Discipline makes Daring possible.



It’s hot.   Too hot for me.  My office is on the south side of the house, so it gets plenty of sun.   And of course I’m at home, where I don’t have air conditioning.

It’s difficult to think, difficult to get down to anything, difficult to come up with ideas.

I can’t do anything to make the room cooler.

Luckily, I have at least 4 other options:

  1. I could work on something that requires less mental energy, such as completing my expenses, or getting together my accounts information for tomorrow.
  2. I could move myself north, into the cool side of the house.
  3. I could sit my feet in iced water (I’m at home after all, nobody will see).
  4. I could stop early.

Sometimes, acknowledging what you can’t change, makes you see what you can.




One of my favourite feeds, Corporate Rebels, shared a really interesting post today  “Removing Bureaucracy and Hard-Wiring Trust”

It’s a really great read, about instilling responsible autonomy into your team, clarifying the ‘compass’ that will guide individuals, and setting a few big rules for ‘How we do things round here’ ( based around “Act In the Best Interests of the Company”)


Where’s the customer?

And where’s the continuity?   What happens when these particular individuals move on?   How do new people learn quickly?

It’s brilliant and essential to empower your people and your teams.  But it’s more sustainable to include some infrastructure too.

Some actual wiring.  Built around the people you serve.



Do you ever feel like you’re going round and round in circles?

I’ve been feeling that lately.   And as usual, ended up not far from where I started.

It hasn’t been a complete waste of time though.   Going back over everything has made me think it all through again, so this time round, I’m approaching with more confidence.

Time to move in a straight line now.

A missed opportunity

A missed opportunity

At one time, my office was in a business centre on a farm, on the outskirts of London.   There was quite a community of small businesses there, so we kept the post office busy.

One day, I saw our regular postie had someone with him.   I got chatting (as I inevitably do), and asked to be introduced.

“This is John, your new postman”, he said, “I’m retiring soon, so I’m showing him my route.”

“That’s interesting, why do you need to show him it?

Because otherwise he would never know that the entrance to Suite 19 is round the back and up the stairs.”

John meanwhile, is sketching a plan of the buildings on what appears to be the back of an envelope.

“Is this how every new postman learns their route?”

“Of course!  How else?”

I get the point of walking the route.  There’s no better way to be confident that you in the right place on your first day.  And of course it’s a great way to familiarise yourself with the buildings and people you serve.

I also get that occupants change, buildings are pulled down and new ones put up, or changed in other ways that mean re-numbering.

But what I didn’t get then, and still don’t, is why each new postie has to create a new personal map from scratch.    Or why that information goes nowhere beyond the postie’s head.

After all, since 1660, the post office has had literally daily opportunities to create a map that reflects what’s actually on the ground.   Almost effortlessly, as a side-effect of providing their service.

What a resource that would have been!

Diagrams I love. No. 1.

Diagrams I love. No. 1.

I wonder who first drew a diagram?

According to one definition,  “diagrams are simplified figures, caricatures in a way, intended to convey essential meaning”*.

That seems about right to me.

Some diagrams are so good at this, that once seen, you can’t help but assimilate the essential meaning.   In an instant, it’s there,  in your head forever, changing how you think from that point onwards.

This is one of my favourites:

My interpretation of a diagram from Alan Begg and Graham Williams

My interpretation of a diagram from Alan Begg and Graham Williams

The explanation goes something like this.  We all operate best in ‘Can Do’ mode, creative, autonomous, responsible, positive, active.   But when knocked back for whatever reason, we have a tendency to slip down into one or other of the legs of the diagram.

If we go down ‘Can’t Do’, we become helpless, we freeze up, we become inactive and cautious.    If we go down the ‘Won’t Do’ leg, we blame others, we feel resentful, angry, we become unco-operative, even disruptive.

The interesting thing is that all three behaviours have upsides.  There are advantages to being in ‘Can’t Do’ or ‘Won’t Do’ that we may learn to exploit, and so keep ourselves there, instead of learning how to get ourselves back to ‘Can Do’, where we operate at our best.

But the key point is that these behaviours are learned.  Which means we can unlearn the restricting ones, and learn to get back into ‘Can Do’ mode more quickly and easily, to the benefit of ourselves and the people around us.

I know where I go – I’m straight off down the ‘Can’t Do’ leg – but I also know how to get myself back up again quickly – and all I need to remind me how to do that is a glance at this simple diagram.

If you want to find out more, check out their book: Personal Power, How to get it… And keep it… FOR LIFE!

