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Articles filed in: Success

The Upside Of Ignoring Your Competition

In his memoir Bryan Cranston (the actor who plays Walter White in the cult drama series Breaking Bad), describes a mental shift he made about auditions twenty years ago. He and the other actors would smile politely at each other while they sweated it out waiting for their turn to audition. Every person in the room was attached to the outcome. They were all there competing to get something.

Everything changed when Bryan began to focus on the process instead of the outcome. When he stopped thinking of his audition as a means to an end and became less invested in the outcome, he was free to enjoy and serve the work.

“I wasn’t going to the audition to get anything: a job or money or validation. I wasn’t going to compete with the other guys. I was going to give something.”

This new mindset meant Bryan freed himself up to give his best.

Whenever we’re trying to succeed at anything—going for a promotion, getting funding or closing the sale, we become attached to the outcome. That focus on a future we can’t control stops us fulfilling our potential in the moment.

We don’t win by trying to beat our competition. We triumph and thrive when we are motivated to do our best work, irrespective of what the competition is doing.

Image by Raphaël Labbé.

The Feedback You Invite Vs. The Feedback You Need

The air stewardess in the business class cabin was busy, but not overrun. She spent the majority of her time with one executive passenger in her section throughout the flight. A friend who was returning from an overseas holiday asked for a cup of tea. Ninety disappointing minutes and four more requests later it eventually arrived.

As the passengers left the flight at the end of their journey the stewardess handed the executive a feedback form. My friend left empty handed, full of valuable feedback the airline would never hear and unlikely to book with them again.

Our fear of being vulnerable to criticism sometimes means we don’t seek the feedback we need most. Even in a data-driven world, we can still game the system and so we miss the opportunity to make a real difference.

We only see what’s in the corners where we shine the light.
It takes courage to shine it in the darkest places.

Image by Kevin Morris.

Why Startups Fail

Take a look at this list of reasons startup founders give for failing. These are just some of them. The cost of customer acquisition, ahead of its time, wrong positioning, not enough income, no problem solution fit, wrong target market, low customer adoption, too early, not enough demand, no real audience and too much ego. What all 134 reasons point to is that the companies didn’t make something enough people wanted.

It’s easy to fall in love with our ideas. The trick is to take our rose-tinted spectacles off for long enough to understand exactly why, in a world of infinite choices people will notice, care, choose and pay us for them. Don’t tell us what you made. Tell us why it’s going to matter.

Image by Reinis Traidas.

How We Drive Change

When we want to improve our diet we monitor what we eat and how much we exercise. When we want to change a toddler’s behaviour we look for opportunities to praise the good, instead of constantly shouting down the bad. We measure and reward the behaviour we want.

In organisations, the things we measure and reward get, prioritised, managed and done. Not surprisingly when bonuses are paid to employees for closing deals and improving the single bottom line, that’s the thing they will make most effort to change.

We can talk to our teams until we’re blue in the face about the need to improve customer service or the importance of innovation to long-term success, but if we’re not monitoring, measuring and rewarding this behaviour we’re unlikely to see as much of it as we’d like.

If you want to improve customer engagement, measure and acknowledge customer delight. If you want to be more progressive, measure and recognise initiative. Change doesn’t start where we expect it to happen. It starts at the place where it’s lead.

Image by roujo.

Evaluating Opportunities

Opportunities are presented to us every day. It’s not always easy to discern which ones are worth taking and which ones to pass on. What questions do you ask yourself before you decide which to pursue or pass up?

10 Questions For Evaluating Opportunities

1. Why are we considering this opportunity?
2. What’s the biggest risk?
3. Do the potential gains outweigh the possible disadvantages?
4. How can we take advantage of the opportunity while mitigating against the risks?
5. How exactly will this help our brand?
6. What will success look like?
7. Are we happy about how much control we will have over the outcome?
8. Do the values of the potential partners closely align with ours?
9. If we say ‘yes’ to this what will we have to say ‘no’ to?
10. Does this feel like the right thing to do?

It’s better to question now rather than later.

Image by Jaine.

What Is A Strategy?

In business, we use words that are designed to help us to better understand, articulate and achieve our objectives. Often those same words end up doing exactly the opposite. ‘Strategy’ is one of those words that can tie us up in knots if we allow it to.

