Category Archives: simplicity

Find the 15-Minute Competitive Advantage

Just because this is a time of transformation doesn’t mean that it’s easy to sell transformational ideas. Economic uncertainty has reduced the audience for bold, grand rhetoric. Besides, even in boom times innovation is risky. Innovators often have to ease anxieties by sounding conservative while doing something radical.

We all want breakthroughs; it’s just that we can’t know exactly which of the bold new ideas will break through. For every Mustang, there’s an Edsel. For every flip phone, there’s a flop. (Apple’s track record — iPod, iTunes, iPhone — is extraordinary but atypical.) It’s is also hard to get traction for ideas that are so far ahead of their times that the infrastructure or human habits do not yet support them. For every dream of cheap renewable energy, there’s the reality of still-high costs of wind turbines or solar panels.

As many technology companies have seen to their peril, you can leap much too far into the future by seeking revolution, not evolution, leaving potential users in the dust. But steady progress — step by single step — can win internal support and the external race for share of market or share of mind. Especially if you take each step quickly.

Consider Woody Allen’s comedy routine about the first landing of UFOs on Earth and our first contact with an advanced civilization (AKA advanced competitor). Allen wrote that most worries about planetary takeovers involve aliens that are light years away and centuries ahead of us in technology, bringing devices we can’t understand or communicate with, which enables them to control everything. Not to worry, Allen said. If we can’t understand or communicate with their systems, we’ll just ignore them, doing our work the way we always do until they leave in frustration. Instead, he argued, the advanced civilization that we should really worry about is one that is just 15 minutes ahead. That way they’d always be first in line for the movies, they’d never miss a meeting with the boss… and they’d always be first in every race.

Call this the “15 minute competitive advantage”: changing in short fast bursts rather than waiting for the breakthrough that transforms everything. If every proverbial 15 minutes, you learn something and incorporate it into the next speedy step, you’ll continue to be ahead. And a few time periods later, transformation will be underway.

Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, praised the value of cheap, fast experiments at a recent CEO meeting. He recalled watching Toyota’s method of continuous improvement on the shop floor: simplifying, speeding, and taking costs out with each round. Bolt instead of weld, tape instead of bolt, hold instead of tape. Cook’s advice is to turn business concepts into hypotheses to test fast. This is the essence of rapid prototyping, and it doesn’t require total transformation.

Stay a little ahead of the competition while close enough to what customers can understand and incorporate, and the innovation idea is easier to sell. Here are some characteristics of innovations most likely to succeed at gaining support:

Trial-able: The idea or product can be demonstrated on a pilot basis. Customers can see it in action first and incorporate it on a small scale before committing to replace everything.

Divisible: It can be adopted in segments or phases. Users can ease into it, a step at a time. They can even use it in parallel with current solutions.

Reversible: If it doesn’t work, it’s possible to return to pre-innovation status. Eventually you want life to be unimaginable without it, but at least in theory, it’s possible to go back to zero.

Tangible: It offers concrete results that can be seen to make a difference in something that users need and value.

Fits prior investments: The idea builds on “sunk costs” or actions already taken, so it looks like not much change is involved.

Familiar: It feels like things that people already understand, so it is not jarring to use. It is consistent with other experiences, especially successful ones.

Congruent with future direction: It is in line with where things are heading anyway. It doesn’t require people to rethink their priorities or pathways, even though of course it changes things.

Positive publicity value: It will make everyone look good.

These principles leave plenty of room to promote revolutionary ideas under cover of evolutionary change. But to find and grow a market for anything — whether green products or new health delivery plans — means staying close to what users can adopt easily and then leading them to the next iteration.

Innovators who take risks must reduce the risk for others. Think long-term trends but short-term steps —15 minutes at a time.

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Truth in Advertising – Refreshing

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10 reasons you are hated

Your team hates you. Really. They do. They hate their boss (you) but they just won’t say so because they like getting paid. But when they go home at night, they spill their bile about their taskmaster of a boss who does nothing but drive them crazy (isn’t that what you do too?).

It’s been a while since I’ve been controversial (okay, maybe the post on trust not being the most important aspect business partnerships was provocative but I’m talking controversial at the level of the I don’t care about your degree post). For this post, I’ve been sure to drink a glass of vinegar before typing.

If you don’t start fixing some of these behaviors, you might end up with a mutiny on your hands. In today’s world though, that doesn’t involve them tossing you in a dinghy – instead they’ll all just quit their jobs.

Before you go all “Mike has lost it again. This post doesn’t apply to me so I won’t read any more of it.” I’d ask you to spend the 2-3 minutes it will take to spin through the below list and see if any of the points resonate. If you make it through all ten and can honestly say none apply to you, bravo (related: are you hiring?).

