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Articles filed in: Success

What’s On Your ‘Not To Do’ List?

Back in 2007, the New York Times called Apple’s decision not to add a mechanical keyboard to the iPhone their billion dollar gamble). That decision worked out pretty well for Apple.

Some of the most successful ideas in the world were born from a conviction about the things the creator, founder or company would not do.

Pixar decided not to make animated musicals.

James Dyson decided not to make vacuum cleaners with bags in them.

Nino and Sisto decided not to expand beyond their single successful café.

What are you gladly forsaking to become the best at what you do?

Image by K.H. Reichert

Easy Does It

Our expectations about the quality of products have increased exponentially with our ability to perfect the things we produce. When quality improves our tolerance for mistakes plummets. Interestingly, the same isn’t true for human interactions. Even though digital technology has enabled degrees of efficiency beyond our wildest dreams our expectations about how people will use it to serve and connect with us have dropped. Product reliability is a given. Great service and emotional intelligence are not.

Now when you respond to an email in good time or simply reply at all, people are blown away. When you take the time to listen to a complaint and acknowledge someone’s feelings, they are not just satisfied, they are delighted. When you go the slightest bit out of your way to resolve someone’s problem, you make a customer for life.

We spend much of our time working on perfecting the hard thing and not enough time doing the easy thing. People want to be seen and heard just as much, if not more, as they want things to work. Helping is both priceless and underrated.

Image by Jessica Lucia

The Assumptions Checklist

Our decisions are rarely based on objective information. And even when we do have ‘good data’, it’s coloured by why, who and how it’s collected. Often our decisions are based on assumptions. We accept something as true, without proof.  We make many of these assumptions with a scarcity mindset. We kill good ideas too soon by assuming there is not enough of this or too much of that to make a difference. And pursue bad ones for similar untested reasons.

We can challenge our assumptions by compiling three lists to answer three simple questions:

A. What assumptions am I making?
1, 2, 3, 4, 5…..and so on.

B. What if what I’m assuming is not true?
1, 2, 3, 4, 5…..and so on.

C. How can I test these assumptions?
1, 2, 3, 4, 5…..and so on.

We create a more hopeful set of expectations by calling out the beliefs that are holding us back.

Image by P. Thirumalaisamy

When Did One Day Become Never?

The first time I met Simon he was juggling four dirty plates while greeting customers and directing his team. Over time, I came to know Simon as a friend and also as one of the most gifted people I knew. Simon’s bosses loved how he ran their cafe as if it were his own. They loved how he made their customers feel so welcome that they kept coming back. And they loved how their business was growing under his caring leadership. They just didn’t show it.

Simon loved his customers, but he hated the feeling of not being valued by his employers, and besides, he had a dream. At the weekend Simon had a side gig. He became a personal chef and dinner party host for hire. His clients went out for the day leaving him in to cook the meal and style their home before their guests arrived in the evening. Nothing gave Simon more satisfaction than seeing the look on someone’s face when they came home looking relaxed to an exquisite meal in the beautiful setting he’d created.

Simon wanted to do this work full-time. He dreamt of starting his own business one day. He could see how his service would work for dinner parties, small celebrations and family gatherings. He had everything he needed to begin and clients who were ready to recommend him at the drop of a hat.

Simon spent hours that next year talking about his business ideas. He worked on everything from the name to the launch strategy and service descriptions. That was fifteen years ago. I’d love to tell you that Simon got his business up and running and that it’s succeeded beyond even his wildest dreams but I can’t. You see, he never did find the courage to leave his old job. He never started. He’s still working in the cafe where we met. The only thing that’s changed is that he’s stopped talking about how everything is going to be different one day when he gets around to doing the thing he really wants to do.

Too many people not only never make the leap—they never even take the first step. Often what’s holding them back is the clarity, confidence and support they need to change direction. ‘One day’ becomes never when we fail to take the first step.

I’ve been helping people and companies to find and tell the story that sets them apart for more than a decade. And now, along with my friend and colleague, Mark Dyck, I’m helping more of those people who have a story to tell to find the people like them who can support them on their journey, in the Right Company. We’re opening our business community to a handful of new members this week. You can apply to join here. Simon might believe it’s too late for him. It’s not too late for you.

Image by Garry Knight

How Much Runway Do You Need?

