Discipline makes Daring possible.



You run a business with a partner.  One of you hates not knowing what’s going to happen, the other loves that.   One favours planning, the other seeing what happens.  This is a source of much tension.

How could you reconcile these opposites to get the best of both worlds?


Give yourself a safety net.  A floor below which things cannot go.  Or as Mr Nassim Taleb would have it, protect yourself against the downside.

Design repeatable processes that ensure ‘the least that should happen’.  The planner will be much more comfortable with possibility when you’ve ruled out the worst.  You can both be open to the upside.

When you find it, move the net up, and repeat.

This doesn’t only work for partners, it can help everyone who works with you to reconcile their individual appetites for risk.

I knew that would happen

I knew that would happen

“I knew that would happen.”

If you knew, why didn’t you do something to prevent it?

Probably because while you knew it was possible or even likely, you hoped it wouldn’t happen.

It would be much better to have a process that deals not only with the 80% of cases where nothing untoward happens, but also with the 20% of cases that don’t work like that.  Or even better, one that pre-empts their occurrence.

Let’s say you’re a coffee roaster.  You sell beans to lots of small independent coffee shops.  It bugs you that they never plan their orders properly, often ringing up to ask for an urgent delivery at a timescale that’s impossible for you to make money on.  You’ve made things clear – ‘Order before  6pm for next-day delivery’ – but still they ring at 8pm for an urgent delivery by 8am the next day.  What should be exceptional is turning into the norm.

How could you pre-empt this?

You could accept that’s how they work, and find a way to deliver coffee overnight as your default.  That might involve putting prices up of course, which might annoy the more forward-thinking of your customers.

You could make them order more each time, so they never run out.  That would cost them more of course, and might end up in a stockpile they don’t want to carry.

You could put re-order prompts in or on your packaging, or give them the means to prompt themselves – stickers, or ‘re-order now’ cards.

You could recognise that the people using the coffee may not be the people ordering it, and make it easy for them to start an order – with a QR code on a bag, for instance – that gets confirmed with the person responsible before it’s sent out.

You could find ways to prompt them to re-order, based on how they work.  That would involve asking them how they work (or even observing them as a mystery shopper?).  That would cost you more up -front, but might make for a closer relationship.  There probably aren’t that many different ways to run a coffee-shop, so you would quickly identify most cases.    Then you could offer ordering options to new clients, knowing you have a process for dealing with them smoothly

There isn’t a right answer here, except that whenever you say “I knew that would happen”, realise that what you’ve identified isn’t just a pain for you.  It’s an opportunity to cement your relationships and differentate yourself from your competitors, just by making your client’s life easier.

Stories we tell ourselves

Stories we tell ourselves

If you knew the stories your family, friends, colleagues, employees and clients are telling themselves you’d be astonished.

The stories we tell ourselves aren’t true.  They often don’t help.  We keep them to ourselves, but they leak out in our actions, and so how others see us.

What’s the story your business tells itself?   Does it help?

If not, share it with your team, and see how you can change it.  Your customers and your profits will see the difference.



I’ve always hated being under an obligation to anyone.  I’d much rather be a giver than a receiver, and I always used to try and ‘balance the books’ whenev



Transactions are meant to be purely functional and impersonal.   We don’t have to worry about how the person on the other side feels – or even whether they are a person.   They don’t have to worry about us either.  We both do our business and move on.

All very convenient, but not terribly satisfying.

We humans crave connection and recognition.  We love to be seen by others, and we know that the only way to be seen is to see.   We’re constantly trying to turn transactions into relationships, however brief (did you speak to the person who gave you your COVID-19 vaccine?  I expect so), and especially around the things we value.

I’m happy to pay my car tax through a faceless, characterless portal and my council tax via direct debit, but I prefer to buy my groceries in person, having a chat at the checkout as I do.  I buy my books online, from a small independent bookshop.  We are both very aware that there are people on the other side of the transaction, and often go out of our way to remind ourselves of that.

Transactions are exchanges that take place between strangers.   Or between people who want to treat each other as if they are strangers.

