Discipline makes Daring possible.

Pruning for productivity

Pruning for productivity

When you grow a tree for a productive canopy (of shade, or fruit, or flowers, or air-cleaning properties), just letting it grow straight up is rarely the most effective approach.

Instead you let the main stem (the leader) grow up nice and strong until you’ve got the height you want.

Then you take it out, to encourage as many side shoots as you can, because that’s where production happens.   From then on, every would-be leader is ruthlessly pruned out.

Every tree needs a strong leader at the beginning of its growth.

Once it’s the right shape though, its better to redirect that energy to where it’s really needed – the productive boundary.



Today, I saw yet another advert for alcohol made from waste food.   This time, rum distilled from banana skins.

Maybe it’s me, but I can’t help thinking there are better uses for food waste – even inedible banana skins.  For example, they could be turned into energy through anaerobic digestion, or composted to regenerate depleted soils.

In other words they could contribute to solving urgent, existential problems for humankind.

I’m all for enriching life.   But last time I looked there were a dozen or so rums available in Sainsburys, and only one home for humans.

As humans, we have amazing resources for making change.

Let’s not waste them on gimmicks.

How does it work?

How does it work?

Ever since I first saw the water clock above the Neal’s Yard wholefood shop, I’ve enjoyed the work of Tim Hunkin.   Probably for the same reason I liked to be called a software engineer.  I love finding out how things work, and making them work better.

So I was delighted to discover his remastered ‘Secret Life of‘ series on YouTube.

When you know how something works, it stops being ‘some kind of magic’ and becomes a tool to support what you’re really trying to achieve.  You can even start to play with it a little, bend it, re-purpose it to create even more value.

What would ‘The Secret Life of <Your Business>‘ reveal to the people who have to use it?


Here’s the episode about the photocopier:


The love of money

The love of money

What did we do before there was money?    How did we measure value?    How did we agree a fair exchange?    How did we get what we needed?   How did we reward people?   How did we keep track of debts?

Most people will tell you that we bartered.  That we had to wait until someone we knew wanted a chicken before we could have a pair of shoes.

That’s not true.   What we did depended on where we did it.

Inside the tribe, if someone needed something, it was given to them, as a favour or out of communal stores.  Imagine a kind of stationery cupboard, run by grandmothers.   Everything’s there,  you can’t help yourself, you have to prove a real need, but when you do, you get it, no questions asked.  If it was a favour, well, you’d be asked a favour one day, so it will all come out in the wash.

Over time, a web of mutual obligations grows up – often actively maintained in small ways – a cup of sugar here, the loan of a snow-shovel there, as reminders that ‘we’re all in it together’.   Recently, I watched a mini documentary where the young men of a tribe built a new house for a widowed grandmother.  Not because she was their grandmother, but because the old one was falling apart and she needed a new one.  And because ‘people like us do things like this’.

Wealth – social power – is represented using a different mechanisim – cowrie shells, wampum, cattle.   These things are reserved for the priceless exchanges – of people.  So they are given as dowries, or as compensation for death or injury.

Outside the tribe is different.   Strangers are different.   They aren’t part of your web of mutual obligations, so that’s where barter happens.

Money (not necessarily coinage) makes trade between strangers easier.  Just the thing for a people on the move, constantly bumping up against new tribes, as strangers.   States realised this, and took to paying their armies in money.  So that instead of ‘living off the land’ (a.k.a. pillage), they could buy what they needed from the local tribes.    The idea caught on, and soon markets everywhere used money as a means of exchange.

So far so good.

But there’s an unintended consequence.

Money doesn’t just make transactions between strangers easier, it makes transacting people into strangers.   Eventually we lose sight of the web of mutual obligation – the meaning behind the favours – and focus on the money.  As if that is what really matters.

Even worse, money takes over as the representation of social power.  And that’s where the trouble really starts.

‘The love of money is the root of all evil’.

He’s probably not wrong.

On the other hand, we made money work this way.  We can unmake it if we want.




For a much better description, read David Graeber’s Debt: The first 5,000 years.

Tell me, show me, explain.

Tell me, show me, explain.

When I went to the dentist a couple of years ago for an emergency, I knew I should have looked after my teeth better.   What I didn’t know was that I had no idea how to look after them properly at all.   I’d been brushing the wrong way in the wrong places for years.  And avoiding the dentist.

So my hygienist showed me – physically putting a brush in my mouth so I could feel the level of pressure I should be exerting.  She also explained why I needed to be maintaining my teeth this way – to clear away the crap left behind by the bacteria that live in your mouth, and gave me additional tools for making sure I reach every nook and cranny.