If some of the points do resonate, I’m asking you to commit to rectifying some of these behaviors. We’ll all be happier that way. To assist with that, I’ve offered some suggested behavior modifications for each of the ten.

Full disclosure – I’ve been plenty guilty of some of the below behaviors. Fortunately I’ve had talented folks around me help me work on many of them. I’m not perfect by a long shot yet. I guess what I’m saying is all of these things apply to all of us even in some small measure.

So here goes… 10 Reasons Your Team Hates You:

10. You don’t prioritize. Everything is important. When you do this, you remove your team’s ability to say no to less important work and focus their efforts on critical tasks. The fix: write down all the tasks you have folks working on and FORCE yourself to assign a H, M, or L to each task (and treat it as such). Thou shalt only have 33% of all tasks in each of those three categories – you can’t assign everything a “High” importance.

9. You treat them like employees. You don’t know a darn thing about them as a person (which makes them feel like nothing more than a number). The fix: read this post about 7Up.

8. You don’t fight for them. When is the last time you went to bat for a team member? And I mean went to bat where you had something to lose if it didn’t work out? When you don’t stand up for them, you lose their trust. The fix: identify something you should have gone to the mat for recently and get out there and fight. Get someone that raise they deserve. Go fight for them to get that cool new project.

7. You tell them to “have a balanced life” then set a bad example. You tell them weekends are precious and they should spend them with their family then you go and send them emails or voicemails on Sunday afternoon. The fix: either curb your bad habit of not being in balance or learn how to do delayed send in Outlook so your messages won’t go out until Monday morning.

6. You never relax. You walk around like you have a potato chip wedged between your butt cheeks and you’re trying not to break it. When you’re uptight all the time, it makes them uptight. Negative or stressful energy transfers to others. The fix: laugh, get a remote controlled car or tricycle to drive around the office, or put on a Burger King crown. When you relax, your team knows it’s okay for them to relax too.

5. You micromanage. You know every detail of what they’re working on and you’ve become a control freak. They have no room to make decisions on their own (which means yes, they’ll make a mistake or two). The fix: back off. Pick a few low risk projects and commit to not doing ANYTHING on them unless your team member asks you for assistance. It’ll be uncomfortable for you. Give it a try you micromanaging control freak.

4. You’re a suck-up. If your boss stopped short while walking down the hall, you’d break your neck. Your team hates seeing you do this because it demonstrates lack of spine and willingness to fight for them. It can also signal to them that you expect them to be a sycophant just like you. The fix: try kicking up and kissing down instead.

3. You treat them like mushrooms. Translation: they’re kept in the dark and fed a bunch of crap. Do you ration information? Do you withhold “important” things from them because it’s “need to know” only? All you’re doing is creating gossip and fear. The fix: stop acting like 007 and spill some beans.

2. You’re above getting your hands dirty. You’re great at assigning work. Doing work? Not so much. They hate watching you preside (and they hate it even more when you take credit for what they slaved over). The fix: get dirty. Climb under the proverbial tank and turn a wrench. Roll up your sleeves and pick a smaller project you can handle in addition to your other responsibilities and DO THE PROJECT YOURSELF.

1. You’re indecisive. Maybe. Or not. But possibly. Yeah. No. I don’t know. OH MY GOSH MAKE A DECISION ALREADY! That’s what you get paid to do as the leader. You drive them crazy with your incessant flip-flopping or waffling (mmmm waffles… oh. Sorry… still writing). The fix: DO SOMETHING! Acknowledge you might make a mistake but do something. A team is much more likely to follow a leader who makes decisions (even some bad ones) than a leader who makes no decisions at all.

There they are: 10 reasons your team hates you. Do any of them fit? I’ll tell you what: I DARE you to email this post to your team members and ask them to anonymously circle any of the above behaviors that apply to you. I then further challenge you to fix the one or two that have the most votes. Trust me – all of you will be happier if you do. How’s THAT for provocative?

Need more time

First rule of decision making: More time does not create better decisions.

In fact, it usually decreases the quality of the decision.

More information may help. More time without more information just creates anxiety, not insight.

Deciding now frees up your most valuable asset, time, so you can go work on something else. What happens if, starting today, you make every decision as soon as you have a reasonable amount of data?

Square one is underrated

Perhaps the worst outcome most people can imagine when a project stutters is having to go, ‘all the way back to square one.’
Apparently, square one is an unhappy place, and far away, too.
Hey, if you’re lost, if you’ve gone down the wrong road, it doesn’t make sense to speed up and keep racing down the wrong road. Instead, the smart thing is to go back to the last spot you were in where you had a chance to find the right road and start from there.
Square one: nicer than people expect.

Why Google and Apple Win, and You Don’t

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