A person out walking at night comes across a man searching down on the floor under a lamppost.
The man on the floor says he lost his keys.
“Did you drop them here?”
“No, I dropped them over there, but the light’s better here.”
Sometimes we can find ourselves working, or searching, or staying in the places where we find it easier rather than the places that are optimal for what is truly important or fulfilling to us.
Hard choices are unavoidable: it is best to make them consciously.
Don’t let convenience be the deciding factor in what to focus on and what to neglect in your life.
Convenience makes things easy, but easiness is rarely what’s most valuable.
The real measure of your life management technique: does it help you ignore the right things.
Make Convenience work for You
Do not underestimate the power of convenience: Increase the convenience of what’s important to you. If writing more is important, leave a notebook and pen on your table. If watching less TV is important, put the remote control far away from the sofa. If drinking more water is important, have a bottle on your desk.
A company has only one ultimate decision maker: the CEO.
The CEO is the only person in a company without peers. No other individual holds such a full and final responsibility for the company. The CEO is the most powerful and sought-after title in business, more influential than any other. The CEO takes the company’s biggest decisions. These decisions account for 45% of a company’s performance.
This power and influence comes with a heavy burden.
The role of CEO can be all-consuming, lonely, and stressful. Just 3 out of 5 new CEOs live up to expectations in their first 18 months… and many CEOs struggle with their quality of life (health, family relationships, friendships) in the face of the pressures they face.
I run Vistage in Spain. Vistage is the world’s leading CEO coaching organisation. Over more than 60 years, Vistage has worked closely with CEOs to take and implement better decisions which enhance their performance and increase their quality of life.
I spend time with hundreds of CEOs each year. They are good people and they want the best for the good people around them. This makes it extremely personally challenging for them to deal with underperformance. They like the people around them. They want to give them lots of opportunities. They feel that it is a personal failure when someone close to them repeatedly underperforms expectations. They give more time. They allow for environmental factors. They wait and hope.
The single biggest regret of CEOs is not dealing quickly with underperformance.
In my work with CEOs through Vistage, over half of all of our work is about the current and future performance of the people and teams that surround the CEO. We challenge CEOs to stop waiting for underperformance to fix itself.
The Differentiator between Great and Good CEOs
According to McKinsey, the distinction between good CEOs and the great CEOs is the ability to focus.
Great CEOs place “big bets”. They focus on the top 3-5 most important initiatives. They dedicate 90% of their time, energy, resources to the 5 most important projects. They say “no” often. They don’t allow their time to fill up with many different activities and different priorities.
The Good CEOs avoided this level of focus. Their prioritisation of what is truly important is less clear. They are involved in many initiatives. They allow their agenda to fill up and try dedicate a couple of hours each week to the most important projects. They try to fit the important initiatives in around their “day job” of running the company.
The Great CEO has delegated the running of the company to an effective leadership team. They have made themselves unnecessary for operating the company today, so they can dedicate themselves to building the company of the future.
A friend shared with me a wonderful resource on business innovation over on the Visual Capitalist website. I’ve share links to the original source at the bottom of this post, and a number of other valuable resources that can help with business innovation.
I remember a lesson from my MBA. “…to remain profitable in the long term, your products must remain different over the long term.”
Warren Buffett and “Big Moats”
Warren Buffett talks about businesses with “big moats”. A big moat for a medieval castle kept the attackers from reaching the castle walls. A big moat for a business means that competition finds it difficult to offer a similar value proposition at a similar price point. If your product or service is not different from the competition, you have no moat.
In today’s open society, outside of state regulated monopolies, the only long term source of differentiation is innovation. Where does innovation come from? How can a company think about the different directions to innovate their product offering?
The 10 types of business product innovation:
How you make money
Connections with others to create value
Alignment of your talent and assets
Signature of superior methods for doing your work
Distinguishing features and functionality
Complementary products and services
Support and enhancements that surround your offerings
How your offerings are delivered to customers and users
Representation of your offerings and business
Distinctive interactions you foster
Innovation Tactics: 100 approaches to Identify Innovation
One useful resource is Doblin’s (part of Deloitte) list of over 100 tactics (pdf) that correspond with 10 Innovation Types framework.
Further Reading on Business Innovation
The original Visual Capitalist post is very much worth a read… and provides much more depth on each of the 10 types of business innovation:
As we come up to the season of new year’s resolutions, I took some time to reflect on what it takes to make change happen in our lives, and in our businesses.
