I continue to be intrigued by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen’s ideas on “Return on Luck.” Now comes a longer piece in the New York Times: What’s Luck Got to Do With It? If you haven’t already begun reading their new book, Great by Choice, you can read further about their idea in the article.
My summary in a earlier post focused on the importance of the “who” in luck. I continue to value my trusted advisors who have helped me make important decisions.
What is your perception on what luck has to do with it? Is luck important or do other factors weigh more heavily? Do you make the most of the chances you’ve been given?
Those of you who have attended one of Friesen Group’s training sessions on public speaking and presentation know that we recommend the minimalist approach to PowerPoint slides. So you may have already guessed that I’m not talking about those kind of bullets – you remember, the bulleted list.
Instead, I’m writing about an idea from Great by Choice. Collins and Hansen tell the story of the Captain of a warship that has a limited amount of gunpowder. One option is to use all of the gunpowder to fire one big cannonball to disable or destroy the other ship. Problem: if it misses, there are no resources left. The wise Captain will instead fire a few bullets first – “ping” – “ping” – “ping” – to discover the best trajectory. Once discovered, the remaining gunpowder can be used to fire the big cannonball – at the precise trajectory needed to accomplish the desired outcome.
A “bullet” in an organization is a calculated, creative test. It is a “low-cost, low-risk, and low-distraction” experiment. Successful organizations are disciplined and innovative. They try multiple ideas. They iterate, trying again, making adjustments, measuring carefully. If they fire a bullet that misses, they aren’t critically crippled. When they fire a bullet that hits its mark, they can commit additional resources to exploit the opportunity.
Need ideas for creating and firing “bullets?” IDEO and the Stanford d.school have published processes for doing disciplined, creative research that leads to results:
What “bullets” are you firing, measuring, and validating?
Commit to disruption
“I love the straightforward title,” said a friend about Great by Choice. And, like Collins’ previous work, the book is as straightforward as the title. Collins and Hansen seek to answer their question, “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?”
Their research uses their standard research method: compare matched pairs of companies using market data and original documents. These companies were chosen for achieving spectacular results, while navigating uncertainty and chaos in their industry, and for being vulnerable early in the time window as young, small, entrepreneurial companies.
The value I found in this book is that it adds detail to Collins’ idea that great results are driven by disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action. Through stories drawn from their research and stories of explorers and adventurers who demonstrate the traits, Collins and Hansen make the case for what discipline looks like:
- 20 Mile March – the discipline to have understandable and rigorous performance mechanisms.
- Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs – the discipline to blend creative methods with the ability to amplify its value.
- Leading above the Death Line – prepare when things go well, manage risk, ask the tough questions.
- SMaC – Specific, Methodical, and Consistent – make operating practices visible and replicable.
- Return on Luck – Luck happened, both good and bad; the question is what return did you get on it? But the most important kind is “Who Luck” – the luck of finding the right “mentor, partner, teammate, leader, friend.”
Each chapter ends with a summary and a list of questions. Even if you find yourself arguing with Collins and Hansen’s methods or opinions, the questions are worth asking about your business and your self.
Who is your best luck?
Uncertainty as Opportunity
A vision is not a destination