Sprinkler system

Using a garden sprinkler system is a type of outsourcing – to technology, instead of people.

The time saved is almost certainly worth the money spent.

Whether it’s abdication/dumbing down/opting out/wanton destruction of a perfectly good job or creates the opportunity to improve the garden with new and better work (finding better grass, planting new roses, adding a home-made sundial) isn’t about the sprinkler.

Friction (3): when friction helps

Friction in the wrong places slows us down and drains our energy, but it has its uses:

  • Friction in processes or emotional friction it’s often a sign that we have work to do
  • Friction is our friend when we need to be slowed down – it makes us pause, think, look before we leap and check that things are right. Getting people to agree to things, formal sign offs and purchasing processes all have their place.
  • Friction can be a filter – making something more difficult can encourage people to drop out, help them (or you) to realise it’s not for them, saving everyone time.

So what? Some questions.

  • Where are the most painful points of friction in your workflow? What slows you down – or slows others down as they work with or for you? Are there barriers you can remove to make things easier? Which relationships do you need to invest in – or end?
  • Where do things happen faster than you’d like? Add a step – a form to be completed, a permission, an audition – to slow things down.
  • Use friction to discourage people who aren’t serious. Make it meaningful and relevant (like giving you information that you always need to ask for or candidates demonstrating a skill in a real piece of work). Fewer people coming through a process allows you to do better work with those that do.

A little bit extra

A few percent over or under makes a big difference in the long run.

  • A little bit less on your plate each meal – three times a day
  • The biscuit you don’t eat – twice a day, every day
  • The run you don’t skip even though you’re taking your kids to the park later and will get some exercise then anyway
  • The little bit of unassigned time that helps you catch up on emails and makes you feel in control of your inbox, rather than at its mercy
  • The tiny moment it takes to say hello to people properly and read the mood when you enter a room
  • The one-line email saying thanks that makes an exchange feel complete
  • The tip you gladly give when you’re not sure you should because it’s a better mistake to make
  • Allowing five minutes to put on your shoes

What are your little bit extras – to add and to avoid?

Friction (2): emotional friction

This is a different kind of friction: the uncertainty, delay and discomfort that comes from lack of trust or understanding. Like bureaucratic or procedural friction, emotional friction slows us down and makes things more difficult than they need to be. It takes many guises:

  • The extra time we spend second-guessing and explaining ourselves because we’re worried someone will take what we’re saying the wrong way;
  • The time we spend crafting a treading-on-eggshells email to a customer or colleague or skirting around an issue;
  • The things that really need to be said that we avoid saying completely because we’re desperate not to offend, or can’t stand upsetting others (the relationship is too fragile to take it);
  • The energy we waste worrying about how we sounded or looked, or what people thought of us (whether or not anyone cared);
  • The work we lose (in terms of time and quality) to distraction frustration, disappointment, heartache, and hurt when trust breaks down;
  • The opportunities lost because we (or they) couldn’t listen or properly consider an idea because of the (noisy) emotional elephants in the room;
  • The energy loss that comes with dreading the next conversation / message / arrival at the office;
  • The knock-on damage to our health and other relationships (we’re snappy, distracted, less generous) that emotional stresses cause;
  • The small problems that grow way out of proportion to their importance because un- or mishandled as a result of emotional avoidance;
  • The decisions that get left unmade because they touch on painful issues.

Emotional friction has causes on both sides of any relationship (in intentions, words and actions, and how they’re perceived), and it usually needs teamwork to solve and avoid it.

So what, Sharky?

  1. Recognising emotional friction – in yourself and others – is the first step in being able to address and minimise it.
  2. Once you’re aware of the negative impact of emotional friction, you’ll learn to see it coming – to spot energy drainers, time-wasters, unpleasant customers as they enter your life – and politely say ‘no thanks’ at the door, because they’re not worth it.
  3. You’ll also better understand the value of enthusiasm, a positive attitude and healthy sensitivity to others (as opposed to technical skills) when you’re hiring or building partnerships.
  4. When emotional friction is bringing you to a standstill, recognising the emotional component (yours and theirs) can help you separate the problem from your feelings about the problem, taking out some of the heat making it easier to see a way forward. Talking about how your’re feeling can help.
  5. Understanding how vulnerable we are to emotional friction forces us to talk about it in our team, and be explicit about the culture we hope to build, and how we hope to get there – and to acknowledge that this takes a long time.
  6. Seeing the waste that emotional friction causes pushes us to be more direct in our communication, speaking frankly and cutting problems off early rather than living with the ongoing friction for months or years.
  7. Understanding the importance of how people (you!) feel eliminates any last excuses for sloppiness or rushed-thoughtlessness in the name of ‘busy-ness’ or ‘being professional’ and motivates you to invest in slack.

