills are supposed to be common. Fires are supposed to be rare.

Having cavalry enables teams to keep better promises, providing everyone on the team uses it wisely.

71: Done, imperfectly

“Well, if you don’t have time to do it right, what makes you think you’ll have time to do it over?” – Seth Godin, Purple Cow

Your work isn’t perfect.

And it doesn’t need to be. Yet it still needs to get done.

  • “Done, imperfectly” = Done. Next comes refinery & optimization.
  • “Not done but perfecting” = Not Done. Next comes procrastination.
  • “Not done right” = Not Done. Next comes a redo, if the opportunity stands.

As team members and individuals, whenever we do tasks or assume responsibilities, we should remember in a pinch that:

  • “Done, imperfectly” is the best of the three. Reply to the client right away. Get the product to market. Make the sales call. Imperfectly.
  • Opportunities aren’t forever: If the client is compelled to look elsewhere, the product runs out of funding, or the lead goes cold, ‘perfect’ was too late.
  • “Done, imperfectly” is rare. Despite “perfecting”-ers” failing just as fast as  “not done right”-ers, in a pinch.

What do you need to get done, imperfectly, today?

70: 100 year beliefs

Ever thought, ‘If I knew the future, I could rock today”?

Yesterday we talked about intuition. Today we’re talking about beliefs.

From machine rights to literally sharing your thoughts with others, the future is sure to contain many “surely not” moments.

But what do you believe today that, in 100 years time, will seem totally ridiculous?

  • Your industry: What could it look like? By considering beliefs that may become ridiculous, we can consider how to push today’s actions toward the future.
  • Your team: What could it look like? By investing in skills and values that will still be valuable, we can consider how to develop a culture that stands the test of time.
  • Your world: What could it look like? By considering beliefs that will eventually seem ridiculous (e.g. “climate change isn’t a problem”) we can shape our contribution to the world today.

What do you believe? Future-pace it and see what happens.

69: More human: Intuition

Last month we touched on 3 things robots can’t do.

Let’s touch on the first: intuition.

Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without proof, evidence or conscious reasoning, or understanding how the knowledge was acquired.

This enables us to say:

  • “The future should look like this…” For instance, ‘no more slavery’, or ‘a phone for every human’. A vision for a destination that transcends transaction, instead focusing on an ideal.
  • Forget ‘trends’, we’re heading over here…” For instance, predicting a new market or emerging sector with little-to-no proof. The ability to zag when everyone else zigs.
  • “Forget data, this is what I think…” For instance, spotting a good hire or investment because it feels right.

Intuition behaves below consciousness, we experience it from our subconscious, away from focal awareness or critical-thought function (things AI will effectively simulate).

Aside from the eventually-autonomous parts of your work, how can you and your teammates bring more intuition to your work?

68: Knowing less and more

How much do you know?

Those who focus on what they know, know the least. The more you talk, the less listening–and learning–you get to do. The more someone enjoys the sound of their own voice, the less likely there’ll be wisdom in their words.

Those who focus on what they don’t know, know the most. Great minds ask great questions, talk less, and absorb the information in the room. When they do decide to speak, you know it’s worth hearing.

Teams thrive when members are more interested in learning from each other than convincing each other.

Which do you do prefer: talking, or listening?

67: Gary’s neckties

Ever been to a tie shop?

To some, a necktie is a necessary item in a store with too many options to choose from. $18 to “get me out of here.”

To Hermès, a necktie tells a story – one so important, they feature Gary, “the peerless expert”, to guide shoppers toward the right tie for them on their website and Madison Ave store. $180 to “tell my story with my ensemble.”

Most teams get to choose how they see themselves and the value they bring to the products and services in their market. Just like like Gary and his team did.

Who would you like to deal with? The “Get me out of here” guys or the “Tell my story with my ensemble” guys?

And who do you want to be? The faceless retail help peddling cheap ties to whomever, or “Gary the peerless-expert”?

What’s stopping you?

66: What’s your coachline?

Mark Court is really good at what he does.

If you’ve ever seen a Rolls-Royce with coachlines (stripes), you’ve seen his work.

That’s what he does: he paints coachlines.

