Pivot Points

The moments in any strategy or deal when the landscape changes… all your planning and assumptions up to that point have been made redundant.

Be it the financial plan you have for your year or business.  When avenues have been explored, discounted or validated.  Or the deal you signed, only for the end customer to change its requirements mid way through implementation.

Recognising those moments is critical.  In my experience high performing teams and people always get the job done, they just find a way.  A singularity of focus and a committment to the getting the outcome is what gets them there….but (and its a big but), we often miss these pivot points because we aren’t looking for them. Instead we are narrowly focused on the one goal.

Being more mindful, rising above the noise, getting off the dancefloor. What ever you call it.  Leaders need to be able to IDENTIFY these pivot points and guide the conversation away from hell bent delivery, to another round of evaluation, options and decisions…

Word vs Actions

Gabrielle Dolan did a session on story telling in the corporate environment.  One of her examples that resonated the most was the story about people following the leaders example.

Andrew Thorburn – CEO of NAB – tells this story.  ”

He was teaching his teenage son how to drive a car.  At one point in this journey, his son flicked on the indicator and then immediately changed lanes.  At that point, Andrew said to his son… “mate, the purpose of the indicator is to give cars warning that you are about to turn or change lanes, you need to have some time between putting the indicator on and making the turn”… Andrew’s son, turn around to him and said ” but dad, I just did what you do”…

This story highlights strongly how the WORDS and ACTIONS need to be the same”.

This is incredably true of leaders.  If you are saying “we want to innovate”, but don’t allocate any resources you aren’t aligned, if you say to your staff “take some risks”, but you punish them for failure  you are not aligned…. there is a jarring juxtaposition that your staff will know and respond accordingly toward…

If you are saying we value our people and you invest in culture, training and development, then you are aligned. If you say that underpeformance won’t be tolerated and you deal with it, you are aligned.

One of these positions is powerful, it’s clear and consistent, it brings your staff with you as you go at hard tasks.

So, are your words and actions aligned?

 

make play

No job is perfect, there are always tasks which just have to be done…

Be they the drudgery of repetition, the unpleasent customer or staff siutation, the stress of mutliple demands or uncomfortable because its outside your skill set.  We can choose, procrastinate… or battle through… or to try and make a game of it. Try to have fun by setting little goals or competitions.  Watch kids, they are masters of this.

The hope is that by playing, and having a bit of fun. The non-perfect becomes more enjoyable. And hopefully i’ll get more productive on the way through.

So goal number three – make games of the unpleasent tasks.

Smile

Over summer, If spent a lot of time running around with the kids on playgrounds and luckily beaches, and I noticed that every time a new adventure, experience or game came up they smiled….

Then I looked at the parents, some were buried in their phones, some were observing and finally some where involed.  They smiled back, the kids knew that their parents got it then, and they smiled more….

I started to notice my own smiling, when i did it…and even more when i wasn’t and i came to the realisation that I don’t smile that often…but when I did I felt better, lighter…less serious, the world was less serious….other people smiled back, the kids loved it….

So goal number 2 this year…smile.

This will be another big year, with a lot of challenges.  For me, smiling more will help me get through that….

…i’m too busy

My wife and I say this to much…

we could, but we’re too busy… we are just too busy to do that….

Yes we have a hectic, at time  chaotic life.  But now this mindset isn’t just holding us back, its beginning to affect our kids, we are making choices from a too busy mindset and they are missing out….

So, goal number one this year.  Manufacture time.

“we are never too busy” is now on our non-negotiable list. Sure we’ll have to make choices, but this isn’t an excuse anymore.

 

Here’s to the bat crazy

I’m a big believer in constantly stretching myself. I seek out projects to do that, I read stuff about those who I admire, and I try to meet up with others who have been successul.

I’m inspired by folks like Richard Branson, Greg Cross (powerbyproxi), Ben Kepes, Vaughan Rowsell.  All successful, but all doing much much more, be it doing their best to change the world, supporting sports, doing impossible challenges or taking the path less trodden.

Now a confession, for a while now i’ve been talking about how much i’d like to do startup…by a while it might be more like 5 or so years. I don ‘t even write it down when I do my annual career planning, choosing instead to keep it a bit of a secrete.  Around this time of the year I beat myself up a bit and tell myself maybe next year.

Added to that are post by Ben, Rowan Simpson and others about what they are actually doing in the start up / investment space… I got a bit down on myself

So the truth is I’m a wisher…”i wish i could do a start up”. Read Ken Robinson’s book the element, in that he tells a story about how as a kid he said to a guy “man i wish i could play the guitar like you”… to which the guitarist said ” no you don’t, because if you REALLY did, you would practice every day, you are just saying that”…

I’m a 40 something, with 3 kids and a mortgage. I may never do the start up, as Mark Suster says its harder when you are in that demographic,  but i’m coming to terms with it.

