Building the Boring Business

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I enjoy drama, action and suspense when I watch a movie to relax and let my mind and emotions wander. However, I don’t find heroics and craziness entertaining or useful in business. In fact, my goal with entrepreneurs and business owners is to build a boring business based on systems, processes and execution that produces consistent cash flow.

That sounds reasonable, but often it goes against the programming and nature of the owner operators that believe charisma and heroics has won the day. I get it. We like superheroes and long to be one.

Emergencies pop up and uncertainty continually deals a hand here and there. When I see volatility or repeatable drama, then my conclusion is that something foundational is not working.

If you ever have gone on factory tours of large manufacturers of cars, electronics or packaged goods, you don’t see chaos and frenetic energy. You see systems that drive output. The systems are there to drive towards a singular result. It’s a boring business and it works to get goods into the hands of customers. The goal is making the customer happy and drive revenue.

But well-run businesses do not simply appear overnight. There’s thought around how materials, information and talent flow. Systems work well with focused results by removing the crises, variables and gotcha’s that snare lesser performing operations.

The boring business happens because of strong leadership and a commitment to not repeat insanity from continual failure. This not only includes project management or operations but in how the business cares about and manages client relationships, grows revenue via a continuous pipeline and continually innovates. These are all parts of a business that can be creatively systematized. The energy and creativity for a boring business can be put in the design and execution of processes that stay ahead of chaos.

Sure, you can spend time getting lost in details and putting out daily fires. But when you step back and take a look at anything that repeatedly pops up and slows down the main event – making your customer happy – have you really solved the root problem of poor systems? Is a lack of commitment to process simply leaving the door open for problems later?

Perhaps team members need regular training and testing of their knowledge and skills. Or you may need a knowledge base and repository to keep information so you don’t have to keep reminding people how business should be done.

In many cases, you might simply need to notice the repeatability and frequency of problems. Do you like heroics simply because it appeals to the ego or makes you feel like you are working on something?

I like drama to stay at the box office or in my recreational fun going up or down mountains. When it’s completely possible to keep a business focused on delivering value and driving revenue, no thanks. Give me the boring business instead and leave the adventures for other parts of life where it belongs. #nodrama

Create More Options and Stop Working Harder

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When you are not getting the results you want, is it better to try harder or diversify your options? While there are myriad circumstances, when the law of averages governs the game you are playing, more options, attempts and scenarios can be a strategic move.

Instead of working hard on one relationship build a hundred more with different people.

Instead of trying to make one market or channel work, test others to uncover more opportunities.

Instead of putting everything in one employee’s responsibility, load balance and create redundancies with several team members.

The strategy fits situations where working harder with determination has diminishing returns. And instead of getting locked into less optionality you can open up more channels for opportunity and feedback. You mitigate risk and get to look at what percolates from diversification.

In addition, you can add the hard work and number of attempts into your new options to see what outcomes will produce results.

When I was a kid, I played a lot of sports. Some came easier than others. At some point, I had diminishing returns playing baseball. I put in hours and hours throwing, catching and batting. But I could easily see how teammates had better results for their efforts. It didn’t discourage me, but even as a young kid, I could tell I had an upper limit.

I went on to other sports with some successes and some mediocrity. But trying a lot of them and testing for what I could get out of myself gave me perspective on what would work for me, much like many other youngsters discover.

Eventually, I found that distance running fit. I got results from putting work in. Not my first pick of sports, but I had to go with what worked and I made that my bread and butter sport through high school and college at the expense of other sports. It was worth it to me for the work I was going to put in.

There’s a world of options we can easily get overwhelmed by out there.

A platform that your customers interact on would make for the best use of your time, for example.

A group of friends can be much more fun and rewarding than other social groups with different tastes.

And if you find yourself getting stuck, merely working harder, then how about taking that energy, time and focus to diversify far and wide? Use that strategy to create new momentum and insights that help you get out of the rut. Going wide can create new energy and opportunity in contrast to simply pushing deeper into things you are comfortable doing.

This is especially true for things that used to work in a different era and don’t work as well anymore.  The better strategy is to diversify and open up new channels you may not have considered. Do it at the expense of what you already know or are accustomed to.

Ultimately, you are giving yourself better probabilities of finding higher returns of your time, money and attention.

What do you need to stop working harder at and go wider with instead?

