A couple of years ago I went on a pilgrimage to Wittenburg – the birthplace of the Reformation. The impact of those events 497 years ago are still being felt today – including a lot of the best things about America.
Martin Luther set the ball rolling on the idea that the result is in our own hands. Too many cultures around the word encourage people to think that their destiny is determined from the day they are born based on who their parents are, where they were educated, who they know and what is expected of them. And this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because they give up before they have even tried.
Never Stop Learning.
In America the opposite is true – the only thing that limits us is the strength of our own will and the power of our imagination. Be persistent, be optimistic, be self-critical and look to sharpen your skills and those around you every day.
You need to instil the same culture of free will and self-confidence in your team. Exogenous events are to be dealt with and used to your advantage. Everybody should look to constantly improve their performance through training and acquiring new skills rather than just staying in the deterministic comfort zone of what they know they are good at.
Deadlines are important, but not always for the reason that most people think. When the task is a well-defined action and the time required can be easily calculated then you base the calculation on when you start.
But for bigger business decisions deadlines are not set, they are imposed by forces outside your control. And the deadline is not when a task should be completed but when a decision should be made. In that situation the only solution is to start now, because the longer you think about it, the better your decision is likely to be.
But you need to structure the thought process, make sure to sketch out what the key variables are and how they influence your business decision. Define what you know and what you don’t know. This gives you information gathering tasks to complete. Once you have enough data you organize it and then it is time for the magic to begin.
The ultimate processing device brain will start to iterate the problem. But it is difficult to predict how long it will take for the final decision to appear. Expect the provisional decision to oscillate during the thought process, but for the range to get tighter.
Hopefully you will get a moment of clarity before the deadline is up. But even if you have to settle for a preliminary decision it will surely be more accurate than if you had left it to the last minute.
Encourage your team to work the same way. Leave the big decisions as late as you can but start thinking about them as early as possible. Do the groundwork now and then give your mind the time it needs to work through them. In the downtime this implies do the small, process-orientated tasks or even better some skills sharpening to make your decision-making process even more accurate.
I have spent my whole life being accused of being lazy. I regard this as a compliment. Judge me on my results not on the process, I say. The majority of process is by definition wasteful. The task of the entrepreneur is to eliminate process.
Is it time to recognise that results are not commensurate with sweat?
The ideal scenario for all entrepreneurs should be a 0% effort and 100% result. That means they can expend that energy on something else. Whenever I am doing something the first question I ask is – do I need to be doing this? Is there someone else who can do it better, faster, more accurately than me. Usually this means automation.
One of my joys is finding great new sources of information. I have recently discovered Similarweb – it is the lazy guy’s dream. It is like having google analytics access to every site on the web. It will save man-centuries of information gathering as well as incorrect decisions based on hunches and inaccurate information.
Train your staff to be as efficient as possible too. Judge them on their results not on following any process. If they persist with a process that is not working then stop it. If they are measuring the process and not the result then you need to recalibrate. Ask them what they are trying achieve and if they give you a process target and not results target then you need to retrain or fire.
My number one rule in life is – always have a plan B.
Usually people think about plan B’s in terms of contingency – what happens if plan A fails. And that is valid.
But the more important reason for having a Plan B is that you cannot know whether Plan A is the right path unless you have a plan B to benchmark it with.
One reason why the American system has triumphed – both capitalism and democracy – is that you cannot be sure you have made the right decision unless you have made a choice.
Entrepreneurs need to avoid the temptation to spend too much time justifying what they are doing rather than objectively benchmarking vs. the competition. They are often surprised to learn what their real strengths and weaknesses are.
Within the rest of the organization similar levels of objectivity, transparency and practicality are also required. The best way to achieve this is usually through proactive and constructive training program led by a third party.
Many people are talking about the 4-hour working week. It is the new way to entrepreneurial success. What they forget is that this is only possible if your mind is working the other 164 hours – and that includes while you’re asleep!
…the other 20 hours…
How many times did you wake up in the middle of the night with the answer to a complex business problem? Does the time you were processing that task not count as work?
There are 4 stages to any successful business decision – frame the problem, gather the necessary information, organize and analyse, then act on the conclusion.
The last stage may only take 4 hours, but the other three stages take the 95% balance of time required to resolve the problem. Your brain needs time to process the problem and all the information that you have thrown at it.
Given the way our brain is structured, it will often find this easier if you are doing something totally unrelated – physical exercise, having a shower or best of all sharpening your mind by learning a new skill.