Discipline makes Daring possible.

The irony of automation

The irony of automation

“[t]he more we depend on technology and push it to its limits, the more we need highly-skilled, well-trained, well-practised people to make systems resilient, acting as the last line of defence against the failures that will inevitably occur”  

Most businesses, even giant auto-assembly plants where robots outnumber humans, are more like orchestras than music boxes.

And it’s the highly trained, skilled and experienced people that keep them running smoothly, as this fascinating read shows.



We’ve all heard of unicorns.  Businesses that disrupt entire markets, even create entirely new ones, often with a view to create a monopoly.

You may not have heard about zebras.   I hadn’t until this week, but I recognise the species.   I’ve met and worked with many of them over the years.

Zebras are businesses that balance profit and purpose, that aim to solve real problems and make the world better.  Zebras aim to be systematically better, not just bigger.   They look out for their people and their community as well as their shareholders.    They are in it for the long term.

The great thing about zebras is they are real.  And they are more numerous than we think.

Time to dazzle.

The system is what the system does

The system is what the system does

Every business is a system.    The same things happen repeatedly, systematically, more or less efficiently.

The question is whether what the system does is what you intend.

Even when you’re not there.

The power of promise

The power of promise

Your Promise of Value drives everything you do, and the way you do everything.

Today, I can’t think of a better way to emphasise this than to share an example:

Hiut Denim Co. makes jeans.   They aim to make some of the best jeans in the world, employing some of the best jeans-makers in the world, for creative people around the world.

Everyone in Hiut Denim Co. knows who they are for.  They know why they are in business.  And that drives how they do everything.

Watch the power it gives them.

Including how they attract shareholders.



Building a business is hard.    From a standing start, with much stalling, and a lot of trial and error, you understand what you have to offer, who your ideal customers are and what they value most.   You eventually arrive at a fair balance between the value you give out and the value you get back.

You know you’ve got it right, when you’re able to keep everything going without giving value away for nothing.  You know you’ve really got it right when your customers become your allies and start to pass more business your way.

Now what?   You want to take time away from it.   You want to grow it.   You might even want to sell it.   But you can’t.   You’ve built this business around yourself.  You are at its heart.   Even if you employ other people,  everything revolves around you, and depends on you.  In a real sense, the business is an extension of you.   Only now it feels like a trap.

The way out is to see your business for what it really is.   A system.   A system for making and keeping promises.   A system where value is generated by the people who work in it, flows through the business to your customer and back again to you and your team.    A system where all the pipes were originally installed to flow through you.

All you have to do is reconfigure the plumbing and you’re free.



Exit interviews

Exit interviews

In one of my jobs I ended up being quite badly bullied by my immediate boss.

It took me quite a while to realise what was going on – I liked them, and could see they had personal problems.   I tried to help.  And I assumed that I was the one getting things wrong.

But once the real situation became obvious I also realised that I wasn’t the first person on the team to suffer.   In fact several team members had already left for this reason.

Eventually, I decided to look for another job, and found one.   A step up, for much better money, that did wonders for my self-esteem.

The day I left I had an interview with someone in HR.   They were sorry to see me go.   I’d been there a long time.   I’d done a good job.   I was appreciated by the people I served and well thought of by others in my department.  We had a nice conversation.

Finally, it was time to go.

“Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m leaving?”

I know that things changed in that team after I left.  The team was re-structured, my old boss got help.  But only because I volunteered information about what was going on.

An exit interview is your last opportunity to learn from an unhappy client, supplier or team member.   Don’t waste it.



Ideas for doing things better can come from anywhere.   A question asked by a prospect or client, a suggestion from one of your team, a report from an external adviser or regulator.

A few of these will be so obviously the right thing to do, you can adopt them immediately.  Most will benefit from some review time.

Why?  Because its easy to get bogged down in small changes that add complexity and dilute your Promise, without actually adding real value.

“We’ll get this prospect if we add X to our offer.”  Really?   Is X consistent with our Promise?  Is this a prospect we really want?

“This client is asking for Y.  The customer is always right.”   Really?   Is Y consistent with our Promise?  Will it add enough value to more of our clients?  Does it allow us to protect or increase our prices?

“We should try this Z way of doing things, everyone else is.”  Really?  Is Z consistent with our Promise?  How does it affect the process downstream?  Does it improve how we deliver our Promise?

An easily updated and shared wish list with regular, frequent reviews is a sensible way to handle suggestions for improvement.

If everyone is crystal-clear on your Promise, you’ll quickly agree on those you should implement straight away, those you should reject, and those that need more reflection.   And everyone will learn to make better suggestions.




What question does your business get asked over and over again?

What could you do to save people having to ask it?

Promises made/not made

Promises made/not made

Measuring how you share your Promise is simple.   Measure how many promises you’ve made.   In other words, measure the result of your  activity – enrolled, signed-up clients or customers.

But if you want to improve the way you share your Promise, you need more detailed feedback than that.   You need to delve deeper and measure what’s going on inside it.

So, when you show up in places where the people you serve hang out, how many of them notice that you’re there?  Do you get noticed more in some places than others?  Are you getting noticed by the right people?

When some of those people evaluate you, what information do they use to do that?   Do they visit your website or listen to your podcast?  Do they read your blog?   Do they look you up on LinkedIn?   How many of them subscribe?  How many come to the talks you give?

Of the people who’ve evaluated you, how many do you get to have a conversation with?   How do those conversations go?  What makes them go well?  What makes them go badly?  How many of them should not have happened, because you are not right for each other?  How many result in someone signing up for something low-risk, as a way of trying you out?

And once people have given you a trial, how many sign up for something more permanent?

This will all sound familiar.   Businesses have thought of selling as a process for a long time.   I think it’s its more useful to frame it as a buying process, with the aim of making it as easy as possible for the people you are right for to find you, then get to know, like and trust you enough to enroll with you.

And as easy as possible for the people you can’t help to reject you as early as possible.

Measure how well you do both.



If you want to improve anything, you have to know how well it is already working.   That of course means measurement.

We tend to think that this means measuring output.   But that isn’t enough.

Measuring the total profit in my business tells me whether or not I’m doing well, it doesn’t tell me where to look for the the source of my success or failure.

What’s also needed is a measurement of flow.   How fast, or how slowly, do prospects and clients travel through my business?   Are there any leaks?   Are there blockages?

It so happens that the simplest way to measure this for a business is time spent working on a process.   So the better defined your processes are, the more diagnostic the measurement can be.

The good news is that you can start at Share Promise and Keep Promise, and learn downwards from there.