David Maister is a former Harvard Business School professor, expert on the management of professional service firms. He is best known for writing “The Trusted Advisor” together with Charles Green.
The problem is that many change efforts are based on the assumption that all you have to do is to explain to people that their life could be better, be convincing that the goals are worth going for and show them how to do it. This is patently false. If this were true, there would be no drug addicts in the world, no alcoholics, no bad marriages: “Oh, I see, it’s not good for me? Ah, well then, I’ll stop, of course!” What nonsense!
David Maister, Strategy and the Fat Smoker
Why We Don’t Do What We Know We Need to Do
We don’t make most changes because the benefits come later, whereas the pain (of self discipline) comes immediately. This is not a good deal for the emotional, instinctual part of us as human beings.
For many of the important habit changes:
the benefits don’t come next week or next year… but in a couple of decades.
dabbling or trying a little gets you nothing… only full commitment over a long term gets the results.
Short term results are often detrimental to long term success… Short term extreme weight loss is always long term catastrophic.
Strategy is Fundamentally about Commitment
The necessary outcome of strategic planning is not analytical insight but resolve.
The essential questions of strategy are these:
Which of our habits are we really prepared to change, permanently and forever?
Which lifestyle changes are we really prepared to make?
What issues are we really ready to tackle?
Strategy as Commitment
Any weight loss plan that is based upon a temporary change in diet is destined to fail. Any corporate or organisational change that is about a short term push is destined to fail.
All Strategic changes must be seen as a fundamental lifestyle commitment based on the type of person or organisation you want to be.
An aspirational vision that is not based on a willingness to suffer the short term pain to change is a dangerous waste of time, and a dangerous loss of credibility.
There is no business benefit in claiming to pursue a goal that everyone can tell you don’t have the guts to pursue.
Only say you will do what you are really committed to doing.
6 Required Actions to Make Strategic Change Happen
If strategy is not about a To-Be future state, but about a set of disciplines that I or we as a team are willing to fully commit to, what is required for successful strategy?
What gets people on the program?
It is a permanent change in Lifestyle – Stay away from temporary fixes
You must change the scorecards – Measure what matters, incentivise what matters
Leadership lead by example – You can’t expect others to change if you don’t change
Principles over Tactics – make the changes because they are right in themselves, not because they lead to different results
People must Volunteer – Each person must make a personal commitment
People must get on or get off the Bus – Help those who are unable to make the personal commitment to find a place where they can be successful as they are today
Ideology is the Only Long-Term Strategic Differentiator
Is there a “way of doing things” that is particular to you or your organisation?
The most successful organisations have an ideology. There is a McKinsey way, a Goldman Sachs approach and a Bain philosophy, to take only three examples of firms with strong ideologies, clear strategies and the financial success to match.
At these firms, if you don’t subscribe to the ideology, you don’t stay and argue or act as a silent dissenter. You walk. Or, eventually, you’re asked to walk.
I am now thinking about what is “the Conor way of doing things” and “what is the Vistage way of doing things”… some end of year reflection.
As a leader, there are big disadvantages of saying things that you have not got the discipline to do. Be careful that your words are followed by actions.
As human beings, we accept the influence mostly, if not exclusively, of those we trust, and being trusted is mostly about true trustworthiness, not technique.
In Vistage, we say “Great leaders ask great questions.” The most important question: What’s my purpose?
Your purpose is about solving problems that are meaningful to yourself. Two phrases are key in this sentence:
solving problems – whilst you can get momentary happiness from experiences, only improving quality of life for other beings gives rise to lasting fulfilment;
meaningful to yourself – if you don’t enjoy the journey, you are going to give up quickly. If you give up, you will not solve problems. You must be selfish in this respect. You must use your own unique combination of talents and desires in a way that is satisfying to you personally.
The path of the purposeless one is beset on all sides by distraction and other people’s priorities. Modern western society gives us the greatest freedom of action of any civilisation in history. This freedom is dangerous without defining how you will use it.
The greater the freedom, the more important to clarify your own purpose.
“Freedom is not the absence of commitments, but the ability to choose – and commit myself to – what is best for me… “
“Freedom from” – the removal of obligations: I save enough money to not have to work in a job that is not meaningful
“Freedom to” – the creation of a purpose: I actively exercise my power of will to choose to pursue a meaningful purpose
Being highly efficient in pursuit of what is fundamentally unimportant is a terrible life path. I know several people who are brilliant at tactics, but lack any coherent life strategy. They are lost.
Nobody climbs Everest by accident. It was a dream and a plan and part of the meaningful activity of life for a decade before the summit.