Friction (1): costs to convenience

Friction is anything that makes it harder to for us to get something done – buy a product or use a service, do our jobs, learn something, enjoy ourselves.

There will always be friction – but poor design and execution and a lack of clarity about what things are for make it worse than it needs to be. For example:

  • unhelpful bureaucracy
  • long waiting times
  • extra travel
  • clunky interfaces
  • running things in series when they could be run in parallel
  • running things in parallel badly (e.g. grinding coffee and getting the milk out of the fridge before starting the kettle boiling)
  • Unnecessary approvals
  • lack of information (including opaque information) about what’s available, when and how, how much it costs, and other requirements
  • Dispersed or contradictory information
  • excessive security or controls compared to the risk (and always if poorly executed)
  • choke-points in buildings, single-checkouts in busy supermarkets
  • A lack of standards or consistency (think of Wi-Fi, electrical voltage, computer connections, weights and measures)

How to set salaries

Some ways of thinking about setting salaries:

Market Rate

You pay the lowest price that the market will bear. The bigger the market (the more appropriate candidates that you can reach), the lower the price is likely to be. This is commodity pricing: an average sort of price to attract average (or cheapest possible) candidates.

Market-plus

You pay the market rate plus a bit, fishing for better-than-average candidates or at least that your recruits will work better for you as a result of higher pay.

Market-minus

Sounds silly, but it’s quite common in the world of non-profits. You pay a little below market rate to filter out people who are in it for the money, as opposed to those who value the work itself, share your vision, are committed to the cause.

A living wage

You come at the pricing question the other way round – not “What’s this job worth?” or “What’s the lowest wage I can get away with paying for this work?” but “How do I think members of my team should be able to live?” This could end up being below market, in which case you end up with another values-filter, or above market, in which case you risk looking wasteful or attracting people who want to work for you for the wrong reasons.

I like the idea of starting from a living-wage – and if it looks too generous:
a) It’s a better mistake to make than being stingy
b) You’ve got the interesting problem of helping your recruits to be worth it.

Podcast Recommendation: Econtalk with Alain Bertaud on Cities, Planning, and Order Without Design

This is a great episode of Econtalk. Bertaud uses labour markets as a lens for thinking about cities. Helpful examples of emergent order and the challenges (impossibility?) of planning in complex adaptive systems.

Highlights (coming up) include:

  • Discussion of the importance of culture and context in how cities develop;
  • Bertaud’s explanation of his broader-than-usual understanding of labour markets;
  • When planning and regulation is helpful and when it’s damaging;
  • The trade-offs made by new arrivals in a city (and the danger of planners trying to decide these for them);
  • The way that property markets can turn development costs into opportunities.

Highly recommend.

Finishing lines (4) – two numbers

Here’s Seth Godin with some of the best advice I’ve heard for drawing (finishing) lines. It’s especially relevant for businesses.

Q: I’m wondering about personal financing your company and where you draw the line if you’re funding it yourself?

Rule number one is you never put up your house. Don’t laugh. This means you can’t sign a personal guarantee on anything. “You want to rent this? Ok I’ll rent this, but I’m not signing a personal guarantee on anything.”

I have not signed a personal guarantee. I was bankrupt for eight years. I was this close from having to close down for eight years and I still never signed a personal guarantee for anything. That is a line I have chosen to never cross and I encourage everyone to do. The minute you do, suddenly there’s a 3-year-old at home who’s going to have to live on the street if you make a mistake. I just don’t know how to take risks when that’s at stake.

Then the advice that I give people is, if we’re going to be intentional about this, you need to write down a number and a period of time.

The number, it can be as big a number as you want, is the maximum amount of money under any circumstances no matter what that you’re willing to put in. And when you hit that number you can’t put in another penny.

People hate this. They say, “But what if something blah, blah, blah.” NO. There just has to be a number.

The second one is, “How much time before you give up?” And again, it can be 20 years. Fine. But you can’t say, “19 years and 11 months into it, but wait there’s one more deal that might come through.”

You just have those two numbers because if those two numbers are in place and your spouse is aligned with it, you never have to worry about it again. It’s off the table.

This whole situational thing, “I just need $2,000 more,” that’s lying to yourself. The discipline early on is so valuable because then you can spend 100% of your time focusing.

So you raise more money than you think you need and you treat it like it’s the last money you’re ever going to have. It’s way better than always wondering where that next nickel is going to come from.

Seth Godin – Start Up School Ep 11: Cash Flow
From a transcript by Kevin Evans