  • He mastered his skill: Rolls enabled him to do that. He got to perfect his skill, and use his genius on great works.
  • He works with other masters: Because great coachlines don’t matter much if the rest of the car is shoddy.
  • Team advantage: Because they mastered their respective skills, Rolls gets to keep their brand promise of “ultimate automotive sophistication”.

We’ve talked about how great teams of A+B Players invest in being that way. Everyone needs to know and nurture their genius to make a team truly great.

What’s your coachline?

65: Why or what

Which of these two statements do you prefer:

  1. “Why did you do that?”
  2. “What happened & what can we learn from it?”

If you’re like most people, you’ll much prefer hearing the latter.

The first leaves people feeling like whatever they tried to do was wrong, and that they shouldn’t do it again. That growth is too dangerous to attempt.

The second leaves people feeling like whatever they tried to do wasn’t perfect, and can be improved. That growth is too important not to attempt.

Next time you give feedback to a team member, which is it to be: Why or What?

64: Creator-curator

Be careful what you create.

Some teams try to create everything. And therefore nothing is truly amazing, simply because they had to try to do it all themselves. Even Rolls-Royce curates liberally from BMW parts, allowing them to focus their creative-genius on what makes them unique.

Other teams try to curate everything. And therefore nothing is truly unique, simply because they won’t create anything themselves. Even Amazon creates its own products, despite profiting almost-exclusively from selling other people’s products.

What do you create? Make it your genius, and make it the best work of your lives.

What do you curate? Work with the best, and let them make it the best work of their lives.

63: Fake watches and focus

Fake things can damage your focus.

One of my favorite wristwatch designs is Omega’s Seamaster 300. It’s around $5,000 to acquire. Fakes are apparently around $200.

Quality and ethics should be the least of a fake buyer’s concerns. Worse is the mindset it creates for that buyer:

  • Compromiser: While even considering a purchase, one would have to begin convincing themselves of what “doesn’t matter so much”, from what they believe is ‘right’ to what qualities they can forgo.
  • Regressive: One’s focus turns from growth to reduction, on how to reduce an ideal (“I don’t like it anyway”) rather than rising to it (“that’s a lovely piece”).
  • Glass ceiling: Making a purchase would solidify what you think is–and isn’t–possible for you (“I could never have the real thing anyway”).

This has nothing to do with wristwatches, or what is/isn’t an acceptable price for something.

It’s about you.

Where is your focus: on uncompromising growth and potential, or on merely faking it?

62: Why does that rule exist?

Sometimes the only answer we have is, “Because that’s just how people do it.”

And it’s a terrible answer.

Teams the world over accept this answer without ever challenging it. What if yours did?

  • Does that need to be done? (examples: Complex hierarchical org chart; One more meeting; Paperwork)
  • Does it need to be done in that way? (examples: Top-down leadership; Live and in-person; PDF format)
  • What if we changed it to be more…? (examples: Customer-centric; Fun; Simple)

Most rules were defined by people no smarter than you, and many standards are simply coincidental patterns we chose to accept.

How might things change for your team if you remember these facts next time someone asks, “Why does that rule exist?”

61: Learn or lose

When you screw up, what happens next?

Is your team a ‘Win/Lose’ or ‘Win/Learn’ environment?

If ‘learn’ means growth and ‘loss’ means the neglect of growth, let’s turn our attention to the differentiator: the pursuit of growth.

  • Watch each other’s progress: You may spot growth opportunities that others may not. Be on the lookout.
  • Watch ‘the seams’: Between roles, tasks, and hand-offs, are typically areas rich with growth opportunity.
  • Help leaders lead: Sharing the potential growth opportunities you spot with team leaders means they can help facilitate that growth in others.
  • Shared spirit: Remember why everybody is sharing growth opportunities–to give everyone on the team the best chance to thrive.

How could your team grow closer and stronger through a shared pursuit of growth?

60: A case for simple

A couple of years ago, auto companies presented their visions for the next 100 years.

Most of them flaunted exotic 3D interfaces and unconventional new designers.

Rolls did the opposite. Titled ‘103EX’, they removed the dials, switches and interface altogether. What remained was a couch.

Making things complicated is simple. Making things simple is complicated.

Last week, one of our teams was congratulated–during a sales presentation–for successfully leapfrogging the rest of the market as they’d experienced it.

Not for some sort of impressive display of complicated nuance and self-importance, but for an exercise in radical simplification.

