Efficiently Inefficient: Processes that can improve quality and quantity of life

For our latest project at Socialize Isaac and I are going to increase the release cycle even further and go from a few releases per group per week, to a few releases per day. I find moving more efficiently and quickly over the years always takes a few non-intuitive jarring mental steps. (If they didn’t we would have been way more efficient as a society way earlier on in history).

Here are a couple things that always seem to be the foundation of inching your way up the efficiency hill.

1) Get to a point at which you truly trust your results, not just feel good or secure about them, but quantitative based results that have a quantitative “I trust this” number. This is what I call the “don’t look over your shoulder moment”, because if you’re looking over your shoulder to make sure nothing has gone wrong, you are not looking forward to make sure new things go right. This accomplished with unit/itests tests, or in our everyday lives marking your calendar or adding a reminder. Even at managing people in the office, time and time again setting up employees to be trusted and autonomous, with a simple audit system to make you aware only if something is wrong, has proven time and time again to produce happier, more creative, more productive employees in a company that can scale. Basically every one wins big when you make sure you create process that handles things that are set to let you know if you need to take action, and quite %100 otherwise.

2) Really reconsider what you’re are willing to bare in mistakes. This is usually a major brain switch moment. Sometimes people can work 100x more efficiently and productively if they just allow themselves to be wrong for a totally fixable 1 minute per year. Yes your server may go down once a year, but instead of working hard to make sure that never happens (which is impossible), work hard to make sure systems are in place to recover super quickly. The funny thing is when you accomplish #1 above, mixed with this #2 item, you start performing better than you could have imagined.

3) Remove process that is there to support the more intuitive faux “warm and fuzzy” feelings that keep 1 and 2 from happening.

4) Always push yourself, and those around you, to test process that offer efficiency gains even if you don’t feel comfortable at first. Comfort is often the foundation of slowness, and trying new things even against your “better judgement” are the only ways to break free.

 

For you nerds out there, here is the article from github Isaac passed on to me that sparked our latest evolution in product releases. Although this post and its sentiment are, in my book, universal throughout life and business and not code.

http://scottchacon.com/2011/08/31/github-flow.html

“And” and How it Can Kill Your Business

images (1)Focus is extremely important, especially in the early days of a startup or idea. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the best thing to offer your customers is everything they need. I mean why wouldn’t you want to be the one stop shop for a user’s needs? Then you can be sure they’ll keep coming back for more, right? Unfortunately, it may sound good in theory, but in reality it’s a concept that kills.

The problem is, everytime you add an “and” to a to what you offer you risk proportionally devaluing each other thing you claim to be the best at; which I call value dilution.

Say we are a company that focuses on the very best linens (but then you think: how do I get the linens to the customer – so you continue on) … and we will deliver the very best linens to your door in under an hour. What just happened there is once you started thinking about alternative ways to increase the value of your company you have inadvertently admitted that the “fine linens” part of your company’s offerings isn’t good enough to stand on its own. I have the finest linens – [period]. I am so focused and great at making fine linens you will want them – [period].

Internally, (and here is a point of import) in every conversation and meeting that comes up, if the discussion doesn’t ultimately improve the quality of your fine linens don’t waste your time talking about it until you have the very best linens. Every new offering (if you want it done well) deserves all the attention it needs and will suck attention from another offering unless you have the brand, management, money, exposure, head count, or customer base to help carry your company into a new offering.

No idea is too small to warrant focus. You will be amazed at how deep you can dive into any one concept. The improvements you can bring to a single idea are infinite. There is always as much depth available in any one subject as there is breadth to the number of subjects available to explore.

A side benefit of going deep in one area, as opposed to picking many things to get involved in, is with each iteration of depth you find on any one subject the differentiating knowledge and expertise you gain will grow exponentially.  As a budding startup this exponential gain in knowledge through focus is the far better bang for your buck than compared to the costs of having to learn unrelated points of information when creating new products in new directions.

People try to avoid this law all the time. I’ve heard, “our team is special – we can do it (without more talent or time)” or “why can’t you move all your chess pieces at once?” or “it’s not technically a different focus and blah blah.” Sorry, you can’t avoid this law no matter how smart or hard working you are.  In order to provide the amount of time and energy needed on a each core value  you will need more people, a larger budget and more time (at all levels of the company.) Without it you will give your customers mixed signals, employees contradicting objectives , and a product that can’t compete with a rival that has chosen to focus all its time on one of your things.

When can you add an “and”? I’d say a good rule of thumb is, you can add an “and” when the “and” is not novelle/unique/innovative. Though, often if you are and’ing something that is not innovative then you probably don’t need to “and” it at all. It can come into play when your offering is a novelle way to offer an aggregate of many non-novelle things — but you had better be the best damn aggregator out there and make sure your team works toward that focused goal.