On the other hand, at sub 21 you have the ability to swing for the fences…..  When you’re 40, have 3 kids and a mortgage this is much harder.

Lately though i’ve realised that my path might be a differfent one.  My partner and I are on our 5th business (seems a mad number), over which I think we’ve employeed around 100 people over the years.  Three times! Yes THREE times we’ve bought these businesses when our children were weeks old – not recommended unless you are clinically insane. Added to that iv’e done one small investment with Appsecute, started and ran a martial arts club and ….managed to work full time through it all.

I think this list is more conservative than some of the other folks i’ve listed, maybe less so because of them…. for without these guys leading and showing us the way, we dont reach higher.

So here’s to the bat crazy.

dated business models

I’ve been waiting on a parcel to be delivered, eagerly tracking it as it moved around the world from Minesota, via Ohio, Kentucky and now New Zealand.  I can see now that the parcel delivery company (in this case NZ Post) has been to my house

Delivery not made, left a Card to Call, item at depot. Please call us on XXX

I’ve had this before.  The card will say something like ” we will make another attempt to deliver the package, and then you have to pick it up from our local depot”

I’m struck by how wildly ineffecient the process is and how the carrier (and i’m not pointing the finger at NZ Post – well not just them) are abdicating their responsiblity to me…. as invariably they will attempt to deliver the package during the hours of 9am and 5pm.

Their whole business model is based on the data premise that 50% of the population is sitting at home, just like the used to in the [insert decade].

Why instead don’t these companies do some analysis. Data driven probability stuff.

Here’s what i’d do.  Look at my neighbourhood, find out how many people are working age, those that are at home parents, elderly etc. Then take a punt that in all probability, the majority of houses will be unattended during normal working hours.  So why waste time on a delivery. Instead try during the hours of 7am to 8.30 or after 6pm (again the laws of probability state if you work you are lmore likely to be home druing these hours.  The drivers can choose but as they are contracted they can make more on a single delivery than multiple failed attempts.  This isn’t even very sophisticated…

Imagine if the delivery company went all out and asked me when someone would likely be home on average…and stored that in a secure (SECURE) manner.  People are driven by routine, so on average this would vastly reduce the number of failed delivery attempts, resulting in cost savings, less pollution and happier customers…

I’m sure there are other business models like this, i know the internet has changed things somewhat but just occassionally (and normally only on really important occassions) you have to go into places like ….banks that don’t open on the weekend, local government, … why don’t you open when i’m not working??

the First rule of strategy is have an appetitie to do it.

I like strategy, when I see it developed and executed it’s a thing of beauty.  I love the game play and like deciphering what the competition is doing – incidentally imho Simon Wardley’s work is as ground breaking as it is simple)

But what is apparent to me is that a lot of companies talk about strategy, but actually have no appetite for it.

let me explain.  Recently I’ve recently had the fortune to have some catch ups with some of my old strategy colleagues. They have all cycled out of the business and for various reasons are now back ..they’ve come back wiser and with energy and lots of opinions… and many of the discussions we have (strategy being collaborative and benefiting from the network effect) often have a flavour of “ this business should”…. I’m listening to them, and its good thinking, but i know that the chance of it actually happening are virtually zero.

I know this because the moment i hear the world “should”, i know it won’t happen.  Should is a word we use to beat ourselves up.  It’s a forever word, one day maybe we’ll get onto that, a word that disempowers you… “i should go to the gym”… “I should spend more time with the kids”… “we should do that”.. “i should cycle in today”.  Well I can tell you, the days I cycle in are the ones I choose too, even when its subzero outside or raining.  There’s no question, no choice, I just do it.

I bet runners like Ben Kepes don’t say ” i should run today, they just plan it and do it. Founders of companies don’t say ” i have a good idea, i should do something about it”. They just get going and working on the idea.

Delivering on a strategy is the same.  Unless the business is up for it, focussed on that (and not the next fire / deal or trinket) the chances of success are very limited.

Next big question is how to get the business up for it.

 

content, comments and the customer

I had a recent twitter conversation with Chris Keal, the technology editor from the NBR.co.nz

In essence, NBR put out a story about how Season 4 of the Game of thrones being released by HBO was being geo-restricted by being  distributed through even less channels. Whereas last year it was availble in iTunes Australia, this year it wouldn’t be until the local distributor had aired all the episodes.

This artical was originally available free.  Then Chris tweeted that the story had now been moved behind the paywall, ie NBR had restricted access to the content.