An aircraft must reach sufficient speed to take off. The pilot needs enough runway to achieve that optimum speed. The same is true of our projects and ideas. Velocity alone is not enough to make an idea fly. Ideas also need time.

We often focus our energy on gathering speed and creating momentum, while forgetting the importance of allowing ourselves enough runway. How much runway does your idea need?

Image by Björn

The Immeasurable Benefits Of The Immeasurable

Joanne has no idea what the return on investment of sweeping her bakery floor is. And yet she does it first thing each morning before the first customer arrives.

Harry has no way of knowing if the three hours he spends cleaning his taxi inside and out at the weekend makes a difference to passengers. But he makes the effort all the same.

Sean will never meet the diners who sit admiring the view from the restaurant windows he cleans. That doesn’t stop him polishing out every single smudge and smear.

We underestimate the value of the things we cannot quantify or track—not only to our customers, colleagues or companies but for the joy and fulfilment they bring us in the doing of them. The way we do the work, not just the work itself, is how we own our story.

Image by Udo Geisler

Meaning At Work

There is an element of the mundane in every job. Consider the cabin crew who work on long-haul flights. The majority of their work is the repetitive, and strenuous task of wheeling trolleys full of food and drink down narrow aircraft aisles while repeating the same script, ‘chicken or beef’, to the three hundred passengers on board. Many people who choose these roles do so because they tell themselves a story about travel perks and seeing the world. It’s unlikely that they spend much time thinking about how boring handing out bottled water, blankets and sick bags will become. The day-to-day reality of this work could provide an ideal environment for breeding discontent and misery.

If that’s so, why do some people thrive in these jobs, while others become disillusioned? It’s likely that the difference between the people who find joy in the work and those who don’t, have found a way to feel like they’re making a difference. The joyful cabin crew find ways to bring more of who they are to their role. They look for opportunities to gain fulfilment from what they say and do at times when they can go ‘off script’. Like the cabin crew on a recent BA flight who tried to help me make my tight connection (I didn’t), by moving me to the front of the aircraft to disembark. And the stewardess who found me a pair of airline pyjamas to change into just in case I missed the flight and got stuck in the airport (I did), or the hostess in the airline lounge who made me dinner, even though everything had been cleaned and packed away for the night.

It isn’t only our clients and customers who benefit when we bring more humanity to work. The more meaning we can find in our work by being who we are, the more we stand to gain.

Image by Austrian Airlines

The Seduction Of New Ideas

We, humans, are novelty seeking organisms. That’s why we find new ideas seductive. We are hardwired to respond to the novel and the new. Our motivation increases when we have a new project to work on. And yet we also have a strong bent towards mastery. We’re happiest when we feel like we’re making progress and making a difference, that’s why it’s important to keep honouring the ideas we’ve been working on with focus and momentum.

Yes, it’s tempting to seek out new opportunities. But we’re rewarded in more ways than one when we intentionally stick with the old thing.

Image by Hernán Piñera


These words spoken by Director of The London School of Economics, Minouche Shafik, in an interview last year ring true: ‘In the past jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in future they’ll be about the heart.’

The truth is our best work always has been about the heart.

And the good news is that we all start with the same advantage.

Image by Creative Arts Workshop

Get To The Heart Of The Matter

My granny had a chronic dry skin problem all her life. She tried every moisturiser on the planet. She stopped using soap and bathed in lotions the doctor prescribed for her. Nothing worked. No matter what the doctor prescribed or what granny applied to her skin it still cracked and flaked.

It’s obvious now looking back, that neither my granny nor her doctor got to the heart of the problem. He didn’t know what was causing or contributing to the condition. He didn’t know that my granny never drank water—only tea. Twenty cups a day. He didn’t know that she had a poor diet, devoid of fresh fruit and vegetables and healthy fats. He tried to fix the problem by treating the symptoms, instead of the cause.

We all do this at some point in our lives. We don’t get to the heart of the matter and end up with an ineffective solution. We waste precious resources, time and energy on tactics that don’t help us to create forward motion or get to where we want to go. We reason that there’s no harm in trying something that might not work while forgetting to account for the opportunity cost, that isn’t just wasted time or money—it’s wasted momentum.

Getting to the heart of the matter, whether that’s with your health goals or your business challenges, is harder than finding a quick-fix solution to treat the symptoms. But it’s worth the effort.

Alex Harvey

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