How do you begin to answer: What is my Purpose?
Write something down. Anything.
What do you want to do during your life? Bucket list, problems you want to fix, experiences you want to have, how you differ from others, how you relate to others, teachers that made a difference…
Write them all down.
Peter Drucker’s Guide to Personal Vision
Peter Drucker in his book “Managing Oneself” identifies 7 areas for you to explore in writing:
What are my strengths?
How do I work best?
What are my values?
Where do I belong?
What should I contribute?
What relationships are important to me?
What will I do with the second half of my life?
That’s step 1.
Keep on Iterating
A vision is not written once, and done.
It is constantly updated and edited.
My friend David Tomas and I went to a 3 day workshop with Dr John DeMartini about 10 years ago called “Master Planning for Life“. For 3 straight days we sat in silence in a room in London and we wrote a plan for our life. Mine is 150 pages of word document. It is exactly what I described – a big list of every place I ever wanted to go, every thing I ever wanted to learn, every person that matters, every teacher that impacted me, every dream I have… and a set of financial plans that would allow me to make it happen.
I haven’t done everything that is in the document. I get demotivated and forget to review it often. I have days where I ask myself “what is it all about?”
I have this document as a map and a compass that can get me back on track.
You have to write it down.
…and then you iterate it many, many, many times. You come back to it regularly and add things that are even better and delete things that don’t resonate any more.
After 100 iterations you have something that can re-motivate you about why you are here.
After 1,000 iterations you should start to have something that really reminds you what is important and how to use your time.
Is there a shortcut?
…of course not. This is too important an aspect of your life to cut corners. Imagine if you just copied someone else’s purpose document? You’d end up living a great life, for them.
…and iterations are vital – because often what you think is important or meaningful when you are young turns out to not quite be the experience you expected.
Put it where you will see it often
It is not the writing down that matters. It is the iterating and repeatedly reminding yourself of what you think is important.
The problem is not that you don’t know what matters to you and what activities are most important – it is that you forget or get distracted so often.
A Truly Compelling Vision?
Most people do not have a compelling vision. They are embarrassed to dream big.
A boring vision attracts mediocre people and mediocre performance.
“I want to make €1 million” is not a compelling vision. It is about you, and you alone. Why would anyone else give their best effort so that you can have €1 million in your bank account?
Eric Schmidt, ex-CEO of Google says “it is easier to achieve big dreams than small dreams… because big dreams attract better people”.
Guy Kawasaki told me that a compelling vision is based on one of three things:
Right a wrong
Give back to people something they have lost
Improve quality of life
How do you improve the quality of life of a group of people? How do you fix something that is wrong with the world? How do you give people something they once had but is now lost?
It takes courage to build a compelling vision.
It takes deep self reflection about what is deeply important to me. The closer I get to what my deepest values ask of me, the more I will feel fear of ridicule by others.
If anything was possible, what type of world do you want to see?
Describe this world.
If it feels easily achievable, you do not have a compelling vision. If this seems important but very difficult – you might be on to a compelling vision.
If you work for the money, you will get bored and apathetic sooner or later. If the money is for a bigger purpose, then your journey can overcome many obstacles.
Developing Your Vision is Important Work
One of the most profound books I have ever read is Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
“A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualised depends on decisions but not on conditions.”
Viktor E. Frankl, from his book Man’s Search for Meaning
Professional Rugby Players do it…
On a transatlantic flight this year I came across the “Chasing Great” documentary that followed the life and career of New Zealand rugby captain Richie McCaw.
Here’s something I found today on twitter that resonated… Pro Golfer Justin Thomas shared his written goals for the coming season…
“Well… the season is over! A lot of positives, and a lot of things to improve on. Time to take some time off and relax with friends and family before gearing up for a big year next year. More importantly, time to make another goal list!”
Last night I drove home from the Costa Brava. This is a 90 minute drive. I spent 89 minutes looking at the road ahead and about 1 minute using the mirrors to see what was behind me, and what was in the lanes next to me.
Driving while looking mostly in the rear view mirror is dangerous.
Do you know where many people spend their time looking while driving their life?
Looking in the Rear View Mirror
Income statements, balance sheets, project status reviews, current account balance, kilos overweight… These are all backwards looking indicators. They describe the past and the effect of past action.
These are useful indicators for Levels 1 to 3 on Jim Collin’s 5 Levels of Leadership. They are terrible indicators for a leader that aspires to Level 5 Leadership.