@ChrisKeall is that irony or what?

Apparently not according to Chris,

@paulq Nope. Anyone from anywhere can choose to subscribe to NBR Online. HBO is restricting GoT online access by geography

he seems to think that because the NBR is available to all,  there are no paralells here.  Lance Wiggs agreed –

I agree with Chris – it’s about access, not about cost.

I say they’re wrong, cost is just another barrier

So lets look at why i think its ironic

Irony is defined as meaning

dissimulation, feigned ignorance”[1]), in its broadest sense, is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or event characterized by an incongruity, or contrast, between what the expectations of a situation are and what is really the case, with a third element, that defines that what is really the case is ironic because of the situation that led to it.

 

  1. a story about content being less available gets moved from free to paywalled ie less available = incongruity
  2.  the situation that led to this incongruity – a story about content restrictions get restricted.

Sure looks like irony to me.

But more important to me, was the whole argument.  The use of semantics to defend the position of one arm of the media is really enlightening.  Its enlightening because we all do it – deliberately or through cognitive bias.

In this instance its ok to place restrictions on content because it ” is sharper than ad funded”   ( as an aside – what the hell does that mean?)

As a consumer of both content types, i can tell you with absolute surity, all i see is restrictions.  The semantics of the situation and the whys and wherefores and rationalisation don’t mean much anything to me.

Its a great lesson, i’ve caught myself doing just this sort of thing.  You get lost in the technology, old business model or the absolute belief that you’ve got it right or the product is prefect… and you loose sight of the most imporant thing…how the end customer views it.

what cycling to work taught me about business

I started biking to work recently. Its been an interesting process both mentally and phyisically.

The mental process i went through to do this gave me some tremendous insights into myself and my business dealings.

Lets start with with the why

I couldn’t find the time to get to the gym and be the father and husband i wanted to be. And because of that i was getting fat, and i choose not to be fat. I’m not against fat people, its just a personal choice….i’m not going into middle age without a fight.

The decision process

Much internal debate here, where do I start

  1. Is it safe / will I die doing this (there was huge press coverage at the time about cycling deaths
  2. Will I actually do this… was it another fad like my gym membership
  3. What bike … road, moutain, full suspension, cost, … woah how much????
  4. Time – do i really have time to do this??
  5. Logisitcs – where do i put the bike at work and at home, how do i shower etc…

Tentitive steps

  1. i bought the cheapest bike i could – after all i still didn’t know if it was for me
  2. i tried out the route during the holidays  – less cars and minimal embarrasment if i couldn’t make it up the hill
  3. I road 2x in the first week, Monday and Friday…. i was exhausted by both… but it felt like progress

The result

  1. I’m not pathological – i ride 3-4 times a week…
  2. I leave slightly earlier in the morning but offset shower time at home with shower time here
  3. I take the 2nd hardest route home i can find, its a mother of a hill (there is one worse), and i ruthless about it. That blow-out is my exercise and I have always loved exercising really intensely
  4. I appear to beating the fat…
  5. I fit all this into my normal hours
  6. I am off-setting parking and petrol against the cost of the bike.. When i’ve paid off the that bike i might consider an upgrade, but untill then its still hasn’t earnt its keep

The learnings (personally and in business)

  1. There is always a tonne of reasons not to do something, in fact there may even be extensive research saying you shouldn’t. And we can always rationalise away the opportunity… that is easy.  Saying yes is the hard part
  2. All the reasons you had to say no become trivial when you get going…. I look over the list above and am embarrased they almost stopped me doing this…
  3. Starting something new brings its own energy and momentum. You have to push it along but eventually it will pull you too…. I’ve said before that i believe business is about momentum
  4. It took a mental ‘flip’ for me to seize this opportunity. I needed to see that I could fit in this exercise into the same commuting slots i had available… When i look at my days, they always appear busy, but when you look beyond the item to the what there are quite a lot of slots for you to fit in new initiatives…be they exercise, business or family releated.  The next time you sit down for some mindless TV, flick the ipad to facebook or whatever card game… or in my case wander to the car to commute, have a think about what else you could do in that time… actually you need to be stronger than ‘think’… time is like cash, you allocate the budget differently and get different results
  5. Start…. sometimes you won’t be able to work out all the details / logistics untill you are underway and that is ok… i’m inherently a problem solver, so addressing and optimising gaps becomes part of the process…. learning like children do (experiement)
  6. I initially used a whole bunch of tracking and mapping apps… i needed them to show improvement and keep me motivated when i was still half pregnant on the idea…. now though… i hardly use them. It’s my new normal i guess, but i can see when i take on the mother of all hills, i’ll be back. I will want to know how my times improve for a bit.