Discipline makes Daring possible.

Taking advantage

Taking advantage

I’m taking advantage of the 3-day week to have a holiday.

Enjoy your Jubilee.

I’ll see you in June.

Hopefully it will be warmer by then.



I’m sharing this from Seth Godin today, in full.

It’s what I needed this morning.

And I thought perhaps you need it too.

Thank you Seth.

How Change Happens

Slowly then all at once

For people who aren’t paying attention or actively involved, it can seem like cultural change is sudden. One big shift after another.

In fact, cultural change always happens relatively slowly. Person by person, conversation by conversation. Expectations are established, roles are defined, systems are built.

From the foundation

The people in the news and at the podium get all the attention, but they’re a symptom, not usually a cause. Everyday people aren’t the bottom, they are the roots, the foundation, the source of culture itself. We are the culture, and we change it or are changed by it.

From peer to peer

Change happens horizontally. What do we expect from others? What do we talk about? Who do we emulate or follow or support? What becomes the regular kind?

People like us do things like this.

Day by day, week by week, year by year.

Going to the protest of the day, performing acts of slacktivism, hopping from urgency to emergency–this is how people who day trade in our culture are whipsawed. But the people who are consistently and actively changing the culture are not easily distracted. One more small action, one more conversation, one more standard established.

The internet would like us to focus on what happened five minutes ago. The culture understands that what happens in five years is what matters.

Focused, persistent community action is how systems change. And systems concretize and enforce cultural norms.

If you care, keep talking. Keep acting. Stay focused. And don’t get bored.


Discipline makes Daring possible.



From the perspective of the penthouse office, it’s easy to view the people below you as somehow irrelevant, or worse, as a drain on your heroic endeavour.

In fact they are one tip of the great blue iceberg of human ingenuity, creativity and enterprise that stretches down through millenia.

You and your people are the ultimate renewable and accumulating resource.

Don’t waste it.



There are obvious environmental benefits to repairing things, people and processes in your business, instead of throwing them away.

But the biggest benefit is that by repairing them you learn so much more about how your business could and should work better.

Especially when everyone gets involved.

Eating your own tail

Eating your own tail

We’re used to thinking linearly – we picture our businesses and our lives as a sequence of events or processes, each of which takes an input and turns it into an output.

The trouble with this approach is that it encourages us to forget that inputs have to come from somewhere, and that outputs have to go somewhere.  When we’re all working like this, we exhaust the larger system we are part of.

The answer is to find ways to eat your own tail.

Could you re-use the output from one of your processes as an input to another?   A few years ago I met a tomato grower.  They maximise the sunlight on their tomatoes by stripping off most of the leaves.  The leaves power an anaerobic digester.   The digester produces methane that is burned to generate electricity to heat the greenhouses.  Carbon dioxide from the engine is also fed into the greenhouses to help the tomatoes grow faster.

The result is an almost closed, circular system.

Could you find ways to eat your own tail in your business?

If not, the answer might be to get a few businesses together and eat each other’s tails instead.

One business’s waste product is another business’s vital input.  A data centre’s excess heat could keep nearby homes or facilities warm, or refrigerate a food store.    A restaurant’s cardboard could become a horse’s bedding, could become a market gardener’s compost, could become a restaurant’s vegetables…

Whose tail could you bite?   Who could usefully bite yours?   How could you make your business and it’s environment circular?

The thing about circles is they never end.  They just keep rolling along.


Today’s post is inspired by Vittles newsletter.  I recommend it.

Why am I doing everybody else’s job?

Why am I doing everybody else’s job?

Your business is attracting more clients, so you take on more people to help you serve those clients.  But those new people aren’t up to speed with how your business works.   So they falter, and when they do, you step in and take over.

Gradually, over time, you find the faltering happens sooner, the taking over starts earlier, until one day, you wake up and ask yourself ‘Why am I doing everone else’s job?‘.

Because you’ve allowed your team to shift the burden of getting things done ‘the way we do them round here‘ to you.  You’ve more than allowed them, you’ve positively encouraged them:

Stop fixing the faltering, and fix the reasons why they falter instead.

If your team falters it’s because they don’t know what you know, they don’t believe what you believe, they don’t know what you value, and they don’t have your muscle-memory of how your business works.

So, get the music of how your business works out of your head and into a shareable, updateable format.   Share it with your team.  Train them in it.  Let them practice it.

Before you know it, they’ll be playing your music better than you.

Letting go

Letting go

Sometimes, groups of actors in a system have different goals, pulling them in different directions.   These goals are perfectly reasonable from the perspective of each group, but a constant tug-of-war between groups prevents improvement.

We’re seeing a simple example of this kind of thing right now, with the ‘in the office’/’work from home’ debates and policy changes.