Unburden Yourself

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I cannot overstate the value and pleasure of an unburdened life and clear mind. It’s too easy to overcomplicate our lives with so many things that simply do not matter. I have observed the reality that Robert Ringer puts forth about human nature:

Human beings, by nature, tend to seek ways to complicate their lives. Given a choice between a simple and a complicated method to accomplish an objective, most people will opt for the more complicated course of action. This is one of those great mysteries of life from which there is no logical explanation.

Some examples I have observed that create unneeded complexity where it’s a giant burden to people:

  • Maintaining high overhead instead of simplifying with technology.
  • Hiring friends and family for their comfort and familiarity over competency for a job.
  • Having complex legal structures, locations and operational redundancies in a business.
  • Traveling to the ends of the earth to work on deals that may or may not materialize when there are simpler deals locally.
  • Developing many different products and services that don’t pay off compared to a few that do.
  • Working in high hassle industries where most of your time is spent on non-productive work that doesn’t help your customers. i.e., high regulation industries.
  • Selling with manpower vs. systems
  • Constantly in drama
  • Always overworked and not having time
  • Managing too many open accounts
  • Continually adding every new technology or gadget
  • Maintaining social appearances
  • Arguing
  • Social media
  • Narcism

When you have much more noise than is required to get your goals, everything gets harder, unnecessarily. Why? It’s such a waste. It’s a blind spot, for sure, if you can’t fathom or see the possibility of boring, efficient results.

I don’t want to run around in chaos. I like working in calm and ease.

I don’t want drama. I like enjoying my wife and three kids laughing and snowboarding 50 mph down mountains.

I don’t want busy work. I would rather work little on things that matter with big payoffs.

I don’t want a ton of uncaring associates. I would rather have a few good friends.

I don’t want to talk about meaningless chatter. I want depth and honesty.

All the things we let leak into our lives have costs. And managing a ton of little details, costs and superfluous junk becomes a burden. It’s like dragging weights through life when we are trying to go fast.

What if you started shedding? Might be hard. After all, Buddha observed,

All unhappiness is caused by attachment.

You can certainly be happier, feel lighter and get results. Ever notice your burdens?

Don’t Waste Your Time and Commit to Personal Growth

It sure is easy to get distracted. No doubt you can zone out with so many entertainment venues that are accessible. But while you are snoozing, there are so many people that are committed to personal growth in their downtime that are getting ahead.

Think about the reality of the high-tech world we live in. Will getting more muscles or working harder and longer truly get you ahead?

We have machines that do the work. There is a relentless pursuit to make our world like WALL·E where humans didn’t have to move or lift a finger to do anything. Artificial intelligence, heavy machinery and automation put in the hard day’s work.

No, much of what is leverage and value today comes from hard thinking and creativity. And you don’t get creativity by checking out. You have to focus on personal growth in your downtime where you can gain insights, knowledge and awareness.

Your ideas will make you more valuable.

Your creativity will cause you to be in demand.

Your strategies will be launch points to test from.

But how can you generate ideas, creativity and strategies by working like a machine and then checking out? You might be able to fake it and get along in life for a bit. But people are pretty good at detecting substance from salesmanship.

When you have downtime, how about listening to an Audible book like Zero to One to understand how the future will be shaped. Or work on an article and pull your ideas together on a topic from other content and books to solidify your thinking?

Personal growth allows you to become more valuable. You cannot give what you do not possess.

We don’t have a scarcity of technology or ways of doing things anymore. Everyone can use the same tools, platforms and avenues.

However, there is more noise than ever. And if you can create clarity because you have developed in your own personal growth, then you can help solve the myriad complex problems that everyone is bumping around trying to harmonize in their chaotic worlds.

That supposes that you have taken time to think, gain insights and invest in your personal growth.

Can you change your habits to focus on your personal growth for half an hour a day to start? Pick up a book. Share insightful thoughts. Develop ideas. Make them happen. Become more valuable.

Strategies to Hack Uncertainty

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Everything you know right now probably won’t be intact in a few years. There are too many changes and forces that are acting on your present version of reality. And the pace is only picking up.

Simply look at people’s LinkedIn and see how fast they are switching jobs. Or do your research on wages, productivity and market enterprise displacements. What was true a few years ago is changing so fast.

You may feel the effects, and the worst strategy is to simply sit and hope that it won’t affect you. It’s a losing strategy. Hope hardly works.

If you make a key decision in your life and business to tilt the odds in your favor, then there’s not necessarily any guarantees that uncertainty will harm you, but you do increase the probability that you can be positioned for opportunity and avoid downsides.