What’s complicated on your team right now? Does it need to be?

59: Team aerodynamics

Are you ready for when it all goes right?

There are times you dream of as a team. Customers and clients beating down your doors. New orders coming in faster than you can keep track of.

Stop: “faster than you can keep track of”? That’s an issue.

In aerodynamics, frictional force increases with speed. Cars have lift force issues, teams have “dropping the ball” issues.

How well is your team designed to handle the frictional force of growth?

  • Flow: Have you got systems in place to prevent burnout or over-promising?
  • Responsibility: Does every piece of your system have a single owner, for on-the-fly decisions?
  • Cavalry: Do those owners have someone standing by to take over on a dime?

Consider these factors your “team aerodynamics” and an indicator of how fast you can go.

How fast do you want to go? And what changes might you need to make to handle the frictional force that comes with it?

58: Thing of the week

Ever get to the end of a day feeling you should have done more?

Even if you were hard at it all day?

We often ‘feel’ when we’re truly contributing to our team (and when we’re not) regardless of how busy we are.

Conversely, have you ever got through half a week and felt like you’ve already “crushed it”? Let’s define that. I call it the “Thing Of The Week”.

It goes like this:

  • Of the things on today’s list, which one thing–if done–would make today feel like a success?
  • Of those top daily items, which one–if done–would make the week feel like a success? That’s your “Thing Of The Week”.

While the other things may still need doing, how would ensuring your “Thing Of The Week” gets done affect the way you feel about the coming week, and about your contribution to your team?

57: Start with success

Success is not a goal.

If it’s yours, you and your teammates are unlikely to achieve it.

I’d like to argue that “success” is a starting point, not a finishing line. An ingredient, not a destination.

Success: Trying until you reach a goal in the short/medium/long term.
Failure: Stopping that trying process prior to goal attainment.

  • If you try, then achieve the goal, that’s success.
  • If you try, then stop trying, that’s failure.
  • If you try, realize it’s unviable, change course then achieve the goal, that’s success.
  • If you try, realize it’s unviable, then stop trying, that’s failure.

How does adopting the premise that success is a starting point change the way you approach your work, as a team or on a personal level?

56: Their favorite testimonial

Do you have a junk-drawer full of ebooks, courses, and products?

To solve hard problems, teams often rightfully employ the processes and systems of others. Often good systems, too, but with mixed-to-no results.

Let’s talk about the next time you decide to download a PDF or buy a product. Consider doing so while affirming this as a team:

“We’re going to become their favorite testimonial” – your team

What does this mean?

  • You did everything it said and got the result. Most businesses wish people would do half the things they ask them to. “Seeing it through”–and creating a fantastic win for your team–thrills any provider.
  • You found the holes and showed them. Most customers/clients barely scratch the surface of what a product or service can do and, if they do, they’d never share a way to improve it. Utilizing their work so fully that you found the holes–and shared them–asserts to your team that you got every ounce of value out of it.

If you resolve to become everybody’s favorite testimonial, how would that influence how you approach your next opt-in or purchase? How would it affect how much value you get out of every activity?

55: 4 step solution

Every problem has a solution. Even the hard ones.

And while the road to a solution may vary, there’s comfort in knowing there’s a process of finding it. Turns out, the process only has four steps, posing as questions:

  • Do you know how to solve it? Y/N
  • If not, do you know how to find a solution? Y/N
  • If not, do you know somebody who does? Y/N
  • If not, find somebody who does.

Equipped with these steps, we’re unable to become ‘stumped’ or ‘stuck’ for very long.

Think about a problem you or your team is facing at the moment. How could these four questions help guide what you do next?

54: ‘Hard’ work

Most things aren’t as hard as we think they are.

‘Hard’ often replaces words like ‘new’, ‘unfamiliar’, ‘unknown’, and ‘different’. For example:

  • Persistent problems: If a business tries and fails to solve a problem, it becomes ‘hard’, even though there are people available to solve it for them, or show them how.
  • New challenges: If a teammate takes on another responsibility that has lots new of moving parts to it, it’s deemed ‘hard’, even though it’s well-defined and comes with plenty of training.

There are ‘hard’ things out there. Fighting a war. Losing a family member. Grievous manual labor. But learning a new skill? Or consulting about a business problem?

