Discipline makes Daring possible.



For me, this has been a fuzzy week.   I don’t know whether it’s me, the weather or the time of year.  Maybe I’ve been reading too much, not moving enough, not speaking enough to other people.   Whatever the reason, it’s been a scrappy week, and I apologise if you’ve been adversely affected.

Still, it’s a bank holiday weekend, and despite the fact that the days all run together, I think it is worth taking a break.  Maybe even getting out somewhere to blow the cobwebs away.

But now, I’m off for a nap.  Sleep, I find, is a cure for nearly everything.

See you on the other side.

The most useful prop

The most useful prop

What is probably the most useful prop you can have in your business?

The prop everyone refers to, and everyone maintains.

The prop that makes the invisible process of making and keeping promises visible and therefore improveable.

Your Customer Experience Score.(TM)

The best way to look after it is to make it explicit, concrete and shareable.

Stage Management

Stage Management

Making sure the right props are in the right place at the right time is an important job in theatre or film (check out The Goes Wrong Show for what happens when it’s not done well).

It’s an important job in business too, although it’s rarely considered as such.   More often than not it turns into everybody’s job, which makes it nobody’s job, which makes it something that doesn’t happen consistently.

The answer is to think through the process your business runs (how you Share your Promise, and How you Keep your Promise) from beginning to end.  As you do, you’ll identify where each business prop is used or referred to.  Once you know this you can start to automate the ‘Stage Manager’ role.

Most importantly, you’ll see where it is easiest to create each prop, because that’s where the information it embodies is naturally and easily gathered.

As far as possible, you want this to happen as a side-effect of doing what people want to do anyway.  This is why cloud accounting is such a brilliant thing.  Clients do what they do – raise invoices, pay bills, log expenses, manage bank accounts.  The side effect of all this is that all the props needed to produce a VAT return or monthly management reports are ready and waiting for the accountant to work with.

Where this isn’t possible, sharing the text of the play (your process) makes the downstream impact visible.

Salespeople, for example, are notoriously rubbish at logging client details, even though they are the people who naturally have all the information to hand.  That’s because they don’t feel the impact on what comes after them.   From a business perspective a sale isn’t complete until the customer has received what they paid for and is happy with it.

That means that, like the bricklayer’s labourer, part of what every salesperson produces is the productivity of the people down the line.

Your business is like a play.   Each role in your business contributes to the productivity of the whole play.   Recognise that in the way you reward people, and you’ve created an incentive for improvement.

Invisible processes

Invisible processes

The walls of our new extension are going up fast.   It’s fascinating to watch how quickly they grow under the bricklayers hands.

In part this is because the bricklayer is good.   He’s fast, accurate and meticulous.

But at least as much of the speed is due to the parallel activities of his labourer, who systematically ensures that blocks, bricks and mortar are to hand before the bricklayer needs them.  This isn’t as simple as it sounds.   As the wall grows, ‘to hand’ moves from atop a stack of blocks, to sat on a hop-up, to set out on a high platform rigged from trestles and scaffold boards.

It’s a whole construction/deconstruction/reconstruction process in its own right, that requires brains as well brawn, yet will leave no trace once the wall is finished.   All so the bricklayer can do nothing but exercise his considerable skill.

This labouring role may be lower paid, and lower status, but it is essential if you want to get the most out of a bricklayer.   In essence, the labourer’s product is the productivity of the bricklayer.

Perhaps this should inform how this kind of work is rewarded?



Ideas thrive on being shared.  We humans can’t help ourselves – we love to pass them on, to our contemporaries, to our children, beyond, if we can.  After all what is immortality but having our ideas remembered?

Sharing an idea changes our collective brain, modifies old ideas and leads to the creation of new ones.  Every shared idea adds to that ever-growing pile that all are free to rummage through, in search of the missing piece of their particular puzzle.

All without destroying the original idea, or removing it from the mind that first thought of it.

For me, this is how ideas have worked all my life.   It feels strange to see a really interesting idea and not be able to share it.  It’s as if it’s been put behind bars, on show, but inaccessible.

I can’t help but ask: why would you do that to an idea?

Especially your own?


One size fits no-one

One size fits no-one

Standardisation is useful.   Standard shoe and clothing sizes enabled manufacture at scale, which in turn meant that more people could afford decent clothes and shoes than ever before.   Standard sizes are worked out by taking averages of the actual population.