But you do have to make that decision to be strategic and intentional. Here are some strategies to hack your life and position yourself:

  • Minimize your downside. Take inventory of your overhead, costs and commitments. Examine what is essential and keep those in play. Eliminate everything else. Imagine the worst case scenarios playing out in your business and how you can maintain what is essential. We like to think about the upside so much that we forget that there is a downside. A little attention and care can get you prepared for uncertainty.
  • Open up boring, predictable cash flow. There are many avenues, likely within your own industries, where you can build cash flow models. Set it up, work hard to make the cash flow work and let it run. Passivity is a critical component to freeing up your attention. You may need insights and strategies to find what those flows may be, but it is well worth the work to open up cash flow. You want to get ahead of this before uncertainty overtakes you.
  • Make friends. This is a daily habit that needs to be part of your rituals far before any negative events enter your life. Making friends is about trading. You have to be a person of value that people enjoy engaging. Try to be helpful and always ask, “How can I help someone today?” That focuses your lens. Business is about relationships and trading. Also, don’t burn bridges. Life is short and also has a way of resurfacing old relationships.
  • Cannibalize your position. You may avoid trying something new because it affects your current position. However, you could be a sitting duck if you don’t continually innovate. That’s because someone out there is already competing with you. Better to compete with yourself. This may mean cannibalizing your current position, but you will be better set up to move to the next advancements by setting up a parallel path, a separate project that is designed to innovate. While one position may come down, you have another path that will rise up.
  • Choose the most options. The antidote to uncertainty is to make the choice with the most options. Exercising and retaining optionality allows you to go with what makes sense in the unfolding of uncertain events. Make the habit of always choosing optionality. It’s gold.

These are strategies that focus your efforts in anticipation of what is bound to come in this fast-changing world. Sit still and you become irrelevant in the midst of large market forces changing the game under your feet continually.

Skip the Line and Take Smartcuts

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Shane Snow’s Smartcuts is an excellent read to get you off your mundane thinking tracks and moving laterally towards results. The insights from case studies of those hackers that have skipped the line and percolated up inspire and inform those that want to figure out how to get results fast with creativity and lateral thinking.

In his own pursuits to circumvent the success ladder, he analyzed the contributing pieces to what might otherwise be opaque to a casual observer of successful people. He shares principals and case studies of nine different attributes of smartcut thinking and approaches.

I liked the challenge to be prepared for waves where he shares analogies of big time surfers and how they excel based on timing, instinct and experience. Likewise, there are waves coming and going in our hyper growth world and it requires insightful and well-timed action based on steady preparation. You have to be in the game and know what you are looking for.

This is an important book for those that understand you don’t have to pay your dues. You can find the workaround, think like a hacker and get to your goals in a completely different style of thinking. It saves time, grief and expense when you put your mind towards creative thinking.

How can you take a smartcut in what you are doing?

Distractions Cost You

Making lots of tiny choices depletes one’s subsequent self-control. ~ Shane Snow, Smartcuts

I get worn out during a workday simply from death by a thousand cuts. Those thousand cuts take the form of the myriad decisions I am confronted with relentlessly.

What do I eat?

What do I wear?

What do I do today?

Should I call someone?

Email.

Making choices creates a mental fatigue and depletes our self-control. It becomes harder to stay on course with what we want to do and we get pulled by many things that don’t matter.

Choices wear us out.

I battle the onslaught by seeking to continually get rid of things in my life that make me have to deal with choice. The more I have in my life, the more I have to manage. And that kind of distraction has a cost.

We don’t live in a heavy labor society. We have division of labor, delegation, outsourcing, automation and software to help us with most work.

I’m not trying to conserve my physical energy. I’m trying to protect my mental and emotional health so I can maximize my creativity. For I agree with what Robert Ringer states so clearly:

“It is creativity, not hard work, that’s at the heart of success in any field of endeavor. And in order for a person to have the time to engage in creative thinking, he must learn to work efficiently.”

Much of that efficiency comes from not dealing with decisions that add little to no value to your goals.

I, for one, like achieving my goals and focusing only on getting results. Your ability to keep your choices simple and minimal will keep your mental space cleaner for all those inevitable decisions that will present themselves.

It’s why I adhere to a morning routine where I take care of myself first. The routine helps me relax and prepare for a day mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. Reading, push-ups, nutritional food and prayer are part of what helps my creative process.

There’s no cheating. My work is mental and emotional and I can appreciate that willpower, patience and creativity are not in infinite supply. They deplete over the course of a day because of having to make choices.

