Too Many Moving Parts

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You may have to build a business with 100 employees. Maybe a 1,000. That’s the manpower tax to help get your product into the hands of your customer.

Instagram had 13 employees serving 30 million users at a $500M valuation at one point. That’s leverage. Compare that to the 145,000 people Kodak employed in the industrial age in 1988.

We are lucky today. Technology allows us to do a lot more with less. I am not sure, even with that leverage, why human nature, when given a choice between the complex and the simple, tends to choose complexity. It’s one of those boggling mysteries to me.

When you build a business with too many moving parts, you have a lot of cost and management. It’s common and easy to do. Adding takes much less mental and emotional focus than subtraction.

There’s likely a simpler business to be in than the one you have designed. You may have to be more thoughtful about what you are doing, but that may be what is holding back your ability to grow.

Can you work with a vendor and get rid of a lot of headaches in your business instead?

Are you moving irrelevant information around?

Do you have systems that you have outgrown?

Are you living in the past?

Constant pruning is a necessary business skill. It allows for the new. You can get rid of dead weight and functions that simply don’t add value any more.

What moving parts are you currently managing that doesn’t make sense to have around anymore?

Set Important Decisions to Opt-out

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There is such a thing as decision fatigue. Your willpower and ability to make effective decisions changes over the course of a day from mental weariness. When it comes to trying to respond and keep up with the demands of knowledge work, it’s hard to stay sharp and it’s easy to push out things that are important in exchange for the urgent.

There are important things I want to happen regardless of the tsunami of inputs. I want to spend time with my wife and kids. I want to fit into my pants and be able to climb a mountain without problems. I want to enjoy good friendships and fun. I want my responsibilities as a business owner, family man and consultant to be done well and on time.

Thus, I put the important things in my Gmail task list and my Google Calendar. They are recurring and for me to skip an appointment or task becomes a decision to opt-out. I think important things should be opt-out. Otherwise, the decision has to keep being evaluated, and depending on circumstances, I may bypass what I already decided was important.

It’s better to see that date, my workout or my weekly list of deliverables in my calendar and task list. I show up and get it done. The decision was already made and it’s one less item I have to think about.

What do you want to get done every week or month? How about making a list and getting those things into your calendar. Book that room, pay for that membership, send the invitation or develop a weekly list you have to opt-out of each week. You have effectively saved yourself some decision making fatigue in this crazy world that can easily topple you off your game.

Don’t Do Grand Openings

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I don’t do grand openings. If you have an idea, skills and the hard work to persist, simply get your first customers and start serving them.

This idea that we are anything special out in the marketplace of hundreds of thousands of options is absurd. You have to earn that over time from learning, iterating and contributing.

Whether you actually contribute is yet to be determined and a celebration before it happens is bad manners.

Instead, when you are ready to be useful, how about:

  1. Developing a path for your customer to be successful. Get buy-in.
  2. Executing towards the plan.
  3. Communicating when things happen or when things change.

Then do it again and refine as you go.

I think you’ll use your energy and everyone’s attention in a much more productive way.

Manage Oneself

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That one can truly manage other people is by no means adequately proven. But one can always manage oneself. Indeed, executives who do not manage themselves for effectiveness cannot possibly expect to manage their associates and subordinates. Management is largely by example. Executives who do not know how to make themselves effective in their own job and work set the wrong example. ~ Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive

I side with Drucker. I do not think that managing other people is adequately proven. Most of the conversation I have experienced about work is complaining about employees and managers.

The one thing I can control is my own effectiveness. I work hard to improve my habits and get output from my labor. A lot of this is keeping to rituals, pushing to learn something new every day and staying humble.

Last week my lists of projects were getting out of hand. It was one of those cycles where the pile was keeping me from seeing the important things to get done. So I do what I always do:

  1. Cut out things that don’t matter
  2. Completed and shipped low hanging fruit
  3. Simplified my lists
  4. Identified the big things that did matter

I can’t control the chaos, but working through my own management processes over the years has been cathartic and effective. It’s extremely satisfying to manage my own effectiveness and see where that might spill over and move the needle elsewhere.

Collecting and Testing Mental Models

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Principles prevail in a world of chaos. Much of life is indeed chaos. I think the importance of collecting and testing your mental models – how you problem solve and approach the world – is critical to drive success.

The 80/20 rule can help you focus on what has the best payoffs.

Eliminating drain people can help you be free from drama and the downside of dysfunctional relationships.

The law of diminishing returns can keep you from wasting energy and time where marginal returns are the leftover.

These are tested tools that create results when practiced intensely and regularly.

Have a place to collect your mental models. Test them in the course of doing business. When they work, that positive reinforcement along with learning the nuances of each principle, can embed themselves as habits in your psyche and routines.

I like to write down thought processes and mental models I learn from books and people. I like to write blog articles of my learnings. I like to share what works to help others. These practices get me results.

Everyone operates from mental models. May are not intentional and miss out on magnifying the effects of focused outcome thinking. Some mental models have downside. Total hedonism, for example, has plenty of upside, but can also ruin ambition.

Perhaps your results are elusive because some of the things you know are not regularly practiced. Or if you are scattered and not getting the outcomes you want, a few focused practices could be the game changer.

Keep a notebook or use Keep to start tracking the mental models you learn and apply. It’s a simple practice that can quickly yield desirable outcomes.

The Strategy of Going with the Winner

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There is an irony about free markets that the collective participates in. On the one hand, we have massive choice in many categories. On the other hand, over time, we have a winner-take-all outcome. Over time, people consolidate and choose the best.

