The switch (2)

“What am I hoping to get?”

Once we’ve admitted to ourselves that we’re doing our work (at least partly) for ourselves, we can think more clearly about our motives by asking “What am I hoping to get from doing this?”

And we’re probably hoping to get several things: the knowledge that we’ve helped someone, the satisfaction of a job well done, that we’ve contributed to solving a problem, or made things a bit better. We might also be hoping to get paid, to be liked and appreciated or admired, to do something we enjoy, or be in a particular place, or spend time with people we want to be with.

Once we’ve uncovered these sources of motivation, we can think more clearly about how we feel about our work and people’s response to it.

“I want to make a contribution”

… is a fine motivation. The next questions are “Who is it for?” and “What do I want to give?” (coming soon).

“I want to be appreciated and admired”

… are motivations that we’re less proud of, but it does us good to notice and admit them, because they’re usually there.

It can be helpful to think about the causal relationship (if any) between these motivations and our contribution. We want to be admired on the basis of our contribution, be it through our professional work, or our kindness as a neighbour. I’m reminded of Adam Smith’s saying:

Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love.”

Adam Smith – Theory of Moral Sentiments

This is to say that we want genuine and deserved affection from the people we serve or work with, not wrongly-placed affection (which makes us feel like a fraud because we don’t deserve it).

Recognising this lets us focus again on the people we seek to serve, and on contribution. We start thinking “If I contribute my skill / care / art / humanity in a way that helps people, I’ll be appreciated. If I don’t, I don’t want to be.”

Thinking clearly about this is a step towards freeing ourselves from feeling hard done by or under appreciated – we’re no-longer doing our work for praise or affirmation (Seth Godin points out that there’ll never be enough of this), but because we want to make a contribution, with appreciation as a byproduct.

And we can go a step further: if we only wanted to be appreciated for our contribution, and we feel that we’ve made a contribution but aren’t appreciated or recognised… does it matter?

“I want to get paid… and maybe enjoy the buffet.”

Can go either way. Do you want to get paid through the nose for doing little work? Then you’re not working with contribution in mind, and you’re right to feel uncomfortable.

Do you want to get paid enough that you can keep doing this? This may be a lot or it may be a little depending on your circumstances. You may need to charge quite a lot – it might feel like a lot when you factor in fair wages, health insurance and pensions for your team… But you’ve made the switch from focusing on money to focusing on contribution, and on keeping on contributing.

It’s possible, of course, that there won’t be a buffet, and that people won’t pay you as much as you need or hope for. For one reason or other, your contribution isn’t worth as much to them as you think it is. You may need to change what you do, or change the story, or change your audience, or change who’s paying… and if you still can’t find a way, remember that you’re focusing on contribution, so the question becomes: “How are you going to find a way to do it anyway?”

Your business model might be “I will work a day job and do this for almost nothing,” because you’re doing it to make a contribution. Which is hard, but possible. There isn’t a necessary connection between the work you want to do, and getting paid ‘enough’ – but by looking at things the right way you might just find one.

The switch (1)

“Who is this for?”

Your work is always for you.

This is true whether we’re working for pay or we’re parenting, whether we’re working on something that’s very obviously for ourselves or giving up time, energy and money to serve others.

Even at our best (most generous, most sacrificial) – perhaps especially at our best – we’re working for ourselves. We give up immediate and obvious rewards or pleasures (for ourselves) for the deeper reward (still for ourselves) of doing something for other people.

And this is fine, and by being honest about it we immediately remove a layer of anxiety about our motivations by answering the question “Am I actually just doing this for myself?” with a straight answer: “Yes.”

This leads us to a far more useful set of questions: “What am I hoping to get?”; “Who else is this for?”; “What am I hoping to give?” and “Where am I focusing my attention?”