* Bert S. Hall (1996). “The Didactic and the Elegant: Some Thoughts on Scientific and Technological Illustrations in the Middle Ages and Renaissance”. in: B. Braigie (ed.) Picturing knowledge: historical and philosophical problems concerning the use of art in science. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p.9

Niche if you want to scale.

Niche if you want to scale.

For a long time I misunderstood why any business owner would want to restrict their marketing to a ‘niche’. Especially when what they do can work for any kind of business.

Then I learned what real marketing is.

Real marketing isn’t selling. It isn’t transactional. It isn’t manipulative. It doesn’t persuade people to buy what isn’t good for them.  Real marketing enrols people on a journey taht will help them get to where they long to be.

Real marketing takes time, effort and empathy. Empathy is easiest when you start with people like you, but it means you need to do some hard, soul searching work.  You need to work out your own values, behaviours and goals, so that you can identify who you can best serve, because you share values, behaviours, and sometimes goals.    This is your true niche, the psychographic, not the demographic.   It describes the kind of person you want to work with, rather than their business size, location or industry.

But still this niche is too big to be useful.  These ‘people like me’ are everywhere, in all walks of life.   How on earth do you help them find you?   Especially nowadays, when marketing means showing up day after day, giving value, demonstrating to the people you serve that they are understood, seen, recognised as human beings, laying a groundwork of trust in blogs, videos, podcast, newsletters, before you even get near a pitch.

It’s extremely hard work to pay anyone and everyone the attention they are due, in the hope of attracting the ‘right’ ones.

This is where a traditional demographic niche starts to make sense.  Think of demographics as the pools you fish in because you know they are likely to hold enough of the kind of people you serve.  Finding these pools takes effort of a different kind, research rather than soul searching.

Good places to start are pools that are ignored or under-served by your competitors or alternatives.   Or those where the inhabitants are going through a particularly painful set of circumstances, that you are well-placed to help with.  Or even a pool you have a lot of experience with.

But, counterintuitively, keep it small and specific to begin with.   Narrow, but deep enough to keep you going for a while.   Like flying a single route, or offering makeovers for blondes, or making jelly babies for vegans.

Because keeping your promise is the hardest part of marketing.  You want to make sure you get that spot on before you take on more of it.

Once you’ve cracked that, you’re on your way to scale.



This week, work started in earnest on our new extension.   I’ve spent quite a bit of time already, observing it.

Not, I hasten to add,  because I’m eyeing up young, fit workmen, but because I’m fascinated by the process.

How stop-start it is.   How much shuffling around of stuff is involved.   How much collaborative problem-solving it involves.   How many adjustments are made.   How ad-hoc it seems.   In other words, how Agile it is.

Of course this is just the beginning, when the team are getting to grips with the actually existing terrain, so they have a lot to find out, on the fly, before the more systematic parts of the process can kick in.   Agile is completely the right approach.

It’s a privilege to watch.  And the essence of why humans beat robots any day.

Despite all the hype.




I was already thinking about rationing when I saw this tweet:

Image of a tweet from @TwistedDoodles aka Maria Boyle

Image of a tweet from @TwistedDoodles aka Maria Boyle

Predictably for the time of year, grade inflation was in the news.  It seems that universities are awarding more and more firsts and 2:1s to graduates, which some feel undermines the reputation of the sector.

If you want to make something like ‘intelligence’ scarce, how do you do it?   You can’t make individuals less intelligent, obviously.  The answer is a normal distribution of the evidence of intelligence (Degrees, A levels, GCSEs):


Individuals test results are placed within this distribution.   Those at the top are awarded the highest grades, those at the bottom the lowest.   Most people are somewhere in the middle.

This means of course that grades are dependent on relative position within a given set of individuals.   Someone who would have a got a first in one year will get a 2.1 in another, and vice-versa.

In other words, high (and low) scores are rationed.

Why?  Because, as all marketers know, scarcity is one way to create a perception of value.

Intelligence isn’t the only resource we ration artificially.  Money is another.

The question to ask is ‘are they scarce?’

Followed by (as always) ‘Who benefits if they are?’


HT to @TwistedDoodles for the loan of her tweet.

Manifesto for a Disappearing Boss

Manifesto for a Disappearing Boss

I’ve decided to embrace my inner revolutionary and write a Manifesto.

I’d love to know what you think of it.

Whatever you think of it.

  • Does it work?
  • What do you like?
  • What don’t you like?
  • What do  you want to do after reading it?
  • Does it help you do that?

Thank you for reading it.