Design for Quick Feedback

“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson

The great thing about business is that you can test ideas quickly to see if what you think or want to do is valuable. Small tests done quickly to get feedback from customers will go a long way towards pursuing or developing an idea further.

Yes, make a plan. Then try it out quickly to see if it resonates and creates interest and engagement.

Most things we see today are needed and businesses exist to give people what are known established needs. Things such as:

  • Car dealerships
  • Cleaning services
  • Grocery stores
  • Electronics stores
  • IT services
  • Banks

There is historical demand among the millions of people out there consuming such products and services.

If you are innovating on a new type of product or extending a concept, think about how to test your idea quickly by proposing and putting it in front of real customers. You can find out quickly via feedback how to further develop your idea or abandon it altogether.

Be Careful How You Grow in 2018

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New Years always feels so fresh with anticipation. We close the books for the previous year and reconnected with friends and family over the holidays. Then there is this new outlook of opportunities. Exciting.

I am thinking about a lot of different fronts for growth, as are many people I know. Growing revenue. Growing teams. Growing myself. Growing my family.

It’s all pushing, striving and creating. However, growth is not free. There’s always cost. And I take heed before I push. Maybe it’s from experiences over the years. Perhaps my energy is not what it used to be. I suspect I’ve learned some efficiencies, and I understand how reality has trade-offs.

For example,

You may double your revenue but lower your profit. They say, “Revenue is vanity. Profit is sanity,” for good reason.

You could spend so much time on your home life that your business suffers. You may spend too much time on your business that you lose your family.

You may invest heavily in friendships that wear out their welcome or luster. Or you could be neglecting much more worthy friends by spreading your loyalty around too thin.

You could give yourself to a new project only to find it’s a dead end after months of sweat and tears.

I’m not sure we can simply choose to turn off our ambitions and desire to grow. That instinct gets us out of bed to battle the world and make life better.

But, I do think that we can always consider the costs and outcomes of our pursuits. Is it worth it necessarily? It may well be what we need to do to move us off center in some area that has been boring, unproductive or unprofitable.

I do think there are things that are better than what we have now. A little thought about what we will give ourselves to is worthwhile. I want to come out of any growth with much more upside than unintended consequences that are costly. Cheers to a New Year.

Why Entrepreneurs Need To Be Contingency Experts

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The best laid plans will not work out. We don’t live in Eden. We live in a world where there are good intentions, but life gets in the way. Things go wrong all the time.

And for the entrepreneur, the person pioneering on the frontier of ideas and seeking to make them happen in reality, things always go wrong. There’s simply too much uncertainty around what is novel and untried.

The idea that an entrepreneur is someone who takes great risk and throws caution to the wind is a misnomer and a foolish path to follow. That’s not very smart or rational. Much of what entrepreneurship requires is exploration, discovery and testing. Smart entrepreneurs are always looking to reduce risk.

Otherwise, the uncertainty will smack you in the face. There is a method that works to avoid striking out early and often and that revolves around thinking through contingencies.

Entrepreneurs have to test their ideas, and when their work takes a turn, there should be contingencies in place.

So, let’s say you are testing a new software product idea. You are committed to spending $10K on the project with a developer you have found. You haven’t worked with this person in the past so you don’t have any idea how they might perform.

Instead of betting the farm, you could create multiple contingencies:

  1. Split the project up with a couple developers and define their complementary roles.
  2. Capture the knowledge in a centralized repository so there is continuity on the source code development.
  3. Create a competitive situation with parallel development paths and split budgets to see what solution works best.
  4. Set milestones and payouts based on clearly defined deliverables.
  5. Sell a solution instead of a tool should the delivery get compromised and use a first client to underwrite the project.

Your ideal plan will not play out. When dealing with something unproven and custom, smart entrepreneurs think through the various scenarios and have contingency solutions ready to go.

It not only takes the stress out, but you are being realistic. You can’t control people, problems or, much less, account for every possibility.

Entrepreneurs do not have the luxury of repeated methods that their corporate counterparts enjoy. They maintain and manage what is known and take incremental steps on already proven ideas.