We don’t have all these phones. We have iPhones.

We have Starbucks, Netflix and Salesforce.com.

Early on, there can be many software options and platforms to choose from. Later on, there is an actual, or perceived, best in class.

If you are building services, you may want to opt for the efficient path and go with the winner. Winners enjoy the support of customers and their funding. They have larger ecosystems with partners, plugins, apps, marketing agreements and all the pieces for standardization.

Furthermore, it’s easier to move information, find talent and get things done around the winner’s platform.

On the one hand, “best” is not always necessarily functional or technical. It’s often a business case of inertia. You can push for merit on features of a runner-up technology or offering. However, there’s a lot of waste trying to metaphorically boil the ocean and convince others what product line should be the standard bearer.

There’s also a simplicity to choosing the winner. You don’t have to spend energy on choice. You can simply execute and give people what they want.

If you take a quick audit, there’s likely opportunity and efficiency you can gain by picking the winners so you can use those products, services and platforms to simply get your business done making money and interfacing with customers.

Updating My Daily Routine

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“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” – Darren Hardy

Our habits define us. I like to tweak how I approach days and I experiment with my habits continually. These days, I have a few things that get me mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually engaged with the bigger goals I am pursuing:

  • 30 push-ups
  • 30 sit-ups
  • Prayer
  • Brain dumps
  • Checking and managing lists
  • Long walks
  • Researching and sharing
  • Writing
  • Reading

I didn’t get there abruptly with my daily routines. I started with just one thing first and focused on keeping consistent. I’ve also weeded out things that don’t give me high return on my energy or revenue.

This is largely my unseen life and what goes on when I am alone. And it has been foundational to helping me grow personally and help others grow as well.

If you are stuck, perhaps it’s time to add to your daily routines or subtract time and energy wasters.

You have to be intentional. Everything is changing and working against you. And your collective value comes from your daily routines.

What results do you want? What are some small daily habits that can get you there emotionally, mentally and physically?

Always Monitor Relevance

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I went through a lot of old digital files recently in my Google Drive as part of a pruning day. I had everything from client projects from years ago to books I was working on to consulting and coaching tools for strategy.

The vast majority of information was irrelevant to what I am doing today. I would never use those files or information again, though they may have been building blocks to where I am now. What was highly relevant ten years ago had context. Furthermore, innovation has created an immense amount of new tools and ideas that make sense for me and doing business now versus before.

Relevance has to always be questioned. Otherwise, we are stale and holding on to what doesn’t matter anymore. The habit of relentlessly getting rid of the old to make room for the new keeps you in the game.

I want to focus on now and the future. And the last thing I need to clutter that pursuit is entertaining irrelevance.

 

Alignment as a $36M Running Value

The SaaS company WorkBoard announced it closed a Series B round for $23M to total out its fundraising to $36M to date. At this point with their revenues tripling year over year, they have market validation. With more complexity and faster growth, keeping the main thing the main thing is a core business challenge for many of today’s businesses. They are providing extreme value.

Even if you outline the steps and processes for your team, you don’t necessarily have alignment right away. That challenge of alignment is part of the continuous hard work of leadership. Having tools that align work with goals with strategic priorities is a giant help.

Business intelligence, Salesforce.com Dashboards, analytics and SOP’s are helpful tools to creating clarity on what needs to get done for team alignment. I think most managers have the responsibility to create clarity and then get alignment from their team members. It can be a grind. What’s in one person’s head as important may not necessarily be true for others on the team. That can create breakdowns or mediocre outputs.

Also, team members can be working on things that simply don’t matter or have much lower priorities.

Everyone I know that is growing their business has the problem of alignment and clarity. The problem is amplified by the speed of change and volume of information that clouds our thinking.

If you can be in the alignment business, which is largely the work today, it’s big money and opportunity. Knowing what to do, doing it well and doing it consistently with a team is often elusive.

We have plenty of knowledge, tools and connection. We need the leadership to make what we often know are important items work like a machine based on what we value as important.

Are you in the alignment business?

Minimize Your Digital Platforms

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We have a hard time appreciating what drag does to our lives and work. If you’re used to sifting through your junk to find your clothes, notebooks, gadgets or everything to help you in a day, the friction may be lost on you. It’s become a habit that’s comfortable and unnoticeable over time.

It’s easy to pick up a subscription or tool here and there. After all, software’s incremental cost of distribution is extremely low. So, freemium is a sensible model to attract and entice new users.

But, digital platforms still take up mental space. If you have data or partial use within many tools, the question of whether you are getting value, or much less, creating drag in your psyche, becomes a cost factor.

You only have so much attention.

You have very specific goals that truly matter to you.

It’s hard enough to focus and get your goals. Adding more things to manage in your life can affect your creativity, productivity and clarity. These are all critical to making ideas happen.

So, how about simply taking pause and conducting a digital audit:

  1. Write down the goals that matter for your success.
  2. Write down what digital tools help you get there.
  3. Write down all the tools you currently have beyond the ones that help you.
  4. Unsubscribe and get rid of the ones that don’t matter.
  5. Recommit to the platforms that truly get you results.

Consolidation, commitment and focus get you much more bang for the buck in terms of applying your attention.

We live in a world of too many options and distractions. Winning is less about having something novel and much more about executing with what matters and works.

These days I find I get a much better return by focusing and doubling down on what works in the world than sampling every option that comes my way.