I also continually purge and minimize. This does wonders for keeping the decks clear and allowing me to get to the heart of what matters in my workflow. I don’t want to be dealing with objects, tools or distractions that pull my attention away from reading, writing and serving clients.

There are so many other traps when it comes to relationships, penny-wise-dollar-foolish matters and outdated projects that have run their course. I try to keep those off of my radar by getting rid of those energy-sapping things that only create stress without results.

Creativity is what matters and that does not come without a vigilance around protecting your life from distractions. It takes laser-focus.

Do you feel worn out and feel like you are lacking progress towards your goals? How could you create the habit of removing distractions?

Work Less

There’s a viral article at Medium, This Morning Routine will Save You 20+ Hours Per Week.

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The overall thought is that our workdays are antiquated. Where you work, how long you labor, and the fact that your energy levels approach diminishing returns are valid constraints to take into account in our brave new world.

What if you cut your work day in half? Perhaps work 4 hours a day?

Have you tried such an experiment?

Perhaps you gain more efficiency because you can’t waste time. You have to have your stuff together. It’s Parkinson’s Law used in reverse to your advantage. You start gaining efficiency and focus on what matters.

We are in the age of robots. Relatively speaking, massive amounts of the workforce made money because we were inefficient before. Human beings did legal work, worked accounting jobs and analyzed information to create meaning in the knowledge space.

But when there are initiatives like IBM Watson and artificial intelligence relentlessly working to take input and output information, trying to become more efficient than a robot is a losing strategy. Robots win when they can perform millions of computations and look for trends, local maximums and crunch data better than humans.

The Luddite can argue their position, but that is what blue collar workers pleaded when automation took over manufacturing jobs. The output was too great to argue with.

Trying to work longer, harder and faster may not be the best overall strategy for your business.

How about freeing yourself up. Build your health back up. Clear your mind. Invest more in creativity rather than productivity.

Your input/output ratio for money may reflect a much better outcome and you will be the better for matching your workflow and lifestyle to the speed and efficiency you see all around you.

Dare to try working less? What’s holding you back?

Be Smarter On Your Cycles

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I agree with Socrates’ famous lines,

The unexamined life is not worth living.

After all, simply continuing to repeat mistakes and not recognizing the opportunities to make something different happen is tragic, at best.

You have likely seen the ebb and flow of your business cycles, relationships and even cash flow. There are market moods, natural interactions and social psychology forces continually at work around you.

While especially true in a connected economy, we are not in control. We are part of a greater cycle and interplay with people.

If you are continually in despair or surprised by the down cycles, then how about taking a step back and look for the patterns? Is there a predictability in your business? Can you anticipate how your customers and marketplace behaves?

A better strategy instead of pushing harder in the down cycles is to use those times for activities that have more impact.

There’s a time to plan and a time to work.

Based on business cycles, how about spending more of your time aligning where you put your focus. Much like farmers sowed and reaped in season, you can do likewise in your endeavors. When it’s not time to reap, spend a lot of time sowing.

Pull out a sheet of paper. Think about wild ideas.

Or schedule out the next six months of what is important and break it down to weekly activities that will get you to the milestone. Put it in your calendar and do those priorities first in each week.

Cycles can be a real gift if you use them for strategy and perspective and then take action with the right timing. It’s not only a productive use of your time, but you can manage your energy, emotions and direction by stepping back and appreciating the natural cycles of your business.

What cycle are you in? Can you be more strategic with how you apply your attention and resources?

Repointing

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I don’t think too highly of simply working harder at something, especially if you are pointed in the wrong direction. It’s easy to turn off the brain and keep charging at what we are doing.

The awareness to look up and think about where you are headed can feel slippery and uncomfortable. Our habits can keep us in lock step. Being habitual can be pretty useful overall until we realize we are missing out on opportunities or something has changed under our feet.

I don’t know what is going to be different in the next five or ten years. But we can see that since we have automation, democratization of tools and knowledge and a global playing field, many things will certainly change.

It’s why repointing is so important. You have to keep questioning your position. Play it to its logical ends and ride the wave while you get benefits. But also work in parallel on contingency plans that open up new paths in light of change.

You can dip your toe and play. Join forums and subscribe to information sources that keep you clued in. Try out new tools and see where they make an impact. Keep designing and experimenting around your baseline business.

If you carry around the assumption that unseen forces are changing everything around us, then you can constantly question how you are pointed and test what your new directions might look like in terms of opportunities. It may lead you to more efficiencies, new audiences and a derivation of something that works.

How can you repoint and try out new experiments based on what is working?