Now I know what to do, and why, I can get on with it by myself.  I’ll even feed back changes as I notice them, or suggest improvements.   Its all been fine – for the teeth I have left.

The point I’m making is that just because we do things, it doesn’t mean we’re doing them right, or that we get why we do them.

Many of the essential processes of our lives are learned by a kind of osmosis.  We pick them up by a mixture of copying, observation and induction.

The same is true of the processes we run in our businesses.   If you want to be sure I’m doing the right things the right way, help me to learn.  Tell me what, show me how, and explain why.

Look behind

Look behind

Queues are annoying, and rarely the fault of the individual dealing with the front of them.

Tutting because the person is serving someone else at the other end of the store may make you feel better, but it’s unfair.

Look behind your immediate experience to see what’s really going on – a single person is being expected to look after what is effectively 2 stores – the shop counter and the post office counter (3 if you count the coffee kiosk).  Despite Schr√∂dinger’s dicoveries, at the macro level of human bodies, they can’t be in two places at once.

Tutting again because they’re not happy about the situation is even more unfair.

If you don’t like the customer experience you’re getting, complain to the people who designed the system.  And if it doesn’t improve things, vote with your feet.

The people behind these systems rely on us taking things out on the person in front of us.  Because that way we keep everything running just fine – for them.

Consumption is a vital part of the system we all live under.  Like everything else we do, we can do it mindfully, intentionally, and with the aim of making things better.



Double bubble

Double bubble

What could be more energising than knowing that every action you take contributes directly to a customer’s experience?  Nothing superfluous, nothing bureaucratic, nothing but the relationship being created or maintained between you and the person you are serving.

So the perfect marriage of customer experience and operational efficiency, turns out to be the perfect marriage of employee engagement and operational efficiency too.

Double bubble.

What’s not to like?

What you do is what they get

What you do is what they get

Repouss√© is a metalworking technique in which a malleable metal is ornamented or shaped by hammering from the reverse side to create a design in low relief.  What appears on the front of the object is a direct and immediate result of what is done on the back.  No more, no less.

It’s the ultimate LEAN process.  There is nothing extraneous, nothing intermediate, nothing behind the scenes.  Every action contributes directly to the result.

And as Wikimedia also says “There are few techniques that offer such diversity of expression while still being relatively economical.” 

The perfect marriage of customer experience and operational efficiency.

Something to aim for in your business?

Niche, then niche again

Niche, then niche again

For an individual business, competing with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of other businesses, the key to achieving an above average rate of profit is to differentiate yourself. To de-commoditise your offer. And one way to do that is by specialising how you do things, rather than what you do.

Most coffee shops do the same thing as their competitors, what differs is the mode of delivery, the ambience, sometimes the coffee.   In any given high street, where a customer can choose from half a dozen coffee shops, the one they buy from regularly will the one that feels like their kind of coffee shop. For me, its Cuore, an independent Italian, possibly Caffe Nero, never Starbucks or Costa.

The implication here is that any coffee shop is catering to more than a physical need or desire for coffee. My choice of coffee shop says something about my taste in coffee, but more about my values; who I identify with; the lifestyle I aspire to, and who I want to be seen to identify with.

My choices are a function of my mindset, my worldview, not my age, postcode area or gender. My psychographic profile, not my demographic.

When you articulate the Promise of Value for your business, you are identifying your business psychographic, and by extension that of your ideal clients. These are ‘your kind of people’, the people you can serve, who’ll be willing to pay you more than the alternatives available to them.  They’ll thank you for being there for them.

Sometimes, this is enough. But if you are a new business, or an existing business looking to expand, it helps to narrow your focus even further to a subset of the people you serve.

This is where demographics becomes useful. If your psychographic tells you what kind of people you’re looking for, demographics tells you where you’re most likely to find them.    It can also help you to identify where they are currently being under-served.

That makes psychographics part of your Promise, demographics part of how you share that Promise.  Which leads to the following rule of thumb:

Niche your Promise to find the people you can serve best. They’ll thank you for it.

Niche your Share Promise to find the people you can serve best now. They’ll thank you for it now.





The gaps between things.

The pauses between words or notes.

The white space on a page.

“a holder within which things can exist, stand out and have meaning.”*

“the emptiness full of possibilities, like a promise yet to be fulfilled.”*

The places where we can come alive for each other.

Let’s leave room in our processes for ma.



*from Wawaza.com