Charles Koch on creating value for others and always getting better

The starting point is to understand what capabilities you have that others will value, that you can use to create value for others.

And then to find the opportunities for those capabilities that will create the most opportunity for others and particularly those who will reward you for that value.

So the ideal for business is to maximise the value that you create for others, and your profit would come solely as compensation for that value you’re creating for others, and then to continually improve and add to those capabilities, and look for, based on that, what other opportunities are there for which you can create superior value.

So there are two components then: one is to become preferred partner for all your key constituencies. That starts with customers but includes employees, suppliers, communities and society as a whole.

And the second piece is to continually transform yourself. So our philosophy is if we in a business or you as an individual are working in an area, if you’re the best in the world, it’s not good enough. And particularly today, with rapid improvements in technologies within year or wo you’re going to be obselete if you just rest on your laurels. So you’ve got to be constantly thinking on how do I improve, how do I do things differently, what are the new opportunities.

If we’d just stayed with the crude oil gathering… we’d be out of business now. It’s by applying these principles of human flourishing to create these beneficial cycles focusing on how do I create value for all my constituencies – particularly those who will reward us for the value we create for them – is what has enabled us to do what we’ve done.

Charles Koch – The Tim Ferriss Show #381

Good jobs for smart people

“Seek out and develop talent.”

“Hire the best people.”

“Recruit people smarter than you.”

“Raise the average.”

Good advice from some of the best business thinkers out there – although Michael E. Gerber has pointed out that basing your business model on highly talented people is going to make it harder and more expensive to run (rocket-scientists and brain-surgeons are hard to find).

But the problem on my mind with all this is slightly different, and it’s this: smart people can get jobs elsewhere.

It’s far harder to build teams and organisations that open doors for the less-smart, or the not-yet-that smart, while avoiding lowest-common-denominator, bad work for bad pay.

Can we build organisations that work for ‘normal’ people, or people who are struggling – and help them to grow, and perhaps to move into (or on to) better, ‘smarter’ jobs as soon as possible?

The spotlight we need to shine on our talk of inclusivity and opportunity is this: Who do we work with? Who do we welcome in? Where do they end up?

Seth Godin on fear and reassurance

The way [of handling fear] that doesn’t work is reassurance. Reassurance doesn’t work because you need an infinite amount of it. Someone can give you reassurance for five minutes and then ten minutes later you go “Ooohh no no no.” So the number of times that you need to be told by someone you trust and respect that you’re going to be fine is too high to even ask for it.

For me, the alternative is generosity. That is an excellent answer to fear. That if you are doing this on behalf of someone you care about, the fear takes a backseat. So if you want to figure out how to make books, go to a charity you care about and make a book for them, because now your fear feels selfish. If you want to figure out how to make marketing work, go and market for an organisation that you believe in. If you can find a lonely person and make them unlonely, a disconnected person and make them feel connected, you can make a practice of that. And the upside is it helps you walk straighter and stand taller.

Seth Godin – on Love Your Work with David Kadavy

Finishing lines (2)

Recognising the possibility – or rather, the inevitability – of the death of your project will focus your mind:

  • Given that we can’t do anything in the time available, what’s most important?
  • Will people miss us when we’re gone?
  • Will your project’s main legacy be something physical you’ll leave behind, or an idea or value, or a change in people?
  • Given that the cause that motivates your project will probably remain, what can you do to seed new projects and make it possible for new people to pick up the ball?
  • How can you avoid a painful decline and death-spiral – that is to say, how will you make sure the project dies well?

Velcro, geckos, and making friends

Some ideas for strengthening your connections within a group of people or scene:

  • Have good, generous intentions. Show up to serve or share where it’s needed and wanted and because being part of this network is its own reward (you like the people, you like what they do), rather than for what you might get out of it.
  • Start small – person by person. It’s helpful to think of the group as a network of people rather than as a a monolithic whole.
  • Relationships and trust take time – but the right group settings or events can speed this up.
  • First impressions always count – but not nearly as much as what you do and say consistently over time. People who know and trust you will interpret you generously and shrug off the clumsy mistakes that we all inevitably make as just that – understandable, human clumsiness. People who love you will stick with you through your real mistakes – the ones where you should have known better.
  • Build on connections – friendships, relationships – that you already have.
  • Lots of loose connections are helpful – relationships where you know them a bit, they know you a bit, and you share a general positive regard for each other. Each loose connection is like a single hook-and-loop in a piece of velcro – weak on its own, but strong when combined with many others. (see also: gecko feet)
  • … but the 80/20 rule will be at work here – a few people will be very interested in your contribution, and a few of those will be people you have a good rapport with… and a few of those will be key for helping you to connect with others.
  • Don’t worry too much about people who aren’t that interested in you or what you have to offer: they’re either genuinely not interested, or have something else on their minds, neither of which you can do very much about. Assume that you can’t do too much to influence them (apart, perhaps, if you can help them with their thing, the thing that’s on their minds) – but they might be influenced by the right sort of champion from within the network.