Standardised clothing works for two reasons.   First because sizes are based on at most two or three dimensions.   This means that any given individual is more likely to fall within an average range for a given size.  There will be exceptions (I can never find gloves to fit), but they will be rare.   The other reason is that clothes are soft, they have give.   People can easily adjust the standard to suit themselves.   You can belt a baggy shirt, or wear extra socks inside too-big shoes.   A slightly too-tight dress will stretch a little.   You can at least be comfortable, if not always elegant.

Averaging over multiple dimensions, especially for something rigid, like a building, an office, or a cockpit is far less successful – even dangerous.   Nobody fits this kind of average, so everyone becomes uncomfortable and inefficient.

The same goes for business processes.  No two businesses do things in quite the same way – not even when they are doing the same job.  So forcing your way of doing things into a generic off-the-shelf pattern squeezes out diffentiation, turning you into a commodity.  It also makes the people running the process both uncomfortable and inefficient.

Those are the last things you or your customers want.

The alternative isn’t to tailor everything from scratch every time.

If you’ve been in business for a few years, you will have your own set of patterns for ‘the way we do things round here’.

Identify them, create templates from them.  Then use them to build processes that are fully adjustable by the people who will actually use them.

Adjustable gives far better results than the average.





Humans love mash-ups.   Collisions of disparate ideas to form a new, even more interesting idea.    Given the chance, we mash-up all the time – most obviously to make each other laugh.

Surprisingly often, a mash-up leads to a breakthrough, and even more often, these breakthrough mash-ups come from an outsider asking a ‘stupid question’ – “Why can’t I see the picture now Daddy?”, “Why can’t I cast iron the way I used to cast brass?“.

If you’re running a business, you want mash-ups to occur, but not at the expense of delivering on your promises.   So how can you achieve a balance?

  • Keep your Promise of Value tight.
  • Keep your Customer Experience Score loose.
  • Recruit from as diverse a pool of experience, mindset, interests and backgrounds as you can.
  • Admit only those who buy into the Promise.
  • Leave room for randomness.
  • Create a process for capturing, testing, building and rewarding mash-ups that help you fulfil your Promise better.
  • If someone comes up with a great mash-up that doesn’t fit your Promise, help them to turn it into a new business.

Sparked by ‘Rebel Ideas’ by Matthew Syed, recommended and kindly given to me by Nigel Whittaker.

Recipes do not a restaurant make.

Recipes do not a restaurant make.

I enjoy cooking, and do it every day.

When I make lunch, sometimes I follow a procedure (a recipe), but mostly I use techniques and rules of thumb I’ve learned over the years to create a simple, one-course meal out of whatever I happen to have at the time.

This kind of cooking is fine for my lunch.   My ‘Promise of Value’ to my husband is a tasty, filling and nutritious lunch.   He doesn’t really care how I get there.

For Sunday dinner though, I need more than a procedure and a set of techniques.   I’ll use several procedures (roast chicken, yorkshire pudding, accompanying vegetables, pudding), and loads of techniques (roasting, making a batter, boiling, steaming, baking).

But the thing that really makes Sunday dinner work is that I co-ordinate all the main course procedures so they finish at the same time, while pudding arrives at just the right interval later.   That’s what I call a process.

Now imagine I want to open a restaurant.

Even with a limited menu, I’ll have different tables working at different timescales, with different options.   Not only do I have to get meals cooked on time, I’ll need to make sure there are enough clean tables, dishes and cutlery.   I’ll need to greet guests, take orders, offer drinks, and serve dinners.    Several of them, all at once.

In other words one overall process (Lunch) is actually the co-ordination of multiple instances of several processes, which are in turn the co-ordination of several procedures – all designed to deliver the same Promise of Value (“Sunday Dinners like your Mother used to make”).

If I don’t work out what those processes should be, so I can deliver my Promise effectively for less than I charge, I won’t have a restaurant for long.  If I design them to over-deliver for less than I charge, I’ve got the start of a restaurant chain.

‘Process’ is a word that’s bandied about quite a bit.   Like all jargon it can be misused or misunderstood, but it’s definitely bigger than a recipe.

Advance notice

Advance notice

As you probably know, I have a bit of a book habit.

I read this one on Saturday, and for now all I’m going to say is that I recommend it.

I hope to share more later, but I’m asking permission first.

Have a great day!

The artist’s hand

The artist’s hand

“They say that truth is naked. I cannot admit this for any but abstract truths; in the arts, all truths are produced by methods which show the hand of the artist.” Delacroix, ‘Journal’.

Your business is your art, your Promise of Value is your truth.    Let your people be your fellow artists, and show their hands in the work.


HT to Project Gutenberg for tweeting this.  They happen to be a brilliant open source for free e-books.