Nothing is really complete. That story always needs more context to fully understand, that lesson is inevitably missing something important, that job could always be more polished.
With some things (like painting and decorating), we face the law of diminishing returns: more effort results in less and less improvement. There comes a point where going beyond ‘good enough’ is wasteful.
Other things – presentations and teaching in particular – go beyond diminishing returns to decreasing returns: more content undermines what’s gone before, and reduces the impact you hope to have.
By recognising and accepting the impossibility of completeness – you will never be able to say everything – you free yourself up to focus. Not “What is everything I want people to know?” but “What is enough for today?”
Cut. The. Rest. Out.
Get this right – get clarity, simplicity and focus – and those you’re serving are far more likely to listen, engage and understand. And to come back for the next chapter.
There’s a good sort of just in time. We plan something, know what needs to happen and how, know what we need to do it well, when, where and with whom.
This kind of just in time feels great, with the right amount of tension for whatever it is we’re doing. Good training events feel tight like the skin of a drum – focused and snappy and free from clutter. There is time to share the material clearly, time to apply and discuss. There’s time and concentration to spare to tweak the way we present, double-check misunderstandings or discuss special cases. Time to focus and engage properly. The training starts and runs and finished – just in time.
Family events, trips to the market, airport departures, and collecting children from school all have their own ‘just in time’ feeling that comes from getting timings right, including time for traffic and coffee breaks along the way.
The thing about this kind of just in time is, you usually get it by allowing plenty of time – what feels like more than enough time – both to prepare and to deliver. You get it by allowing extra time for journeys and contingencies, and by allowing mental, emotional, social slack to compose yourself so that you arrive ready to participate, to perform or enjoy.
Real marketing is built into what you do and why you do it. It’s part of your story, something that you do organically when your business is aligned with your mission and values. Kept promises, free returns, obsession with the details, returned emails, clean tables, and attentive staff – all of this is your real marketing.
Real marketing creates a deeper impact, leaves a lasting impression, and is as powerful as a smile.
Why do people come to you for the thing you provide? What do they get? Why do they want it? How does it make them feel? What makes them come back? Do they tell other people about you? What do they say?
What do your actions / words and tone of voice / website / way you dress / your office / commitment to doing things well say about who you are and what you’re doing? Do they say the same thing? For a non-profit organisation, do you smile at your donors and your clients in the same way? (you should) Are you an example of these things for your team? How do you articulate them to the team, to new members, to partners?
Of course you should work smart. Automate what you can. Delegate and outsource to people who can do things better than you. Shamelessly avoid, or ruthlessly eliminate, the unnecessary.
Then identify your real work – the things that only you can do, probably things for which there are no instructions or maps. Throw in a few inefficient things that you’ve discovered you need to do to keep you honest – and do the hard work of consistently showing up and getting it done.
What can you tick off already? Good work on those.
What do you need to quit – stop doing, stop trying to do, draw a line under, declare an amnesty for yourself, admit that it won’t get done, and let die with the old year?
Perhaps most crucially, what are the little things – acts of kindness that you’ve been thinking it might be nice to do, short emails to friends, decisions, bookings, commitments – that you can do, and get into the habit of doing, starting from right now? Today, the day before you make new year’s resolutions, everything you do is a bonus, a gift of the momentum that a frontlog brings that will make tomorrow better or easier for your future self – the self who’s arriving tomorrow.
Those who set the purpose or the direction for a team need to exercise their authority and be absolutely insistent about the end states to be achieved, and then hold back and not dictate all the details of the means by which those ends are to be achieved.
And that’s tough for a leader to do. I know how to be an authoritarian and tell everyone what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it. I know how to be a full-scale democrat and say “Okay, what would you all like to do and we’ll all try to come to consensus about that.”
But the right way to set a purpose is to be unapologetic about “This is the mountain that we’re going to climb.” And then not to follow that up by saying “And every time you get to a fork in the trail or a stream that needs to be forded, wait up for me and I’ll tell you how to do it.”
That’s a tough number for leaders to do but it’s really important.
You can fill a bucket pretty quickly under a tap. But try and fill a lot of buckets at once – a drip here, a squirt there – and it can take a long time before you have enough to work with in any of your buckets. And you’re probably wasting time, energy and water moving constantly between them.
Lee must have had something about him – he became editor at 19 – but here’s the thing: he slogged it out writing comics – westerns, crime stories, horror and superhero work – for twenty two years without really hitting the big time. They say he chose Stan Lee as a pen name because he was worried he’d be embarrassed by his work in comics if he ever wrote the Great American Novel.
By the early 60s Lee was fed up, and ready to quit. The Fantastic Four was a last throw of the dice on his wife’s suggestion that he try writing the comics he wanted to write. There was nothing to lose.
He was forty-one years old.
The rest is history.
What if Stan Lee had never written the fantastic four?