“If I carry on like this, where will I end up?”
“What will the world be like in a decade if this keeps happening?”
“Things developed like this in lots of other places – are there any signs of the same developments happening here?”
“Will this way of doing things work for our team of four? Would it work if we hit ten? Twenty? A hundred?”*
“What does the ageing population mean for my organisation?”
“If we keep getting bad customers like this, what will it do to our team?”
“What would happen if I stopped doing this for a week? A month? A year? Forever?”
“What happens to me when the best free resources in my area of expertise are available to everyone, in all languages, instantly?”
“Where are each of my team members likely to go next?”
Do you like your trajectory? Do you want to keep it, accelerate, or change direction?
*See also – Project phase, organisation size and specialisation
Three things that you’ll need building your organisation and making a difference in the world:
1) The big picture
Do you understand the strategy? Do you understand the layout of the world? Do you understand how the game theory works, how psychology works, how interactions work? Do you understand the economy, technology, the revolution that we’re living in?
Medicine Ball Session
Do you understand from 10,000 feet what the smartest consultants and visionaries in the industry would tell you is the right answer?
Startup School, Ep1
2) Technical skills and execution
The second point of the triangle is: are you any good as executing on the strategy? … When you make a sales pitch, can you do it with authority? When you lay something out does the typesetting look any good? When you write code, does it run? These are tactics, things we can improve.
Medicine Ball Session
Are you good enough at writing, presenting, organizing, leading, hiring, raising money, and all those things to actually do the right thing?
Startup School, Ep1
3) Caring enough to get hit
Do you care enough to fail? Do you care enough about what you’re doing that you are willing to expend emotional labour to actually make change happen?
Medicine Ball Session
Do you care enough about the project to get hit? Because there’s a lot of that in what’s going on.
Startup School Ep1
We made it! Today marks 365 days of posting daily.*
This post is to mark the day and kick off a week** of celebration… and to say thanks for everyone who’s read, encouraged and contributed along the way – you know who you are.
And you know, or course, that encouragement and contribution go a long way to making things keep on happening and stuff keeping on getting done. Onwards and upwards!
* For those who came in late… it started here.
**Okay, a post or two.
The right group will work well anywhere, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t work better in the right kind of place.
If the place is comfortable.
If logistics are as simple and easy as possible.
If the facilities work.
If the food is good.
If the spaces work.
If it feels nice.
… then you’ve given yourself a head start towards better work.
No doubt about it: a sense of urgency helps us make get things happen and get stuff done.
The problems come when we’re urgent about the wrong things:
- We’re urgent as we approach big deadlines, but not about early thinking, or doing each of the little pieces that together make up the job;
- We’re urgent about handling the problems in front of us, but far less about fixing root causes;
- We’re urgent about about new projects or ‘initiatives’ (urgh), but not about running and maintaining the systems we’ve already got;
- We’re urgent about the crises other people bring to us – and so create crises of our own;
- We’re urgent about about one-off meetings and launch events, but not about the unglamorous rhythms of feedback and accountability;
- We’re urgent about financial targets and metrics for our impact (lag measures), but not about the day-to-day activities (lead measures) that make achieving them possible;
- We’re urgent about big events, birthday parties and anniversaries, but less about making sure that we spend enough good time with the people they’re about;
- We’re urgent about scribbling last minute notes a before a presentation, but not about connecting with the people we’re there to serve;
- We’re urgent about controlling our own workload, but not about helping our teams with theirs;
- We’re urgent about getting jobs ticked off, but not about improving communication and building skills;
- We’re urgent about work, and sometimes about exercise or leisure, but not about regular rest and reflection, and seeking peace.
As in “axis”, plural – sorry if you’re disappointed.
We can’t win at everything.
The good news is that you’re in charge of what you’re competing on.
Kids find this hard to learn, but it’s true: if you’re not racing, you can’t be beaten.
We do well when we remember this when we’re tempted to compare our cars and homes, families and relationships, careers and organisations with others’.