A firm wants people back in the office, so they decide to ban working from home.  That ban just makes some people leave – to join a more accommodating competitor.   The firm pulling hard in one direction hasn’t helped, it’s just made others pull harder in a different direction.   The harder one side pulls, the harder the other does too.

These tugs of war can involve more than two parties – and frequently do.  That makes fixing the system even more difficultr as each group pulls more and more strongly in its own preferred direction.

The answer, counterintuitively, is to let go.  Stop pulling.  When you do that everyone else will stop pulling too.

Then, look at everyone’s different, and from their perspective, perfectly reasonable goals.

Why do you want people in the office?   Why do they want to work from home?  What could you do to feel more confident that people are productive at home?  How could you help them feel happier about coming back to the office.

My favourite example for this is the Swedish solution to a falling birth rate.  Instead of banning abortions and birth control as Ceausescu did in Romania, which led to orphanages full of neglected and traumatised children, Sweden agreed on a higher goal of ‘every child being wanted and nurtured’, and implemented policies across the board to deliver that, that helped everyone work towards it.

What policies could you put in place that help everyone pull in the same direction?



It’s every new business owner’s dream.   Your first customers love what you do so much that they tell their friends, who become customers.  They love what you do, and tell their friends, who become customers and tell their friends, and so on…

Until suddenly it overwhelms you.   You can’t keep up with demand.  You can’t recruit fast enough, you can’t train people fast enough, you can’t supervise any more jobs yourself.

Soon, the referral rate has slowed.   Worse, as customers become disillusioned, they warn off their friends, who warn off their friends, and so on…

Suddenly you don’t have a business any more.

What you’re experiencing is a reinforcing feedback loop (a flow of customer referrals) that hits a limit (your capacity to deliver), and slows down or even goes into reverse.

The good news is that a loop that’s gone into reverse will also eventually hit a limit, as the flow of customer referrals gets back into balance with your capacity to deliver.

The best news is that you don’t have to wait for that.

One short-term fix is to slow-down the referral rate, to give you more time to implement a longer-term fix of increasing capacity:

  • put your prices up – this will reduce the number of referrees who turn into customers, and give you more money to invest in increasing capacity.
  • create a queue – increasing waiting times gives you more time to invest in increasing capacity.

Similarly, there are short-term fixes for the capacity side too:

  • put wages up – this will increase the flow of potential team members who can deliver for you.
  • pay overtime or bonuses to your existing team – this will increase the flow of work from your existing resources.  (This is probably only true for emergencies though)
  • use freelancers – this may increase the flow of already capable capacity into your team.

The best thing you can do for the long-term is to monitor your referral rate, because this will help you plan ahead.

The time it takes for an exponentially growing stock (such as customers) to double in size is roughly 70 divided by it’s growth rate as a percentage.

So if 5% of your customers refer each month, your pool of customers will double in 14 months.  If 50% of your customers refer, you’ll have double the number of customers to deal with in just 1.4 months.

For a sustainable business, what you really want is to keep customers and capacity in balance, as you grow both.  What’s counterintuitive, is that it’s monitoring flows, and the rates of flow that will help you achieve this at the speed you want.

Snowballs are only fun for a little while.

Discipline makes Daring possible.

Introducing systems thinking

Introducing systems thinking

We spend much of our time in business measuring quantities or stocks, when often what we should be looking at are flows – the processes that affect those quantities, for good or ill.

In fact, we’d learn more from looking at how those flows are changing – are they speeding up or slowing down?  – and by asking why, create ourselves more options and opportunities to improve things.

We also tend to focus too much on stocks that are concrete (profit, inventory, capacity) and ignore the abstract (delight, autonomy, morale).   Partly because the abstract is harder to measure, partly because we think they don’t matter.

As we all know, what gets measured, gets managed.    The trouble is that managing the wrong things distorts the system.  Until it no longer serves the purpose we originally envisaged. Or until it breaks.

If you’re looking for a different way of explaining – and re-designing – your world, this book is an excellent introduction to systems thinking.

This week I’ll be sharing some ideas from the book, as they apply to the systems we are all trying to create – our businesses.

You’ll recognise them.



How often have you been told ‘It must be this way’, ‘This is just how it works’, ‘Things have always been like this’, ‘There is no alternative’?

There is always an alternative.  More importantly, there are always alternatives.   Always have been throughout human history.  Always will be throughout whatever future we have left.  Alternatives we’ve designed for ourselves as a counter to what’s on offer.

It’s just that history is told by the victors, and alternatives – especially those that work – are hidden or misrepresented by the people who benefit from the status quo.

So maybe part of our job as owners of purposeful, sustainable and humane businesses is not just to find those alternatives and explore them.   It’s also to share them.  To show them.  To enable people to make up their own minds on which they’d rather choose.

Our models of the world are stories we tell ourselves.

Let’s not get ourselves trapped in just one.