Note: I should make one more point. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have new ideas, just recognize that the new idea will need focus and attention and if you think your original idea/business isn’t good enough to stand on its own then it may be time to decide whether to keep the old business or shift focus completely to the new one. There is a time and place for R&D, and there is a time and place to grow your offering, but without total market fit your “and” should not be added to your core. There is also a difference between supporting features and additional cores that people get confused about a lot – I’ll save that for another post.

Some Thoughts on Entrepreneurship

I was recently asked to put together some quick points around entrepreneurship. Points became paragraphs and since I rarely get a chance to blog I figured I would kill two birds with one stone….

You have the x-factor
Try to listen, question, get help and delve into guidance and advice that makes sense or intrigues YOU, not just what people tell you makes sense or what is the current common thought. If you are special enough to be successful, it’s because you have your own mind and perspective that’s different and it’s the advice YOU consider and hold onto that matters (if you simply just listen to experts and do what they say because they are soooo smart then you should work for them and not yourself).

Experts eh?
If two experts disagree in a room on something then no one really knows the right answer – take a step back, it’s time to find your own path.

Do what you love
Do what you love — I know it’s cliché but truly getting that point is harder then it seems. You are an instant success if you’re doing what you love because otherwise you’re working hard at something you don’t love just to pay for the things you do love. Just cut out the middleman! If you accept the love-of-doing more then the love-of-having life gets so much simpler (sounds kind of hippie , I know). For example, If you love Ferrari’s then you should work around, on, or with them at any capacity you can (instant success). Don’t work your way up at some random office or profession that you don’t love just to buy a Ferrari some day. Seems like alot of wasted time just to experience some distant moment of possession.

Focus
Focus hard and focus on your core. Most anyone can make any one thing great if they focused on it and dedicated their life to it. If all you did was think about how to make one specific thing awesome every day I think you would succeed. P.S. Focusing on two things has half that chance of success or less and so on.

Blank pages suck!
Blank pages suck! Conceptualizing abstractly too long can kill an idea. Create, draw, promote, attempt, try, share, and do as much as possible even if it seems unneeded or premature. Don’t let technical know-how stop you. A movie can be cartooned without a camera, a car body can be made with clay, and a site for something to help a user base can be an office excel spreadsheet that is passed around via email in its infancy. You’d be surprised how much can be learned and/or gained traction from such things.

Actions + Ideas = Something Great
Every idea can be great, from a specialized trash can, to a purse design, to an ornament you place on your Crocs, or a website to share simple two line messages with friends (just look around you at what you own or do). Just stick with it (and mind you that doesn’t mean simply bull-headedly pushing a singular concept – that’s “lazy hard work”). Stick with improving an idea, listening to users, reacting and adapting yourself and idea to what you learn and come across. If you do all the above, you most certainly will succeed, right? 😉

Don’t Save Money, Save Time and Stress
Often times we go cheap to get things started, and being exceptionally frugal myself, this lesson was hard for me to see. Often times saving money comes at a greater cost then the time you lose, the stress you gain and the expertise you fail to implement. Hire people that can do a job exceptionally well, get equipment that will make your business work exceptionally well, etc. That doesn’t mean be lazy and spend money without research or thought…spend smart BUT getting someone cheap, bad equipment, lack of staff to handle the load, and cutting corners bites you in the ass often and seems to always end up more expensive and threatens your growth down the road; like death by a million paper cuts. Always get the best and figure out how to make it work in your budget!

7 tips on being an Entrepreneur

I was recently asked to put together some quick points around entrepreneurship. Points became paragraphs and since I rarely get a chance to blog I figured I would kill two birds with one stone….

You have the x-factor

Try to listen, question, get help and delve into guidance and advice that makes sense to YOU. Don’t just do what people tell you to, or what is the current common thought. If you are special enough to be successful it’s because you have your own mind and your own great perspectives. Those differences should be the lens in which you consider the advice you’re given, and how you choose to embrace the ones you connect with the most. It’s important to listen, but if you JUST do what the “experts” say then you should work for them and not yourself. It is a tough skill to master, listening well to experts is a key component to learning, growing, and it helps you avoid making the same mistakes. What I am driving at is how YOU work is unique, and that uniqueness greatly changes the result of advice you decide to implement. To put it in terms that may risk an oversimplification, true “jerks” work well employing jerk-like tactics, but nice people do it awfully – and vice-versa.

Two Experts Walk Into a Bar

If two experts disagree on something then it’s fair to say no one knows THE right answer – take a step back, it’s an opportunity to find your unique path.

