Effort. Less.

My wife and I went snorkelling on our recent holiday and marvelled at how the instructors seemed to move so easily through the water.  We splashed around like fury and they seemed to make hardly any movement at all but zoomed around all over the place. Less effort and more effect.

That’s true for many sports. As I have become a more proficient skier I use much less energy because I know when to apply the pressure to get maximum effect, so I can ski much more for the same effort.

It’s also true in golf (although I have yet to master it!). Ernie Els is know as ‘The Big Easy’ because he appears to put hardly any effort into his shots but he hits them further than most. He is able to apply his power at exactly the right moment and place to get the maximum distance.

When we begin something we thrash around in an inefficient and ineffective way. Gradually, we realise what works and what doesn’t and refine our actions. We might get some advice, some coaching to help us. Maybe, eventually, we achieve mastery.

Sometimes, though, we just keep thrashing around. It may be we’re just no good at it (and should get someone else to do it), or we get obsessed with the money or the glory, and get distracted. We stop looking at the results, we forget to learn and refine our actions. The problem is that just thrashing won’t get us where we want, , no matter how much we want it.

Instead of trying harder and harder, we should looking to put in less effort. Because that shows we’re learning, developing and growing. So we’re more likely to achieve our goal.

Effortless doesn’t mean easy. Quite  the opposite, you need to apply yourself and work at it. It just means what it says.

Effort. Less.

Can’t code, Won’t code.

image by  freeimageslive.co.uk – creator

I do product. I don’t do code.

Some people are surprised by this. I work with tech businesses, after all. In the eyes of some, it reduces my credibility. For a few, it rules me out completely.

There are several reasons why I don’t code, including the fact that there a tons of people out there who have far more passion for it and proficiency at it that I could ever have. But there are three that are key.

Firstly, my strengths lie elsewhere. I’m interested in all the other stuff that goes to make up a great product or service. I’m good at spotting what’s missing and filling the gap as quickly and easily as possible. Getting involved in the code would be a major distraction.

Secondly, I am the customer champion. As far as I’m concerned, if it doesn’t deliver a recognisable benefit to the customer, it gets chucked out. I am above being seduced by the neatness of the feature, the elegance of solution or the brilliance of the code. I am immune to the conceits of ‘pet’ features. If it doesn’t rock the customer’s boat, it’s out. My detachment from the code is crucial to maintain that clarity.

And thirdly, I don’t need to know. I don’t have to do it to appreciate and value it. I know how hard developers work, how difficult it can be to do apparently simple things.( I also know what padding and filler looks like and how to ask difficult questions, btw). I can’t cook a gourmet meal, make a vintage wine or sing like Sinatra but I can appreciate the skill and talent involved. And I can tell if it’s good or not.

Instead, I spend my time creating an environment where the coders can do their very best stuff. And then we all get to do the things we excel at.

 

How much process do you need?

There seems to be two approaches to process. None, as expounded by the JFDI, action-focused, now-is-too-long entrepreneur. Or loads, as implemented by the risk-averse, detail-obsessed control-freak. I’d like to say I am exaggerating here but people really do seem to fall into these two camps. So which is right?

Neither, obviously. Without process, a business will reach a point where the entrepreneur becomes a bottleneck and just can’t do it all, and will ultimately crash and burn. (That’s the business. Or the entrepreneur. Or both.) Too much process and the business is unable to respond quickly, gets locked into doing the wrong things, takes too much time and money to do things and comes to a complete halt.

In both cases, by the way, the staff feel completely powerless and demotivated and contribute far less than they are capable of.

Process is a means to an end, and you need just enough of it to reach that end, i.e. a profitable and successful business. To me, process is what you use to make sure you don’t have to solve the same problem twice. You solve a problem, put it into a process so that others can deal with it in future, and move on to the next problem.

So when do you need process? When you’ve solved a problem that you think you’ll encounter again (or you anticipate a problem that will keep arising, such as dealing with customer complaints). How much process do you need? Enough to allow others to deal with it without your supervision, but sufficient for you to be able to manage the activity.

In a growing business, your resources are constrained, so you have to use them carefully. Don’t waste them on process you don’t need (i.e. writing a big thick manual to deal with a one-off or occasional problem), or on solving problems more than once (i.e. being surprised everytime a customer asks for a refund).

It’s a delicate balance, a matter of judgement. Asking yourself if you need a process, and if so, how much process, is something you should do continually. Getting it right will make a big difference to your business.

Samsung vs Apple – who’s the victim?

There’s a lot of stuff in the blogosphere and tech media about the current patent wars between Apple and Samsung. The merits of each side’s case are debated fiercely and people are defending their allegiances with an almost religious zeal. In truth, it shows neither company in a great light as they push the boundaries of patent law and the English language.