The hard thing about soft skills

The hard thing about the ‘soft’ skills of courtesy and consideration is that they’re only partly skills. They’re far more about our attitude: how much we value other people and their purposes and feelings, and the interest and care that we show them as we go about our business.

Consistently showing up for people – seeing, hearing and serving them – is far harder than going about our business focused only on our business. And there is a cost: it takes time and energy and attention to engage with and serve others when your ‘real’ job is doing something else. But it’s worth the time and energy, because this is the right way to be – whether we’re dealing with customers or the CEO or the person who cleans your office.

This means that ‘soft’ skills require us to be better at what we do, so that we have the time and energy to spare when we need them – you need something to be generous with. And if this is important to us, we need to do more than show up in the moment: we need to choose to manage our work and commitments so that an attitude of generous service is built into everything we do.

This is much harder than just doing your job.

Much harder, and much better – now and in the long run.

Easy for you

I love obstacle courses. A lifetime ago I was very-part-time in the army, and I remember a morning on an obstacle course early on in our training. It was great – a little group of us blizted the course and left the others far behind. And as I swung across the final obstacle and crossed the finish line our sergeant-major leant forward and spoke quietly into my ear.

“Wouldn’t it be good,” he said, “If those who found it easy helped the others, so that everyone finished faster?”

The soft option

Your desire to be generous to others is a great motivator to excellence: if you’re serious about ensuring that the externalities of your project are consistently positive, you’re going to need to be doubly good at what you do.

You need emotional energy and time to spare to listen well, to be gracious under pressure, to be the kind of employer or customer that helps your team or partners to do their best work.

It takes discipline to do this kind of emotional labour day in, day out. You need to be clear about what you’re doing and how and why, plan for it, and be deliberate about doing it consistently. You need to find ways to articulate your values to people inside and outside your project.

You need to be hard-headed about being soft-hearted.

Their thing

It’s great that you have a thing – that you’re clear about it what it is and how important it is, and that you’re talking about it and taking action and enjoying it to boot. It’s great that it’s yours.

The temptation to avoid is to try to make it everybody else’s thing as well.

Trying to get people who aren’t really into your thing to play a significant role in it – as employees, implementers, sales people or evangelists – will only lead to disappointment all round.

Trying to give or sell your thing to someone who has different priorities will end in frustration and exhaustion.

Here are some ways forward:

  1. Find the people for whom this is their thing too: people who already share your vision, or one that significantly overlaps with it. Lead: say the words, ravel the network, build a tribe.
  2. Find people who have their own thing but will willingly put it in service of yours. There are passionate accountants, dedicated administrators, superb policy people, committed teachers, and fantastic IT technicians who will be delighted to do what they love in service of a good cause.
  3. Find partners for whom your thing is an integral part of theirs. At the charity I work at, our thing is teaching children to read and love reading. We do it by serving schools, charities or parents with a bigger vision – education as a whole, or community development, or raising flourishing kids – of which we provide a crucial piece of the puzzle.

The first group are rare gems. Finding them often takes consistent generative work, but it’s worth it. The right partners will bring far more energy than you spend on finding them, starting a chain reaction of possibilities and results.

You can’t live without the second group – they hold key pieces of the puzzle to making your thing a reality. Your job is to help them thrive and flourish doing their thing, as a subset of yours. They’re also the people who will get the most exposure to your vision, values and culture – by playing to their strengths, putting them to work with their thing, you make it much more likely that they’ll start to own yours.

The third group are your clients or donors or customers. They – or the people they serve – are why you’re here in the first place. Always as a leader, you’re a person serving people who serve people.*

*This is vintage Tom Peters

Tom Peters on ‘People Stuff’

I’ve made a start on The Excellence Dividend and really like what Tom Peters has to say, and how he says it. Here he is in his inimitable ALL CAPS style:

WHILE I’VE BEEN ON THE EXCELLENCE DIVIDEND  BOOK TOUR–MOSTLY PODCASTS — I’VE BEEN ASKED OVER AND OVER TO EXPLAIN MY “OBSESSION” WITH THE “PEOPLE STUFF.”

I USUALLY ANSWER, SNIPPILY, “WELL WHAT THE HELL ELSE IS THERE?”

ORGANIZATIONS, NO MATTER HOW MUCH TECHNOLOGY THEY USE, ARE NO MORE AND NO LESS THAN ‘PEOPLE SERVING PEOPLE’.

AND AS A LEADER, YOUR JOB IS: SERVE THE PEOPLE WHO SERVE THE PEOPLE.

(ONE LAST THING: THE PEOPLE WE SERVE ARE OUR EMPLOYEES AND OUR CUSTOMERS AND OUR COMMUNITIES.)

Tom PetersExcellence Dividend Fundamentals Slideshow