It’s so easy to slip into playing someone else’s game – for example, by starting to compete on “bank balance” with someone who runs their life to maximise for money, or on “shiny office” with an organisation that’s maximising for ostentation, or on “Objective score” with someone who’s maximising for test results.
This always feels bad. But worse, it can fool you into taking your eye off the the things that really matter and forget the game you’re really playing – which inevitably means starting to play it badly.
Think hard – think very hard – about what matters most, about the games (there are always games within games within games) you want to play, and what axes you’ll measure success on. You’ll certainly need to remind yourself of these from time to time, and it will be helpful to remind your team and customers too.
You’ll almost always lose on other people’s axes… which might turn out not to be as bad as winning a game that’s not for you. On the right axes, you might end up delighted even if you lose.
Play. Your. Own. Game.
96-year-old Roy Englert runs 42-minute 5K to shatter age-group world record.
Englert, 96, runs 5000m in 42:30.23 to set age-group record.
Virginia native already held the records in 800m and 1500m.
Englert, a retired attorney, credits his late-career success to not to any natural gift but dogged persistence.
“I don’t consider myself that much of an inspiration. I’m a slow runner,” he told Run Washington. “But I guess I’ve outlasted almost everybody. It gets easier to win when there’s not as much competition around.”
Guardian Sport, Friday 19th July 2019
Here’s to modest, slow runners who show up generously and stick around.
Be Your Own Guru
The next time you want to ask someone a question, first ask yourself these two questions:
- Why is this important to me?
- What am I going to do with the answer?
If you don’t have satisfying answers to those to questions, don’t ask.
If you do have satisfying answers, a third question is:
- Why aren’t I working out my own answer to this question?
- What smaller questions can I ask to help answer this big one?
It’s great to use subject experts, mentors and gurus to add to your stock of knowledge and contribute to a work in progress.
But often we use them to save us the work of thinking for ourselves, or worse, because we don’t really intend to do anything with their answers.
Thanks to JG.
A particularly troublesome breed of little job are things left undone that hold up the work of other people – a decision that needs your input (or for you to decide), a design that needs your approval, feedback to your team from a key meeting, or a training you need to hold before your team starts a new project.
We usually want to empower our teams to make decisions and get on with things – but we’re also afraid of what happens if something gets rushed, or isn’t fully checked before being launched… and of course it’s important that we’re thoughtful in our answers to colleagues questions, and that we give their the attention it needs or deserves.
But however honourable our excuses, being a bottleneck causes all sorts of problems:
- It slows everyone down while they wait for you;
- Knowing that people are waiting for us doubles the burden of the mental overhead and nameless dread that the undone tasks often bring us anyway;
- It also creates frustration and emotional friction for team members who are waiting for us to get our act together and do what they need us to do – that is to say, the negative consequences of being
Some things that may help
- As JG suggested, getting these little jobs out of the way early in your day can make you feel lighter and more empowered as you get into the important stuff – although this can backfire if your answers generate emails with further questions;
- It’s often the case that the email you’ve been avoiding is a quick job after all;
- Finding the right people to join your team enables parallel processing in your organisation – removing yourself as the bottleneck;
- Helping your team become the right people is just as important. This will need training, which itself will need you to have…
- Clear, well formulated and well communicated principles and policy about what to do in certain situations – as simple as an FAQ list, or a blanket decision like allowing all staff to spend a certain amount to fix a customer’s problem without checking with anyone – can help your team do their good work without waiting for you, making it easier tomorrow for everyone;
- Recognising the problem, apologising and talking about bottlenecks – and asking for ideas to fix or mitigate them – is never a bad thing;
- Giving away authority is often the right thing to do, as long as (1) you share key principles clearly (see above); (2) you keep an eye on what’s going on; (3) doing so will take less time than doing the job yourself, even if at the cost of additional short-term effort; (4) the cost of failure isn’t catastrophic (really, it rarely is).
- It often comes down to trust – trusting that your colleagues can do it; trusting that their ‘good enough’ now is better than your ‘perfect’ later; trusting that the more you trust them and the more they get on with things, the better they’ll get.
- Go back and read the one about Who’s Got the Monkey.