If you are creating and innovating, then you have a much higher probability of failure. But it doesn’t have to stop there. With contingencies, you have the opportunity to take second, third and ninth shots along the way as you hone in on delivering.

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.

Does Perfect Planning Make Perfect Sense

It is really difficult to meet someone who has had a linear, planned out, perfect life, much less a predictable planned week. The number of variables to manage are too vast. The accident you did not plan for happened. The new competitor who got to market faster was not on the roadmap. Reality did not play out according to the financial plan or family budget that was meticulously engineered.

Plans are great, and often necessary, as long as we see them as a guide rather than the measure of failure or success. No plan is perfect. They are simply a tool to get to the goal. As a business coach, I have too often seen conflicting behaviors in people who would aspire towards their passion, yet they are stopped because they cannot see the perfect plan. Because the first ten steps are not clear, they do not even take the first step.

Far be it that you should miss the opportunities your heart desires to pursue because of the lack of security in perfect steps. The reality is that we do not start with answers in ventures that are new and worthwhile for us. We start with conviction. When a person presses me for certainty of process, the questions are typically based in their unspoken fear of failure. The debate moves to the “How” instead of the “What”. The latter is much more important. What is it you want? If you are clear on this, then the “How” becomes clear because you pursue your “Want” with passion. Think about it. There are things in your life that you wanted. You started with your desire and your commitment to your goal whether selfish or noble. When I was a teen, I can remember wanting a new mountain bike. It did not matter that I did not have a job or any savings. I was determined to have a new bike. That desire focused me. I found a job quickly and made the money I needed to buy the bike and all the accessories I thought were cool at the time. That process can be found as a common thread in my life for the things I have achieved, bought, and attained. How I got what I wanted was due to the following valuable pieces which work in all our lives:

  1. Desire Stronger Than Obstacles: When we are clear on what we want, then we are committed. Committment helps us face the obstacles. Everything you want has obstacles. If you see problems, then you are not able to overcome. If you see possibilities and answers because your desire is pulling so strongly, then nothing can stop you permitting your desire is in the realm of possibility. Don’t have half-goals. Have strong desire and make it clear to yourself why you want more success or more resources or more friends. If the answer is real and resonates with your core values, then you will find a clarity in your pursuit.
  2. Agility Beats A Straight Line: Your ability to change when new information or challenges come your way is pivotal. Most people in life face adversity with a faintness of heart. Rather than seeing adversity as part of the process of cordoning off the path to the goal, they see it as failure. This is dangerous thinking. Adversity, which is plentiful and waiting, will govern the boundaries of your desires rather than what you want. Know that the plan is shifting because you cannot plan all the information into your rudimentary assumptions. Think about rock climbers. From the ground, their vantage point is far different than halfway up the cliff. They make preliminary plans on what route to take to the top, but when they are in the moment and close, there is new perspective. The holds may be different, so they have to adjust. They have a guide, but not a rule. So must your life be in order to get in the game of pursuing your desire.
  3. Momentum and Effort Are the Fuel: Newton established that inertia is real in our physical world. A body in motion and a body at rest have tendency to remain in their state. It is hard to change states. You are either in the talking or the action state. When you only talk about your desires or goals, you are a body at rest. When you are moving through action, then this feeds your focus and navigation. Never underestimate momentum. Keep it going until you get to your desired outcome. Restarting is hard.

Plans are not meant to be perfect. They are our framework for taking the first steps. Don’t worship the plan. If you are not getting started on things you talk about rather than act on, then examine your paralysis. Inertia may be taking hold. Get clear on the end goal. Get a first set of plans. Do them until they do not work and make them align constantly to your conviction of the end goal. That is how winning is done.

Does Perfect Planning Make Life Perfect?

It is really difficult to meet someone who has had a linear, planned out, perfect life, much less a predictable planned week. The number of variables to manage are too vast. The accident you did not plan for happened. The new competitor who got to market faster was not on the roadmap. Reality did not play out according to the financial plan or family budget that was meticulously engineered. Continue reading