Some questions for making change happen

  • What’s the problem?
  • What networks of people and things underlie the problem, and what context or environment are they embedded in?
  • Who wins if you solve the problem?
  • Who stands to lose?
  • What’s in it for you? What else is in it for you?
  • What or who is keeping you honest?
  • Who else cares about this? Can you join them? Will they join you?
  • What (potential) points of leverage can you identify?
  • Is there a technical or technological fix?
  • What are the key relationships, processes, and resources necessary to make the fix work?
  • What are the key relationships, processes and resources for doing it again… And again? (What’s the wrapper?)
  • What story do you need to tell, where and to whom, to make this thing happen?
  • When will you stop?

Work through these questions, act on your guesses, then work through them again.

Seth Godin on leadership, generosity and charisma

You can say that charisma makes you a leader, but I believe that leading gives you charisma. And that changes everything: that you gain charisma through your generous acts of leadership.

You don’t need authority, you don’t need to win an election.

What you need is to act as if – to be this generous leader – and then over time, people ascribe charisma to you, and then you get picked.

Seth GodinSeeing the World Through a Different Frame on Big Questions with Cal Fussman

On assuming the best

Assuming the best of other people is usually the best position to assume.

Here are some reasons for this:

1) There’s a double-distortion going on in our interactions: we think that we’re nicer and more reasonable – and our foibles more loveable – than they probably are (call it +1 vision), while people who aren’t us see everything we do as a bit more irritating than perhaps it really is.

Assuming the best of others removes (at best) half of the distortion in our interactions, which is a lot better than nothing.

2) If we have a culture of assuming the best – in our families, or friendship groups, or with our colleagues – we can be hopeful of eliminating most of the distortion, and can relax a bit. The assumption that others will assume the best is liberating and makes it easier to say what we’re really thinking and try out new ideas and things.

3) It often fixes things. In the absence of concrete evidence of malevolent intent (or persistent thoughtlessness), things work better when you assume the best. A bright reply to the snotty sounding email that you received can often redeem it – either by showing the sender a different way of being, or (just as likely) by revealing their true (non-snotty) intent, or by opening up a chance to talk about the crappy day/week/month they’re having…

4) It’s also easier on you – it’s a nicer set of lenses for viewing the world, and it makes the journey easier and more fun… Which makes it more likely that you’ll be predisposed to spot good things, assume the best, and be gracious with the worst. It’s the start of an upward spiral.

So there you go. All the best.

Clayton Christensen on why customers pay a premium, or: bad products are expensive

If you hire a product to get a job done and it doesn’t do the job well, then you have to take it back, or throw it away, or give it away, or repair it, and go out and find something that will do the job well. And if that doesn’t do well then you have to test it, and talk to your friends…

When you find yourself buying a product and find that it doesn’t do the job well, it is very costly to find something that does it well. And that’s the reason why it can be so profitable if you organise around a job to be done: because customers will be delighted to pay a premium price for your product because the alternative – of something that doesn’t do the job well – is very costly.

Clayton Christensen – Where does Growth come from? (Talk at Google)

Spare 15

What do you do with a spare fifteen minutes?

Quite frequently, I’ll…

  • Continue a Whatsapp conversation
  • Skim the news
  • See who’s been coming to DriverlessCroc
  • Catch the next few minutes of whatever podcast or talk on youtube I’m listening to
  • Read someone else’s blog

More rarely, I’ll…

  • Think about a half-formed thought for a blog post
  • Make a foray onto Twitter, Facebook or Instagram
  • Spare a few thoughts for an email or problem I’m working on in my project (aka “work”)

Rarest of all, I’ll…

  • Think of the next thing I need to do at home
  • Plan a fun thing for my kids
  • Put my mind to the next family holiday

But those last three – and things like them – are keepy uppies for the most important things in my life, and the things that will bring me the most satisfaction.

Time to institute a new habit for those spare fifteens.*

* fifteen minutes here, fifteen minutes there, over a week, a month – sooner or later it adds up to real time.

Clayton Christensen: Jobs to be done (1)

Here’s a great insight from Clayton Christensen: people don’t buy a product or service because of abstract needs, but rather when they have a specific job to do.