In my opinion, Samsung did copy the Apple iPhone and iPad. (NB since I wrote this, a US court has also taken this view). They produced products that are barely distinguishable to the novice eye, an impression that persists when the screen lights up and shows a similar-looking interface. So why did they do that, rather than come up with their own unique designs?

Obviously, it’s faster and cheaper to copy someone else. In this case, they also benefited from the ‘halo’ effect of the Apple brand by inferring their products had the same quality and style. But who were they trying to fool? Not the innovators and early adopters, who know all the technical specs and software features and reckoned the Apple products to be superior, albeit more expensive.

Let’s remember, these are consumer products. They are aimed at the mass market, the less-knowledgeable buyer. Now, you can see that for a first-time smartphone (or tablet) buyer, looking at the two products in a phone shop, they might assume they are practically the same thing. Except one is much cheaper than the other, and is also a ‘good’ brand. Which one do you think they will go with?

Only Apple provide more than just a product, they provide an ecosystem containing iTunes and the App store, their shops and more – a complete customer experience. Samsung are barely on the map in this regard.

So, were Samsung trying to rip off Apple? Or the consumer?

Why pandering to your audience never works. And playing safe is the riskier option.

When I left corporate life I didn’t really know anyone outside of the companies I had worked in. I didn’t have ‘a network’ of much substance. So, I went on ‘the circuit’ and set about building one.

I didn’t know what I wanted to offer either. I had done many different things in my career and had worn many different hats, and had been pretty competent at most things I had turned my hand to. I felt I could do pretty much anything.

So I did what seemed like the safest option. I had a network of people that knew me, liked me and trusted me. I decided to put something together that would appeal to my network. It couldn’t be hard, could it? I mean, I know all about defining requirements, creating products and services, marketing them effectively. It should have been a doddle.

I have had several ideas about what they want and what they need. I have started a few initiatives but none of them have sustained, none have got traction. It’s just seemed like really hard work. And the reason it’s not working, I have realised, is because I am doing it the wrong way around. I may care about them but I don’t really care about their issues. Don’t get me wrong, I want to help them but their stuff just isn’t my stuff. I am not passionate about what I am doing for them, and they can tell.

So, now I am starting with what I care about. What really gets my juices flowing, what I feel I really know about. And then I am going to find the market for it. And because I care about it, I know I will find the people I need.

It seems the much riskier option. But it feels a much better bet. I can’t wait to get started.

(I knew this, of course, from Seth Godin and Simon Sinek and others. But now I KNOW it.)

Product or service – what’s the difference?

Image

When we talk about developing new products and services, we use the words product and service as if they are interchangeable. In fact, the preferred shorthand is to use ‘product’ for both. However, I feel this masks a very real difference and can lead to dangerous misconceptions.

To me, the difference is in the delivery. A product is a one-off, whilst a service is continuing. For example, a mobile phone is a product. It’s a single purchase, they have one shot at pleasing you. Once you’ve bought it there’s no reason for you to have any further contact with them (unless it goes wrong).

Your mobile network, however, quite different. All the time your phone is on, you are using their service. Every time you make a call or use an app, you are a buyer again and they can delight or disappoint you. You have a relationship with your service provider that is continual and under constant evaluation.

It seems to me that providing a service that delights the customer is several orders of magnitude harder to pull off than delivering a great product. It’s also much more complicated and demanding. You can afford a short-term perspective with a product that would be disastrous with a service, where you have to think long-term.

I’ve exaggerated the difference to illustrate my point and it is, in fact, more of a continuum with product and service at opposite ends. However, I think it dangerous to conceal these very real differences by using ‘product’ so freely as a synonym for service. Be very clear at the start about the scale of the challenge you are taking on. A service is much, much harder to pull off than a product. Don’t let sloppy language lead to sloppy thinking.

The proof of the pudding

Image

Have you ever seen someone else’s dessert in a restaurant and thought “That looks fantastic, I’ll order that” only to be disappointed when you eat it? Or had what looks like a bowl of slop put in front of you and then found it tastes amazing? (If not, order Eton Mess next time it’s on the menu!).

In the first case, the marketing is great but the execution is disappointing. Next time you choose something different.

In the second case, the execution is great but the marketing is non-existent. You might choose it again but you’d be reluctant to recommend it to many people. I mean, it looks like slop!

Too often we get seduce by the shiny stuff and believe that we can sell anything if we get the marketing right. The truth is that execution is just as important. It’s the delivery of the promise. If the look gets you salivating, then the delivery has to delight your taste buds.

I’d go as far as to say that the execution is more important. Few people manage remarkable execution, lots can do remarkable marketing. It’s easier to fix the presentation than to fix the cook. But it’s the cook that makes the difference.