DriverlessBookadile: Contents v.0.2

This post is part of the working draft of the DriverlessCrocodile Toolkit (read more here). I’d love comments, links to resources related to the theme, and original contributions.

What goes in?

This is a working document reflecting the current plan for the contents of the DriverlessCrocodile Toolkit, in order:

0. Take Action (Do it now)

This is Chapter 0. I’m alternating between thinking it’s best to have Action as a first principle, or Foundations. I started this series with posts on Foundations, but I’m leaning back towards action first. When I revisited Seven Habits for this post I was surprised to rediscover that that’s how Stephen Covey did it too…

1. Build Foundations (How to be, and the change you seek)

A chapter covering values, vision and mission – the foundations of building an organisation.

2. Learn to See (How change happens)

A chapter about lenses you can use to improve your understanding of how change happens, with the aim of identifying the levers at your disposal for making change. This chapter starts with the reminder that almost everything we see around us was made by people like us and highlights some lessons about how innovation happens.

3. Find Friends (Share the story)

A chapter about the importance of allies, colleagues, partners and mentors, and some tools for building networks – including resources about communicating well through writing and presentation.

4. Grow a market (Starting up)

A chapter about the search for customers and a (charitable?) business model that enables you to serve them. Covering small beginnings and minimum viable products, iteration and customer-development… tied into marketing and applying skills and approaches from Chapter 3 to telling your story to customers.

5. Managing

The meaty, unglamorous work of actually executing on your ideas. Resources about getting things done, and on leading and managing organisations – including the managing money.

6. Hinterland (Seeing further)

A chapter that identifies useful lenses that I think are the most useful (and often overlooked until people start building things) for understanding how change happens, including: history, including economic history, technology and the digital revolution, systems thinking and network theory.

So that’s it for now. What do you think? What’s good, what’s missing, what’s in the wrong order or wrongly grouped?

Amazon: working backwards and other stories

I’m late to the party on this, but I’ve just come across this very helpful technique for developing products and services, as used at Amazon. Essentially, you start by immediately writing a customer-facing press release for the finished product, and work backwards from there:

Each consists of a one-page “press release” (for an offering that doesn’t even exist and might never be commercialized), a six-page set of FAQs (frequently asked questions that customers can be anticipated to have about the offering, and their straightforward answers), and often a bit more descriptive material, sometimes even a mockup or prototype.

The process we’re calling the heart of Amazon’s renowned innovation prowess is called “working backwards” and it takes its cue from Amazon’s long-established leadership principles. The first of them starts: “Customer obsession. Leaders start with the customer and work backwards …” Following that principle, these documents constitute a visualization mechanism. They force a person with an inventive idea to get very clear on the objective, and to describe it in a way that others can also grasp without ambiguity. The documents don’t just go into email boxes. Their authors present them internally with the kind of energy they would deserve if this were really the day  the offering was launched.

If the discussion wows its audience – a manager or set of managers in a position to allocate resources to develop it further – then the question quickly becomes: how do we accomplish everything it would take to get there? It’s fine if, as the work gets underway, discoveries suggest that the vision should change somewhat; and in that case the “PR/FAQ” gets revised. Wilke stresses that these are “living documents.” But still, “as you begin to iterate on the product, and you revise those docs,” he stresses, “you periodically compare them to the original ones to make sure you haven’t drifted so far from the vision that you’re not happy with what you’re actually building.”

Jeff Dyer and Hal GregersenHow Does Amazon Stay at Day One (Forbes)

Here’s a bit more on the process:

A press release is usually the very last step in the product development and launch process. It tells the world: “Here I am, this is what I can do, and this is why you should care.”

To be effective, the author must step back from the technobabble trap and communicate in terms that resonate with the target customer.

“One important element of the press release is that it is written in so-called ‘Oprah-speak’. Or in other words, a way that is easy to understand,” says Nikki Gilliard of Econsultancy. “This essentially allows Amazon to cut through tech-jargon and any descriptions that would only confuse the customer, in order to deliver a mainstream product.”

The starting point for the product definition is a customer-centric document, unconcerned with implementation details, technology or user interface design. Then, the focus shifts to what encompasses a truly great solution for the customer. If the press release is compelling, then you’re onto something.

“Iterating on a press release is a lot quicker and less expensive than iterating on the product itself,” says Amazon’s Ian McAllister. “If the press release is hard to write, then the product is probably going to suck. Keep working at it until the outline for each paragraph flows.”

Heather McCloskeyWhy the Most Forward-Thinking Product Teams Work Backwards (ProductPlan)

I love this idea. I’ve been thinking a lot about how important (and hard) it is to write good specs recently, and writing the press release and FAQs seems like a powerful way to keep customer focused even at the earliest stages. The idea of iterating on the press-release and FAQs in conversation with customers (‘spec as minimum viable product’) makes it better still.

The rest of the Forbes article is great too – highly recommend.

Buzzy (Bee to Bee)

… is great when you’re working on your own, bashing through emails or making something.

It’s less good when you’re making important decisions, working with groups of people or dealing with situations that require listening, sensitivity and thoughtfulness.

Whether it’s caffeine or adrenaline, try to buzz at the right times… Or to do the right kind of work when you know you’ll be buzzy.

Specs, laws and floors

A spec sets standards and defines output, and laws set the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.

They are indispensable, but here’s the thing: specs and laws are always floors. You can’t legislate the maximum.

There is always an extra mile.

There are unlimited extra miles in just about every direction.