Imagine you’re on a riverbank. The place you want to get to—your destination is on the other side.

There is no bridge in sight and no obvious way to cross. There might be others on the riverbank trying to cross at the same time. You need a plan to get from here to there. So, you make a decision to cross the river at this spot, rather than keep heading upstream. The goal is to reach the other side within a set period of time and to monitor your progress as you go. You’ve committed to a plan—this is your strategy. The strategy doesn’t detail how exactly you will get across.

Next, you decide that you’ll use stepping stones to create a walkway, rather than build a boat to row across. Decisions like what kind of stones you’ll use, where you’ll get them from or who’ll be responsible for working out how far apart they’re placed are tactical.

When we break this down it looks something like this:


Or expressed another way:


Rising river levels or bad weather might mean you have to change tactics but the strategy remains the same, if and until you discern that it isn’t the best way to achieve your goal. Then you pivot, but that’s a whole other story.

The best example of a strategy you are likely to see is Amazon’s—as detailed by Jeff Bezos is his annual letter to shareholders starting back in 1997. When you can get as clear as Jeff you know you’ve got a strategy.

Image by Haldean Brown.

Becoming Indispensable

Every business wants to be indispensable to its customers. Every brand aspires to be the one people turn to without question. Indispensability is the holy grail of customer loyalty, just as fine summers are the secret longing of the Scottish.

When we lived in Scotland it felt like it rained every day. If it wasn’t raining it seemed like it could, at a moment’s notice. When the sun came out people did too. Picnics were had and walks were taken. In Perth (Australia, not Scotland, where we were also lucky to live) it was the opposite.
It rarely felt like rain in Perth. The sky seemed perpetually cloudless and blue. Sunshine was taken for granted. Trips to the beach postponed until tomorrow.

And so it goes in business. When a goal is achieved and the box ticked we celebrate, and then over time we begin to take our new situation for granted. The trick to being indispensable is to strive to be that in everything we do, while having the humility to know that ultimately we’re replaceable.

Indispensable brands treat their customers with the respect a Scotsman bestows on a sunny summer day and not like a West Australian, who is often surprised and disappointed when it rains.

Image by Nick.

Trust Vs. Hype

Malcolm Gladwell announced his new podcast last week. Before the first episode even aired it had jumped to #2 in the iTunes charts, topping long established shows like This American Life.

It’s not just Gladwell’s record for writing bestsellers that’s driving people to the podcast. It’s that we trust him to produce nothing but great work that’s worth our time. It’s possible for one person to build a reputation the preceds him without the use of a megaphone. Gladwell has done it by earning our trust, word by word, line by line, article by article, book by book, over twenty years.

Yes, hype is more immediate than trust, but in the long run trust is a more sustainable strategy.

Image by Sebastiaan ter Burg.

The Instructions We’re Looking For

It was probably Stephen Covey’s ‘7 habits’ that got us addicted to the idea that success had a formula, one that could be pinned down by a number and executed in stages. Now we’re wired to seek it out. The headlines we see in our digital publications are proof. We are tempted by the notion of ‘the 5 ways’ to this or that. If it’s got a number we’re bound to click on it. And so we get more instructions promising to point to the way we’re hoping to find.

Of course, you know the punchline. The successes we aspire to and try to emulate are aspirational precisely because they can’t be imitated. From Godin to Gladwell, Amazon to Apple, those that pioneer don’t look for a manual. They create a path they believe is worth walking.

The hard part isn’t knowing exactly how to do the thing.
It’s caring enough to decide that you should.

Image by Shelia.

Quiet Success

Success for my parents, was having a fair day’s work to do, for a fair day’s pay. Success was having money left in your pay packet at the end of the week after the bills were paid. Success was having the wherewithal to take care of your family and contribute to your community—often in ways that were not measured in pounds, shillings and pence.
Success was doing work you were proud to have done.

Now success is measured in every conceivable data point and by comparison. We try to keep pace and outdo, forgetting that how we measure success is a choice.

Success doesn’t have to manifest in the form of million dollar launches, grander titles, the most followers, or in the business class lounge. Loudest doesn’t always win.
In fact, some of the most successful people you know whisper.

Image by Joanna Keler.