Think about the ‘hard’ work ahead of you. How could redefining it from ‘hard’ to ‘new’, ‘unfamiliar’, ‘unknown’, or ‘different’ change the way you tackle (and feel about) that work?

53: Good vanilla sponge

Guilty. We all want to make our important work the very best it can be.

That’s why we like to add icing and sprinkles to things: to try and make it better.

  • We want to do more: but often in doing so, we risk forgetting to master the basics.
  • The icing is exciting: but more icing isn’t more substance. It’s just a sugar rush.
  • But we like exciting: and a vanilla sponge alone isn’t that. But a good cake needs a good sponge.

While baking our next important work, if your mind (or brainstorming session) suggests “let’s add sprinkles”…ask yourself:

“Do we have a good vanilla sponge, yet?”

52: Unselfish feedback

How many times a day do you give or receive feedback?

Feedback can be one of two things:

  • An understanding of how something meets a goal,
  • A personal preference for how you’d do something differently.

Unselfish feedback propels good work forward. Selfish feedback not only slows it down but makes it lose its sense of direction. Of the two examples, can you tell which is which?

While giving feedback, ask yourself: “Is this feedback just ‘my style’, or does it help move things forward toward the goal?” If you’re unsure, you’re not clear enough on the goal.

Similarly, while receiving feedback, ask yourself: “Where’s the unselfish part of this feedback that will help me move things forward toward the goal?” This filter helps keep things on track.

Next time you give feedback, ask yourself, “Is this “Unselfish feedback?”

51: Stocky teams

If your team was a stock, would you buy it?

Everyone can invest. And when we do, we evaluate whether or not an asset is likely to give us an ROI. To continue the metaphor, what makes a good investment?

  • Direction: A ‘good buy’ team has a purpose, a plan, and is executing that plan. No unclear, volatile behaviors or activities.
  • Earnings history: A ‘good buy’ team doesn’t sit on its hands, doesn’t burn resources, and delivers an increasingly valuable quality of service.
  • Sustainability: A ‘good buy’ team doesn’t play for run-and-gun short-term gains, but organizes itself into a strong, long-term play.

The areas that make this stock unreliable, volatile, or undesirable are things a team can fix, just as any publically traded company might.

So, would you buy? If not, why not? What can you do about it?

50: A conductor’s role

When an orchestra begins to play, is the conductor nervous?

It’s not his/her job to be nervous: it’s every musician’s job to be nervous about their own performance.

So what’s the conductor’s job?

  • Lead: Negotiating a piece into a focused performance.
  • Listen: Keeping pace for everyone so the performance stays tight.
  • Conduit: Serving as a bridge between the audience’s eyes and ears.

That leaves the musicians with one job: to get the notes right.

After all, the conductor can’t un-play wrong notes or become a violinist mid-performance.

Are you a conductor on your team? Are you nervous? What will you do about it?

49: All yours

If this piece of music doesn’t give you goosebumps, I don’t know what will.

We’ve talked about why the peg counts, and about strategies to get results, and faster. Today let’s talk about how it’s all yours.

Every musician in the video above has clearly played that piece before.

A lot. And not just on the clock. But…

  • In their time: because practicing getting the notes right happens between the rehearsals, not during rehearsals.
  • In their minds: because it’s important, they may still be practicing while washing the dishes or walking the dog.

If they hadn’t, they wouldn’t be there, in that room, playing like that. Indeed, no musician could. Every one of them has their own part to play. Each part belongs to someone.

We don’t get paid for–or make a difference for–getting the notes wrong, at the concert or during rehearsal. We get paid while–and make a difference while–getting our notes right, while our teammates do the same.

48: A year in a month

What if we could condense a year of growth into a single month?

What would that empower you to do? I call this technique “YIAM Growth Challenge” – here’s how it works:

  1. Future: If your future self, one year from now, could send a message back to you today, what would the message be? What important lessons or techniques had you learned that had come to benefit you?
  2. Lesson: What’s the biggest lesson or teaching we can extract from that message so that we can focus in on it?
  3. Focus: How can we compress that lesson or teaching into a four-week growth challenge, condensing a year of unguided development into a month of focused growth?
  4. Steps: What steps would you need to take in that four-week period to ensure the growth took place?
  5. Partner: Who will keep you accountable to those steps?

