Starting line

Where’s the starting line?

Sometimes we’re a few steps further down the track than the people we want to take with us:  we’ve given it more thought, we’ve done it before. We want it more.

We’re so keen to get people over the finish-line that we don’t notice that they’re still milling around at the start – or even that they’ve chosen to stay in bed.

How far away are you? How many steps backward will you need to take if you want to take them with you?

What do you need to communicate? What are the thousand other important things that you don’t?

When are you going to stop talking about techniques for crossing the finishing line and help them to put on their shoes?


*see also: Clarity. Simplicity. Focus.


Value loop

Most businesses that prosper create value for their communities and their customers as well as themselves, and the most successful businesses do so in part by creating a self-reinforcing value loop with and for others. They build a platform on which people who don’t work directly for them can build their own dreams.

Tim O’Reilly, WTF?

This is a key to building a fruitful and sustainable business or charity – be part of your partners’ success story.

Make yourself so useful that they can’t imagine doing it without you, and are eager to pay for what you do.

Align your interests so that their success is your success.

Be such a source of good in your community that they cheer you on.

Be indispensable.

Team performance (2): Team Growth

Richard Hackman‘s second lens on teams and team performance is about the team getting better at what it does over time.

If you’re leading a team, your evaluation of the team’s performance can’t be based solely on whether you delivered the goods last time. You’ve got a bigger picture to think about, including whether your team is getting better over time.

Team Growth

Team growth is key too: “What happens to the team itself over time? Does it grow in capability? Is it a better performing unit after its completed this project than it was before?

Richard Hackman


As your team delivers the goods this time, is it getting stronger and better able to deliver the goods next

  • Is the team clear about a shared vision what it’s trying to achieve and where it’s going?
  • Are your values being strengthened through this project or are they compromised and in danger of withering?
  • Are you developing shared standards and practices that will make doing the same jobs easier tomorrow?
  • Are team members getting better at their individual roles?
  • Are you getting better at communicating, cooperating, helping each other out, having fun while you work?
  • Is the wrapper of essential resources and partnerships around the team being strengthened? (think ecosystem, not machine)

I listened to Andy Kaufman interviewing Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast.


A frontlog is way better than a backlog.

It’s when you get things done and dusted ahead of time – either finished well and entirely off your plate, or loaded and ready to go to the right people at the right time.

A backlog slows you down, puts you in a pinch, makes you rush, gives you tunnel vision, means that you have no time to connect with others, to take a bit longer with things – and most importantly, with people – that need your full attention.

A frontlog puts you in front of the curve, brings its own momentum, gives you space to breathe, to look around, to take care of others, to spot what’s interesting, to take a detour, to do the job right, to notice the things that make it worth doing.

A frontlog makes it hugely more likely that you’ll enjoy it, and that the people you’re taking with you – customers, clients, colleagues – will enjoy it too.

Remember: when you’re building a frontlog you’re showing up for the people you serve and giving a gift to your future self by making things easier tomorrow.

Remember – the work that you do to build up a frontlog 

Your role (1)

If you’re leading an organisation or a team, a big part of your job is to help others to do their jobs.

The reference escapes me, but I’m pretty sure Peter Drucker used the phrase “to make the work meaningful and the worker effective.”

Making work meaningful is about vision. It means making sure people understand why what they do is important. What’s the point? Who are you there to serve? What difference are you making as a whole, and what difference will it make if a team member does this particular job and does it well?

Making the worker effective is about helping your colleagues to do their roles as well as they can. At its core, the best way to do this seems to be to equip them with useful tools. This means stuff like computers, vehicles, resources. It means equipping them with processes that work – “this is how we train a teacher to teach reading”, “this is how we respond to an email and process a sale”. And most useful of all, it means equipping your team with the tools to make decisions (often these come back to your vision and values) and giving them the information they need to make new tools.

There’s a hierarchy in there somewhere.