So people don’t use public transport, or cars, or taxis because they need transportation in general, but when they need to go and do something specific at a specific time.

All people need to be healthy, but they only consume medical services when they notice that they are sick, or hurt, and have the ‘job to do’ of getting better.

All people have an abstract need for education of one sort or another at all times, but they generally only seek out and pay (in some combination of money, time and effort) for books or teachers or schooling when they have a need or want for a specific thing.

You can watch Christensen’s famous (and funny) example of what people “hire” MacDonald’s milkshakes for in the video below.

Benefits of thinking about customer behaviour in this way include…

  • Better understanding of why people ‘buy’ what you offer – understanding the job to be done is for more helpful for improving your offering than general demographic information or market research into how you might improve your product because it’s more specific, focusing on the critical moments when people actually buy
  • More insight into who else might buy your product – instead of asking “who is similar to my customer?” you ask “Who has a similar job to do?” and “What other jobs does our product do well?”
  • Stability – Christensen points out that ‘jobs’ are far more stable than products and users. Julius Caesar, Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs, for example, all needed to get letters securely from A to B – but the services they made use of to get the job done were radically different.

Resources: Steve Blank Playlist

If you’re not familiar with Steve Blank, start here:

The Principles of Lean

“No business plan survives first contact with customers.”

On Acting on Customer Discovery

If you’re going to go out and discover whether customers like your idea or not, this is not an outsourceable problem. The founders need to do this. Particularly, the people capable of changing strategy need to be the ones hearing good news and bad. … Getting feedback from customers is the most valuable thing you will do as entrepreneurs. It is not outsourceable.

Customer Development

The thing is to think as much in terms of developing customers as developing products. Once you’ve got the basic idea, watch all of this (long) video:

Bonus Material

Steve Blank: definition of a startup

I’m horrified to discover that I haven’t posted anything much focusing on Steve Blank’s work on Startups, customer discovery and iteration.

His definition of a startup is a great place to start:

A startup is a temporary organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.

Steve Blank – The Startup Owners Manual

And here’s a little more:

Entrepreneurs who have run a startup know that startups are not small versions of big companies. Rather they are different in every possible way – from goals, to measurements, from employees to culture. Very few skills, process, people or strategies that work in a startup are successful in a large established company and vice versa because a startup is a different organizational entity than a large established company.

Therefore, it follows that:
a)  Startups need different management principles, people and strategies than large established companies
b)  Any advice that’s targeted to large established companies is irrelevant, distracting and potentially damaging in growing and managing a startup

Steve Blank – A Startup is Not a Smaller Version of a Large Company

This is a really useful insight: modelling early-stage organisations on large and successful organisations has its uses – Jim Collins suggests that big companies start thinking and acting like big companies before they become big – but we need to appreciate that they’re fundamentally different organisations.

An early stage organisation is all about the search, asking questions like:

  • How do we make the change we seek?
  • How do we make our ideas work in the real world?
  • How do we serve more people and have more of an impact?
  • Where will the money come from?

Finding answers to these questions is dependent on taking risks, trying things out and making mistakes – and is fundamentally messy. It’s supposed to feel chaotic.

Steve Blank argues that a mature business – is primarily focused on exploiting a proven business model. That is, they’ve found something that works, that people want, and that pays for itself, and the challenge is to get it into the hands of as many people as possible and fight off competition. I think mature non-profits are (or should be) a bit different (we should always be looking for new and better ideas, new people to serve in new ways) – but it’s a helpful perspective. Established organisations ask questions like:

  • How can we continue to grow and to serve more people with our product?
  • How can we get more efficient at what we do?
  • How can we secure our position?
  • What will we be doing in five years’ time, and how should we budget for it?

There’s stability, predictability, a degree of safety… and (Clayton Christensen would argue), almost inevitable decline. It seems to be the case that when you’re starting out, you wish you could become a ‘proper’ organisation, and once you’ve become established, you’re desperate for the excitement and dynamism of the start.

Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what youve got til its gone?

Joni Mitchell