The danger is that by treating each other as strangers, we become strangers.   Blind to the needs of others.  Blind even to our own need to be valued as a human being.   Sublimating that need into a desire for things, or even selling our data in return for a taste of it.

We can’t escape transactions.  Our society is increasingly built around them.  But as businesses, we can do our best to deliver the relationships our clients really want.

On top of the transaction, as a bonus.

As a gift.

Games we play

Games we play

I was reading yesterday about 2 kinds of games – finite and infinite.  Finite games are those where the game stops when somebody wins.  They could also be called zero-sum games.  For someone to win, everyone else has to lose.  Finite and zero-sum games are based on scarcity.

Infinite games on the other hand, are not about winning, they are about keeping the game going.  The game is eternal, which means there is no scarcity.   As a player I may drop out, but the game goes on, with other players.  The game can also get bigger, there is no limit to how many people can play.

We tend to play an infinite game with our personal relationships.  We don’t keep score with our family and friends.  We assume, safely on the whole, not that a favour will be returned as a quid pro quo, but that if we are in need, help will be given.

Our assumption is that business is a zero-sum game.  Where for me to win, the planet has to lose.  Or other businesses have to lose.  Or customers have to lose.  Or where my team have to lose.

What if you assumed it was an infinite game?  That business is about keeping the game going for everyone, forever?

Would you play differently?



It feels nice to be wanted.  To be the fount of all knowledge .  To be the one everyone turns to when they have a question.  To be deferred to in all day-to-day decision-making.  To be the person every client or prospect enquiry is referred to.

But beware.  Making yourself indispensable is the passive form of being a control freak.   An indispensable boss may not actively seek to control what others do, and how they do it, but somehow nothing much happens without being run past them first.  The approach is different, but the result is the same.

It isn’t productive.  It isn’t very liberating for the people with day-to-day decisions to make.  It can easily become a trap for you.  And it soon becomes a constraint on the growth of your business.

The solution is to enable people to answer their own questions, make their own decisions.  Not from scratch, but with all the benefit of what you already know.  As a Customer Experience Composer, not the boss.

Write them a score.  Let them rehearse their part before they have to perform in front of a live audience.  Get everyone together for regular practice at playing together.  Review the score.  Adjust if necessary.


Free your team to bring more of themselves to the job, free yourself up to deal with everything that isn’t day-to-day, free your business up to fly.

The music in your head is the start, not the end.  Get it out there.

Three Freedoms

Three Freedoms

What is freedom, really?

Here’s a possible definition, not mine*.  Three freedoms, each building on the one before.

  1. The freedom to walk away, knowing that you will be taken in elsewhere by other people who see you as one of them.
  2. The freedom to disobey, knowing that you can ‘vote with your feet’.
  3. The freedom to create new and different forms of social reality.

The third can’t happen without the first two.  Not without becoming tyranny, anyway.

These are big ideas, but since our businesses can be anything we want, we can practise them small.



*In the sense that I didn’t think of them.  They come from “The Dawn of Everything” by David Wengrow and David Graeber.

The world turned upside down

The world turned upside down

Until a couple of years ago, I throught cleaning your teeth was about cleaning your teeth.

It turns out I was wrong.  It’s about cleaning your gumline.  Because it’s not so much about getting rid of food debris, as cleaning up after the bacteria that live in your mouth.  Who breed and create debris (plaque) whether you eat or not.

There are lots of things we think we know, that actually turn out to be wrong, or at least capable of alternative interpretations.   The more alternatives we see, the more we can imagine even better ones.

If you’re up for it, here are a few of the books that have turned my world of ideas upside down:

Of course, every book does this to some extent – even the ones you’ve read before, because you can’t step into the same river twice.

Which books would you recommend?

Going further

Going further

As Seth said in his blog about pushing, pulling and leading yesterday: “One bird at the head of the flock can lead 100 others if they’re enrolled in the journey.”

And because all are enrolled in the journey, any member of the flock can and does take a turn at leading.   They are literally all in it together.

That’s what enables them to go so far.