Once we’re meeting spec (within the law) and doing it consistently well, it’s helpful to ask these questions:

  • Which extra miles are most important to my customers, and which do they notice?
  • Which are most helpful to my customers, to my organisation and to society in the long run? (This sounds similar but is a different question)
  • How can I make spec with less effort, and grow my capacity to exceed it in important and memorable ways? (c.f. the placebo effect)
  • How can I create a culture where going above spec and getting at the spirit of the law – a culture of kindness, generosity and a default of giving people the benefit of the doubt – is the norm?

Thanks to Kevin for pointing this idea out, and to Seth for the reminder.

Seth Godin on physical books

A book is a souvenir of an idea.

You come in here, and you see something, and you go “Oh yeah!” and then you can go do something.
Whereas who knows where it is on my harddrive?

They’re like old friends.

I think that the magic [of a book] is sort of like how people used to talk about radio, as “Theatre of the Mind.” You would hear things but you’d have to put the pictures on in your head.

Books are even more than that because you don’t even hear it, you have to add the voice, the noise in your head.

What is magic about books… is that it’s the only form of media that can be reliably produced by mostly one person, but that stands the taste of time.

A tweet goes away, a Facebook update goes away, a movie you need like a hundred people.

So this is like that sweet spot inbetween where I can say “Every word in this book I wrote, I thought about it for a year, it’s what I was thinking about at the time. Here.”
And twenty years from now and fifty years from now, you can still read it.

Seth Godin – on The Good Life Project

Peter Drucker on improving decision making with feedback analysis

I’ve read and appreciated this suggestion from Peter Drucker enough times that I’m finally going to apply it.

Here’s the idea:

You can learn to identify your strengths by using feedback analysis. This is a simple process in which you write down every one of your key decisions and key actions along with the results that you expect them to achieve. Nine to twelve months later, check the actual results against expectations.

After two to three years of use, you will know your strengths by tracking those decisions and actions where actual results fell in line with or exceeded expectations.

Once you have identified your strengths through feedback analysis, you can use this knowledge to improve performance and results in five ways:

1) Concentrate on your strengths
2) Work on improving strengths. You may need to learn new knowledge or update old.
3) Recognize disabling habits. The worst and most common one is arrogance. Oftentimes poor performance stems from an unwillingness to pursue knowledge outside one’s own narrow specialty.
4) Remedy bad habits and bad manners. All too often, a bad habit such as procrastination or bad manners makes cooperation and teamwork all but impossible.
5) Figure out what you should not do.

Peter Drucker – The Daily Drucker

“Be healthy” is not a goal

It’s undefined.

You can’t achieve it and be finished.

It’s a desirable state, and a good thing to want – but it’s not enough to help you achieve it.

With desirable-state-to-achieve-and-maintain type “goals” like this, it’s helpful first to acknowledge that you will never be able to tick it off. Same goes with the following:

“Be a good friend and family member.”
“Keep the house liveable.”
“Have enough fun.”
“Keep growing spiritually.”
“Have a meaningful career.”
“Make a contribution to my neighbourhood.”
“Achieve financial security.”

These ‘state’ goals need specific, actionable, “did I do it or not?” sub-goals in order to be maintained – usually about how you spend your time.* If you make good sub-goals, achieve them, and set further goals regularly, you’re much more likely to achieve them.

*I heard someone recently talk about turning goals into time (Dave Allen?), and that’s a helpful idea.

Thanks to Jeff Sanders 5 AM Miracle (ep #308) for the reminder.


Back to back meetings are a bad idea:

  1. Unless you or the chairperson is really good, you’re almost certain to be running late at the end of the first meeting.
  2. You need time – at least half an hour – to slow down, wrap up your thoughts from the old meeting, and get your head ready for the next one.
  3. You need time – ideally more than half an hour – to allow for the above and be ready for people who turn up early, to welcome them properly, to be the gracious host you wish you were.
  4. Travel time isn’t included in the half-hour buffer rule.

See also 30/90, Seth Godin on Slack in Systems and More on slack in Systems and resilience

Questions of the day (leverage)

  • What is the biggest contribution that I can make to this team or organisation?
  • What does it mean for me to be good at my job? What would be happening around me if I was good at my job? How would I feel? How would the people around me feel?
  • What’s getting in the way?
  • What do I have to do to be able to make progress? (long list)
  • Out of the long list of things that will help, which would make the most difference? Which would enable not just progress, but accelerating progress towards our goals? (These are high leverage activities.)
  • Who can I ask for help?

Write your answers down.
Write down your decisions.
Write down what you’re going to do.
Write down what you think will happen.
Come back later and see what happened. (This is Peter Drucker’s Feedback Analysis)

With thanks to Jeff Sanders and the 5 AM Miracle Podcast, ep #303 for the reminder of the importance of vision (defining the work) for specific tasks, not just for organisation.


What would happen if you made a 30/90 rule?

It looks like this.


For every “ten minute job” that isn’t completely routine – an email, a payment, a quick call – allow 30 minutes in your schedule.

Then you’ve got five minutes to be running slightly behind and get to the loo or make a coffee, ten minutes to find the email, password, bank details, and other incidental information you’ll need to do the job, ten minutes to do the actual job, and five minutes to be running late in, making coffee, firing off replies to short messages in before the next thing.


Allow 90 minutes for every one-hour meeting. If you really have an hour’s work to do (and you’ll probably lose focus if you have much more) and you want to do it with time to say hello properly to the person you’re working with, to actually think, and to finish on time, then you’ll need an hour and a half. Time to say it’s time to finish fifteen minutes before you do, time to note follow-up actions and book the next meeting, and time to actually finish and get out of the room.

See also Seth Godin on Slack in Systems and More on slack in Systems and resilience