Other people’s children

All of the greatest advances in our society have come when we’ve invested in other people’s children.

Attributed to Robert Putnam

That was Tim O’Reilly quoting Robert Putnam on the same After On podcast episode I quoted earlier.

I can’t find it elsewhere in as many words, but this appears to be the gist of Putnam’s book, ‘Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis’.

In this interview on PBS, Putnam unpacks the idea:

When I was growing up in Port Clinton 50 years ago, my parents talked about, “We’ve got to do things for our kids. We’ve got to pay higher taxes so our kids can have a better swimming pool, or we’ve got to pay higher taxes so we can have a new French department in school,” or whatever.

When they said that, they did not just mean my sister and me — it was all the kids here in town, of all sorts. But what’s happened, and this is sort of the bowling alone story, is that over this last 30, 40, 50 years, the meaning of “our kids” has narrowed and narrowed and narrowed so that now when people say, “We’ve got to do something for our kids,” they mean MY biological kids.

The evidence suggests that when in American history we’ve invested more in the education of less well-off kids, it’s been good for everybody. My grandchildren are going to pay a huge price in their adult life because there’s a bunch of other kids, in principle just as productive as them, who didn’t get investments from their family and community, and therefore are not productive citizens. The best economic estimates are that the costs to everybody, including my own grandchildren, of not investing in those “other people’s kids” are going to be very high.

Robert Putnam

Of course, we should invest in ‘our kids’ – the ‘our kids’ that includes other people’s kids – simply because it’s the right thing to do. But it’s good to be reminded that part of the reason we should do it is because of what we will lose if we don’t.

What contributions of art or science, what service, what funny stuff, what friendships and possibilities will we and our kids miss out on by allowing other people’s kids to be left behind?

Three Things

“You get work, however you get work.

“But people keep working in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.’

Neil Gaiman

I love this. Numbers two and three are relatively simple.

Now for the hard bit:

  • Go away, think again about your values. Did you forget kindness the first time round? or fun?).
  • Reconsider your vision in the light of experience. It’s always an MVP.
  • Then define “good work”. Your best work.

Marketing the internet

Often, we market products or services that solve problems that people already know they have. We offer a better app, or a better screwdriver, or a better way of doing something, and our job is to convince people that it is better – ‘better-enough’ that people are prepared to pay the cost of switching. 

That’s one way to sell.

There’s another, more fun way, that I was reminded of on an episode of Econtalk, where Russ Roberts interviews Tim O’Reilly. O’Reilly talks about writing and selling the ‘first popular book about the internet’, The Whole Internet Users Guide and Catalogue. When the book came out, there were only about 200 websites world wide.

A key moment came when Brian Irwin, his VP of marketing told him:

Nobody cares about your book. What we ought to do is go out and market the internet.

Brian Irwin / Tim O’Reilly

So they started talking to people and holding their own conferences and events, and sure enough, when people wanted books about the internet – how to use it, how to code and run websites – they bought from O’Reilly Media.

O’Reilly says that in those days, people would talk about his company’s books as “the books that built the internet” – and that it was true. Future web billionaires built their empires using O’Reilly’s 30 dollar books, which led them to coin their slogan:

We create more value than we capture.

Tim O’Reilly / O’Reilly Media


The Indonesian proclamation of Independence is 25 words long.

We, the Indonesian people, proclaim our independence.

Details concerning the transfer of power etc. will be arranged with care, and in the shortest possible time.

Jakarta, 17th August 05.

On behalf of the Indonesian people.


*05 – Japanese Imperial year 2605

Soekarno and Hatta’s declaration is the nation-building equivalent of a Minimum Viable Product.

Like a lot of MVPs, a huge amount of groundwork had been done to make it possible, and there was still almost everything to do.

It’s short, and it leaves plenty of questions open, but once it was out in the world it was enough to see if anyone was buying.

73 years ago, a nation did.

Happy birthday Indonesia – Merdeka!