How much advancement could you and your teammates create towards your important work, if you all committed to incorporating this discipline?

‘Team size’ x 12 = Total number of months condensed into one.

How about if you all did this every month for a full year?

47: Doing so much

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

This quote gets misinterpreted a lot.

And passionate, talented teams are a big offender.

There’s a temptation to interpret “we can do so much” as “let’s try to do everything at once.” Trading the chisel for another hammer dilutes the precision and commitment to good work.

  • Say ‘yes’ to the work. This also means saying ‘no’ to alternatives.
  • Own the work. One person responsible for each work on the team.
  • Refine or redefine. If it’s working, refine it. If it’s not, redefine it. This avoids the trap of “but we’ve tried everything.”

Let’s use Helen’s quote as a call to the clinical, radical focusing of meaningful team work.

46: Baton hand-offs

“The successful person is open-minded and tolerant on all subjects. If you close your mind, you will be shut off from the recognition of favorable opportunities and the friendly cooperation of others.” – Napoleon Hill

During a relay race, the trickiest part is always the baton hand-off. The better the hand-off, the easier the race.

How can we become better at hand-offs in our teams? We start, as Dr. Hill suggests, by being open-minded and tolerant on all subjects. Examples:

  • A copywriter learning terminal commands from a developer. Perhaps they could commit basic website text changes to a source code repository themselves, saving a developer from having to step in after every tweak.
  • A developer learning presentation skills from a relations manager. Perhaps they could better articulate the team’s engineering genius to stakeholders.
  • An administrator learning some basic image editing skills from a designer. Perhaps they could communicate more viscerally with everyone they meet.

Doing so may, in fact, help us recognize “favorable opportunities” from the “friendly cooperation” we initiate.

How could your team benefit from better baton hand-off?

45: For better for better

We’ve talked about how rare great teams seem to be. We’ve built fortifying walls together in defense of these teams.

How should we respond to that?

  • It’s never OK: Someone or some people are making or have made sacrifices to make your team possible. Challenge: Sacrifice ‘OK’ and bring your ‘Very Best.’
  • Have safe success: Someone or some people are investing or have invested in creating a safe corner of the marketplace for you to bring your best. Challenge: be invested in the team’s success.
  • (I’m)possible: Someone or some people are unwilling to give up on making your team’s mission a possibility. Challenge: be equally as unwilling to give up on that mission.

A team that only brings the very best, invests in their success, and won’t give up on their cause, is a team that wins.

The alternative to a team committed to success like this isn’t a team I’d want to belong to. You?

44: Internal opinion

A good friend shared an interesting dilemma today.

His team needs to hear something from an outside source for it to gain any traction. Translation: his insights and opinions are often undermined because he’s on the same team.

If it sounds backward, it is, but it’s also common. Let’s address that today:

  • Scenario 1: Someone has important skills or insights your team doesn’t. Solution: Bring them in, you might need them. They may become valuable partners and an extension of your team.
  • Scenario 2: Someone shares important skills with your team, but has a different approach. Solution: Invite them to share their way, and share yours–you should always be learning. But it’s a different approach, not gospel: your team’s opinions come first.
  • Scenario 3: Someone shares important skills with your team, and has the same approach. Solution: Invite them to share their experiences, and share yours–you may be able to learn together. But it’s just another way, not gospel:  your team’s opinions come first.

None of the above gives external opinions more weight than the opinions of team members. Consider these three scenarios whenever an external opinion or internal recommendation is made.

Not doing so is harmful enough to be worth my friend’s time sharing.

43: Teams that last

We’re told that the “career” is dying.

I’d like to argue that it’s not so much “career” as it is “building teams to last” that is dying. If companies or teams aren’t investing in themselves to maintain or nurture greatness, is it any wonder people look for greener pastures?

We’ve talked about what makes a great team before. What should such teams be investing in?

  • People: When people get better, everything gets better. Do you invest in each other?
  • Clarity: The clearer you are, the better peoples decisions become. Do you invest in your communication skills as a team?
  • Privilege: The more of a gift you are, the more impact opportunity we create. How are you being a gift?
  • Consistency: Be it speed, duration, quality, price, experience or quantity, better consistency means better promises. How good are your promises?

If you belong to a great team, invest in it–it’s your responsibility as a member to make sure your team is built to last.