Can’t Buy Me Love

Do what you love — I know it’s cliché but truly adopting it is harder than it seems. You are an “instant success” if you’re doing what you love. Otherwise, you may be working hard at something you don’t love just to pay for the things you do. I say cut out the middleman! If you accept the love-of-doing more than the love-of-having life gets simpler (sounds hippie, I know.) For example, if you love Ferrari’s you should work around, on, or with them at any capacity you can (instant success.) Don’t work your way up at some random office or profession that you don’t love just to buy a Ferrari some day. Seems like a lot of wasted time just to experience some distant moment of possession.

Focus is Deep

Focus hard and focus on your core. Focus doesn’t always mean doing less, it often just means doing more on one specific thing. Most anyone can make any one thing great if they focused on it and dedicated their life to it. If all you did was think about how to make one specific thing awesome every day I think you’d succeed. P.S. Focusing on two things has half that chance of success or less and so on. However, doing two things that both directly impact the greatness of one thing can compound your greatness. Careful, when you’re in the weeds those two examples can seem very similar.

Blank pages suck!

Blank pages suck! Conceptualizing abstractly too long can kill an idea. Create, draw, promote, attempt, try, share, and do as much as possible even if it seems unneeded or premature. Don’t let technical know-how stop you. A movie can be cartooned without a camera, a car body can be made with clay, and a site for something to help a user can start as a spreadsheet passed around via email. You’d be surprised how much can be done, learned from, or gown into from such basic experiments.

Actions + Ideas = Something Great

Every idea can be great, from a specialized trash can, a purse design, or an ornament you place on your Crocs. Just stick with it. Stick with improving an idea, listening to users, reacting and adapting yourself and your ideas.

Don’t Save Money, Save Time and Stress

We can often go cheap to get things started, and being exceptionally frugal myself, learning the difference between cheap and smart is tough. Instead of saving money compare costs: the time you lose is a cost, the stress acquired is a cost, and so on. Hire people that can do a job exceptionally well, get equipment that will make your business work exceptionally well, etc. That doesn’t mean you get to justify spend wads of cash in the persuit of excellence. It means first focus on what you truly NEED and what will make you successful and THEN figure out frugal ways to attain those things. Find out what costs are you incurring unnecessarily and cut it. Then, re-invest those saving into the more important things. Spend smart, but don’t get trapped in a death by a million paper cuts pinching pennies across the board. Always aim for the best and then figure out how to make it work in your budget.

Blogging can help center the mind

Centering The Mind
Centering The Mind

With all the fast paced abstract thoughts that can transpire throughout the modern mans workweek I have found yet another reason to continue blogging. I think it has forced me to take my abstract thoughts, that come and go so quickly and have a tendency to linger and repeat in my consciousness, into constructing full thoughts and letting them pass when a blog is posted. It has forced me to train myself to finish thoughts out and take ideas from a very nebulous form into one that is less so by me needing to focus enough on those thoughts and attempt to put them down on paper in some legible format. The fact that these messages will be public forces me to even further examine my thoughts into legible writings so as to not look too crazy. Man it is so much harder then I thought it would be to translate all the things swirling around in my head as some written topic. I am not a good writer but that wont stop me — My fear of writing poorly is what has probably made me such a bad writer today.

I asked an uncle of mine one day to tell m the top three things he thinks made him successful  and one of his top three things was “always write what your thinking down”. As he explained it,  “it exposes all the holes that your imagination so easily covers up”. So true, I so often propose things verbally and for the most part the propositions work out but since I started catching myself and writing  every small to large idea down, and not just as notes. I mean I stop and draw diagrams or spreadsheets and fill in all the holes that end up revealing themselves as concepts become physical structures on paper. I have found so many mistakes or holes so much earlier then usual as a result.  I have noticed that the ideas seem to evolve a few times before I present them to my peers and allows me to think about more angles since I have a full system to look at in front of me, let my mind wonder around the core of the idea instead of just try to retain the core itself in my head.

For example, this post has been swirling in my head for weeks. Without this new found hobbie of blogging I would probably have to deal with these thoughts conciously or unconsciously and they never would feel complete. You bring it up on conversation and let others know about your perspective on things but its always just a thought. Now i know the thought has been completed and exists in time and space, almost indefinitely; I can now move on completely. This realization gives me a whole new appreciation for writing that was not impressed upon me as a child. I never really saw the point other then emails, letters and books to write well. But man not being able to construct your thoughts into a written form leaves you feeling incomplete. Your legacy, your feelings are all just inside you if you cant express them in some sort of infinite format like the written word. My kids are going to write a page about something everyday while they are under my house and the will thank me for it later….

BTW another great tip for obsessively ideas swirling around in your head…put a white board up in your room or a notepad next to your bed. You may have heard it before but do it if you find yourself going to bed with sleep or tossing and turning. and just expunge every thought weather its good or bad on paper or as graphics on a boar dand you get so much better sleep. Even just having the board or notepad sitting there eases the mind.