Obsession with simplicity is front and center in Insanely Simple by Ken Segall, the man who put the famous “i” in Apple’s product names. Even if you’re not an Apple fan, this book offers insight into the ways our organizations function. Segall looks at ten behaviors and values that support Apple’s value: simplicity.
He tells sticky stories about Apple and other companies. Sticky because they stick in my mind. I’ve been telling these stories to family and friends as I read, not waiting to finish the chapter before I’m saying, “Jon, listen to this one.”
The titles are based on Apple’s Think Different advertising campaign. The ideas focus on managing and leading effectively:
- Think Brutal. Openness and honesty mean no guessing at what managers are thinking and expecting.
- Think Small. Small groups of smart people who include the final decision maker will succeed quickly.
- Think Minimal. Communicate and focus on one theme that people will remember.
- Think Motion. Create project timelines that include the right timeframe and the right people.
- Think Iconic. Find and use an image that symbolizes your theme.
- Think Phrasal. Use simple sentences. Use simple words. “Simplicity is its own form of cleverness (p. 202).”
- Think Casual. Informal conversations connection, inspire, and create.
- Think Human. Intangibles are often more important than metrics.
- Think Skeptic. Don’t let a “no” or extra work stand in the way of acting with Common Sense.
- Think War. Use your bullets wisely. Remember the passion you have for your idea.
Keep your highlighter handy for the pithy quotes. Keep family and friends handy for the sticky stories. Choose the idea you’ll work with first. This book is light enough to be a summertime read and compelling enough to share with others in your organization.
How do you “Think Different”?
Review: Great by Choice
Ken Segall’s Blog
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
Jim Collins wrote about the need for leaders to look in the mirror, holding themselves accountable for the direction and culture of their organization. Robert Kaplan’s newest book, What to Ask the Person in the Mirror, lists questions for leaders to ask:
- Why did you choose this job?
- Does the way you spend your time match your key priorities?
- Do you coach and also solicit feedback from your key subordinates?
- Do you have a succession-planning process in place?
- If you had to design your company today with a clean sheet of paper, what would you change?
- Do you act as a role model?
- Are you reaching your potential and being true to yourself?
What other questions would you ask leaders? What other questions would you ask yourself?
Read an interview with Kaplan and book excerpt.
“If we don’t find enough volunteers, we’re going to have to close. It will be a hardship for our community. I’m angry that we can’t find the resources we need.”
“It always feels like there’s a crunch to find volunteers, but they come through at the last-minute. I wish I didn’t have to worry about finding volunteers.”
Often non-profit organizations look to the corporate world for models of organization development and strategy. Yet non-profits are fundamentally different. While they have passion and vision, and deliver excellent service, the resources required differ from the business world. These resources may include charitable donations, grants, corporate sponsorships, and sometimes business revenues.
Non-profits rely on volunteers. Leading a team of volunteers is inherently different from leading paid employees. Volunteers commit their time, energy, money, and other resources because they want to make a difference, belong to a group with a common goal, and have pride in being a contributing member. Volunteers commit on their own terms. Leaders are the glue, attracting others to join and directing activities.
I have written a longer article about a 2-year study by Deloitte that looks at the characteristics of volunteers and suggests a list of questions that non-profit leaders can use to develop a strategy for leading and attracting volunteers. For more in-depth reading, I recommend Jim Collins’ monograph Good to Great for the Social Sectors and Baghai and Quigley’s As One: Individual Action and Collective Power.
There are encouraging statistics for those seeking to attract volunteers – from the overwhelming numbers of college students applying to Teach for America to the spontaneously organizing groups on the Internet such as the Linux users group, who jointly develop an operating system, and Wikipedia contributors. People envision helping their communities, learning new skills, and making a difference.
A community organizer is someone who uncovers [volunteers’] self-interest. They give [volunteers] an opportunity to work in their own self-interest and address problems in the community that they could not address by themselves.
– Jane Addams
Diego Rodriguez pointed out this quote from Richard Foster this morning:
I’m convinced that for an existing company to innovate, they must first make the decision to get rid of something. Unless you get rid of it, it will always be more a more compelling argument to improve the old rather than commit to the new. That small decision over time adds up to a total deflection, and you are never as motivated to innovate as the unencumbered new entrant.
I’m reading Onward by Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, who also sees disruption as a primary challenge, “Icons disrupt themselves before others disrupt them.”
So how do you creatively disrupt your own patterns? Begin by asking questions such as how can we improve our customer experience? What did we implement 10 years ago that we are holding onto – just so we don’t have to change? What one new way can we tangibly show our values in our customer interactions and in our community? What will we do that will make our employees proud to work for and with us?
Act. Do one thing today differently than you’ve done in the past. Do another tomorrow…
Out of the ordinary
Idea for reflection – 26
Discovering differences that make a difference
A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally what is not. It is the discipline to discard what does not fit—to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort—that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company, or most important of all, a life.
– Jim Collins
A stop doing list
Idea for reflection – 25
I recently had a conversation with a friend who is interviewing for a job. The recruiter sent a job description in advance of the interview. It included the requirement that the employee be “respectful of the historical context” of the business.
This requirement certainly falls outside of standard job descriptions or traditional work task analyses. As we pondered the requirement, we decided that the ability to understand the historic context and the core values of an organization belongs in every job description. As Jim Collins says in Good to Great, “Preserve the core and stimulate progress.”
“Stimulating progress” and innovation are the business imperatives of the moment. So, what does it mean to “preserve the core”, to respect historic context? How do we honor the best of what presently is? Do our organizations tell the stories of the company founders, stories that demonstrate their values, hopes, and dreams? Do we tell our own stories of why we came to work where we do and what matters most to us about the people and customers we work with? Do we see pictures, awards, certificates, or other memorabilia that make visible past organization experiences and successes?
How do we connect the past to the future? What practical methods have you used or encountered to demonstrate honor and respect for the historic context?
Failure has been a word of the moment for the past few years: “too big to fail“, Jim Collin’s How the Mighty Fall, and – I can’t count the British Petroleum headlines on the subject. Today, Seth Godin’s blog talks about the “hierarchy of failure worth following“:
. . . frequency = good all the way to please-don’t!
FAIL OFTEN: Ideas that challenge the status quo. Proposals. Brainstorms. Concepts that open doors.
FAIL FREQUENTLY: Prototypes. Spreadsheets. Sample ads and copy.
FAIL OCCASIONALLY: Working mockups. Playtesting sessions. Board meetings.
FAIL RARELY: Interactions with small groups of actual users and customers.
FAIL NEVER: Keeping promises to your constituents.
I’m reflecting on how this fits into my understanding of organizational and personal failure. Finally, a quote from Michael Jordan:
I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.