What are the forward looking indicators in your business and in your life?
Driving while Looking Forwards
As we drove yesterday, we were listening to a conversation between Jim Collins and Tim Ferriss (it is excellent: I highly recommend that you find 2 hours to listen to their conversation about life, disciplines, purpose and the essence of a well lived life).
Jim Collins’ Important Concepts for Life & Business
Jim Collins shared many of the concepts that he has been working on for the last 30 years:
Clarity of speaking comes from consistently writing your ideas down
Excellence is the fruit of a conscious decision and commitment to long term disciplines (that are not easy for anybody)
Evidence matters (especially in living our own lives)
Clarity of speaking comes from consistently writing your ideas down
How to Speak Clearly?
I love Tim’s podcast. He is interested in exactly the same range of questions that I find myself interested in. He asks good questions and pushes his guests to be specific, to give examples, to be clear. He doesn’t invite people who are not experts, and he doesn’t let them away with generic, vague concepts… he pushes them to get clear.
Both Jim and Tim have spent a lot of time writing.
As I develop the next iteration of my programs at IESE Business School, I realise that the biggest growth step that I can develop for my participants is to push them to think clearly. I believe that the only way to check whether you can think clearly is to learn to write clearly… and great writers know that great writing is the result of multiple processes of editing.
The big gap between most people becoming great speakers, is to first become clear thinkers.
Social media and rapid meetings and political correctness has allowed lazy thinking to become normal.
Excellence is the fruit of a conscious decision and commitment to long term disciplines (that are not easy for anybody)
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Jim’s first question to Tim (I love how Jim immediately took control of the conversation, rather than just react to Tim’s questions): “What was the topic of your senior thesis at Princeton?”
It turns out that Tim has been studying, investigating and writing about the same general concepts for years. How do humans learn? and the more specific: How do the most effective human learners actually approach learning?
Tim is no overnight success. He’s been committed to learning in the same general themes for over 20 years. Jim is no overnight success. He’s spent the last 30 years committed to learning in the same few general themes.
Evidence matters (especially in living our own lives)
Poor data leads to poor decisions.
The person that each of us is most capable of manipulating is ourself. In their conversations, Tim and Jim reiterate the importance of evidence.
Very often, an accepted truth is the barrier to your next step of growth. One small, well intentioned, bad habit is costing you more than all the good habits you have invested in.
Often the members of a Vistage group play an interesting challenge role in calling out “The Elephant in the Room” – where they see you reliving a repetitive delusion that is damaging your progress in work, relationships and life.
We can fool ourselves better than anyone. Often the delusion is blatantly obvious to everyone, except me.
More Jim Collins…
I’ll leave you with one of the few video recordings of Jim Collins that are available publically:
Good strategy begins with a clear diagnosis (widely accepted) of the real current condition of the business. If there is nothing painful then this is strategy driven by internal politics, not strategy driven by a determination to be the best company, team that we can be.
Good strategy clearly articulates the challenges (big potholes on our path). If there are no scary challenges, then it is not good strategy. There are dangers out there that can kill your business. If you are not vigilant, the bugs and the weeds will take over the garden.
Good strategy covers “Ideology” – There is an answer to “who are we?” As people, as leaders? Michael O’Leary shows that “cheap” can win – but has to be lived by the full organisation. It is not enough to live values – to be a trusted organisation, a trusted leader, values must be both explicitly expressed and lived daily. Are these still lived? Aspirational values not being lived = loss of all trust and company becomes commodity. Image to the right comes from “Walking the Talk”: Under-promising is almost as dangerous as over-promising.
Good strategy articulates the set of coherent daily, weekly, monthly actions that must be inculcated, measured and made habitual? What systems – budget, motivation, talent, metrics?
Good strategy addresses the question: How do we concentrate our resources in areas where our opponents are weak? What are the real sources (that customers really care about) of our advantages? “Don’t attack walled cities”
Good strategy addresses innovation and change: How do we as an organisation cheaply explore ideas? How do we embrace “trying, failing & improving”? Is it career suicide to lead a failed product launch? If so, there will be no innovation.
Good strategy understands sales. Neil Rackham tells us that today’s customers are polarizing around extremes of transaction oriented (“give me your price for this”) and trusted relationship (“help me think and I’ll pay you well”) – you cannot target both groups with the same approach. Transactional – push towards self service. Trusted – over-resource with senior experts; only chase projects with very high win probability (coming second is worse than not bidding).
What else is important? What challenges do you face when you are tasked with defining strategy?
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