The assumption that underpins all of your work

… is that people can change, and that things can get better.

If you didn’t believe this already you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

The question is, do you act as if it’s true?

  • Which areas of your own life and skill set do you turn a blind eye to: “I can grow in these areas, but I’m just not an X person”?
  • Which people do you – consciously or not – treat as if they can’t change?

One of the keys for unlocking growth and learning in yourself and others is taking firm hold of the believe that growth and learning are possible for anyone – and helping others to see this too.

We also need to recognise that change – especially in habits and ways of thinking – is often slow, hard work. It’s slow, hard work in our own lives, let alone in the lives of the people we serve – our students, children, friends, clients. We don’t change unless we (or they) recognise our need for change and have a will to make it happen (this may take a “Holy Sh!t Moment“).

It helps to recognise that rather than being a sign of stupidity, struggle is often a sign of opportunity. It’s precisely in the struggle – and in persevering, and finding a way – that we do our most valuable learning.

This makes perseverance and tenacity incredibly valuable learning tools. In the absence of a motivating crisis, you may find it helps to learn with others, and for others (in the sense of service, not approval.)

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?

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.

“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.

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

The Toolkit – Part 1: Foundations (5)

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.

Vision and mission

Vision and mission statements are ways of talking about what you’re working to achieve, and how you’re doing it. Highly successful organisations differ on how they define and approach these, as you’ll see in the examples that follow – so it doesn’t do to get too pedantic about them. What follows is my take.


At the end of the day, everyone is (hopefully) working towards a vision of a better future, probably featuring sustainable human flourishing. Your organisation’s vision statement sets out a narrower piece of that vision – the part of a flourishing future that you are specifically focusing on and working to make a reality.

What outcome do you hope to achieve?

Note that this is different from “What do you do?” We’re trying to describe what the world looks like if you or your organisation does its job well and achieves its goals. This probably involves describing a world without the problem you’re committed to addressing – which might even mean a world in which your organisation wouldn’t need to exist.

A good vision – one that your colleagues, partners, customers, investors or donors are going to be excited about – probably doesn’t have you in it. It’s bigger than all of you.


“We work for a future where all children across Indonesia have the opportunity to learn to read, and to love reading.” (Saya Suka Membaca)

“To move the web forward and give web designers and developers the best tools and services in the world.” (Adobe)

“To lead the way to the future of mobility, enriching lives around the world with the safest and most responsible ways of moving people.” (Toyota)

“To enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.” (BBC)

These are good vision statements… and note how many of them leave the end-vision implied, or blur the lines between what they do and the outcomes they hope to achieve. Let’s not nitpick.

Bad vision statements:

The most common misstep (and it’s one often made by enormous companies) is “To be the number one (/dominant/most popular/most profitable) company in the widget (paper-pulp-based-packaging/telecommunications/oil extraction/advertising/healthcare disposables) business.

There are loads of companies with vision statements like these out there, and they clearly do okay… but they’re bad vision statements because they take the eye off the key outcome of making the world a better place by serving people.

Firstly, you could fullfil visions like these and achieve number one status through lies, robbery and destruction – but it wouldn’t be something to celebrate.

Secondly, they’re terriffically boring. No-one’s going to get excited about a particular company being number one apart from people who make a lot of money when it does so. Your customers don’t care (they’re interested in you serving them well), and the world doesn’t care (we’re interested in how you make the world a better place by serving your customers).

We might end up rooting for you to be number one, but it will be because we like you, which comes as a byproduct of you making a contribution by doing something meaningful, and doing it well.

The Toolkit – Part 1: Foundations (4)

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.

Would they miss you? Why?

This question works for examining your personal values, and it’s a great pivot for thinking about the values of your organisation too.

What do you hope people will remember you and your team for?
What will people notice first? What will they miss when you’re gone?
How have you made things better?
Which of your shortcomings will make things worse if you’re not careful?
What will make the effort of running this project, of building this organisation worth it? If you didn’t have to earn a living, would you still do this? Why?

Thanks JG

The Toolkit – Part 1: Foundations (3)

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.

Another lens on personal values

If the obituary doesn’t work for you, try these simple questions:

  1. What do you love? What do you care (passionately) about?
  2. What makes you (righteously) angry?
  3. Who do you want to serve?

The power of these questions as a tool for thinking about your values comes when you ask “Why?”

Why do you love X?
What does Y mean to you?
What is it about these people that makes you want to serve them? What does that say about what’s important to you?

Thanks to JG