Discipline makes Daring possible.

We wunt be druv

We wunt be druv

From an audience viewpoint, Lewes Bonfire feels wild, raw, exciting and a bit pagan.

There are flaming torches; painted banners; bangers randomly going off; whole chains of firecrackers engulfing the crowd in noise and smoke; drummers; brass bands; giant effigies of the latest hate-figures, destined for burning; marchers in costumes that have clearly been handed down over generations or in their trademark stripey smugglers jumpers and white trousers. Entire familes take part – from babies (always miraculously sleeping through the din) to 80 year olds and upwards.

It’s what isn’t there that makes it something really special. There are no safety barriers between the parade and the audience, no obvious officials marshalling the participants or the crowd. There are people collecting donations for each Bonfire Society as it passes by, but by and large the marchers ignore phones and cameras, until finally it dawns on me that the main thing that’s missing is any kind of ‘playing to the crowd’.

Bonfire isn’t a show put on for the tourists. It’s the continuation of a 405-year protest by a community – represented by the local bonfire societies who plan, fundraise and self-organise an annual defense of the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

It isn’t fake.

People like us do things like this.

Reverse engineering

Reverse engineering

In his new book, Seth Godin talks about the lock and the key. The lock is your ideal client, and the key is your offer – the promise you are making to those people.

Of course, the ideal way to start a business is to identify the locks you want, then build a key to fit, but most of us don’t do that – we make our key, then run around trying as many locks as we can to see if we can find a match.

That’s a terrible way to build a business – looking for ‘anyone’ and ‘everyone’ that might conceivably be interested in what we offer, and as a result finding that the only thing we can compete on is price.

The good news though, is that even if you haven’t thought about which locks you really want, you can use the key you’ve already made to reverse engineer what they look like, so you can systematically help them to find you.

Because people don’t really buy what you do, they buy the feeling you give them through your unique way of doing it.

What is a business?

What is a business?

Today, I’m going to bake a delicious, sticky ginger cake for my family and friends to eat on Bonfire night.

That’s a promise. I’ll keep it.

Whether or not I’ve lived up to that promise, only time and the reaction of my friends will tell. I’m not asking for payment, so it doesn’t matter that much to me (as long as nobody gets ill), and I don’t have to repeat the process of baking my cake and feeding it to my friends unless I want to.

For a business, however, it’s different.

All the business owners I know work very hard to keep the promises they make.

Take the owners of Maya’s Craft Bakery near me.

They start at 3 am, to make sure they have a counter full of delicious baked goods by 9 am, so that customers can exchange their cash for the chance to relive a holiday moment; treat themselves or a friend; reward their colleagues, or show their boss how discerning they are.

They clearly keep their promises, because pretty much everything’s sold out by 5pm.

Then they start again the next morning.

There are a lot of ways to think about a business – most of which seem to revolve around making money, but it seems to me that the small businesses I know have it right – a business is a system for repeatedly making a promise to your customers and keeping it.

You can tell it’s a system, because the ones that succeed, like the people at Maya’s Craft Bakery, find they’ve built a feedback loop that makes growth happen organically.

It seems simple, but keeping a business system like this going well isn’t easy.



How do you eat an elephant?

“One bite at a time!”

“From a very early age, we are taught to break apart problems, to fragment the world. This apparently makes complex tasks and subjects more manageable, but we pay a hidden enormous price. We can no longer see the consequences of our actions; we lose our intrinsic sense of connection to a larger whole.”Peter M. Senge “The Fifth Discipline”

If you only look at your business in bitesize chunks, you’re likely to miss the elephant in the room.



When you start your business, on your own, or as a small team of people who know each other well, it’s easy to remember why you’re doing the work, and who it’s for. It’s also easy to coordinate what you’re doing together so you’re efficient and profitable.

But once you get bigger than that, some sort of structure is needed, to make coordination possible at a larger scale.

For most of us, a hierarchy of management seems like the natural choice. It’s what we’ve grown up with. It’s what gets lauded in the press or shown on “The Apprentice”.

It isn’t the only choice though. There are other ways to enable coordination at scale – co-operation, LEAN, TEAL, Responsible Autonomy, that have been shown to be more effective than traditional hierarchy.

Here’s some questions to ask:

  • Do I want people to focus on ‘the boss’ or on ‘the customer’?

  • Do I want everyone to remember why they do what they do?

  • Do I want to grow my people as I grow my business?

  • Do I want people to follow procedure or take initiative?

  • Do I want my people to be obedient or responsible?

It’s easy to lose your values and your customer in the wrong structure.

Autonomy Rules

Autonomy Rules

Take away permanent contracts, well-signposted career paths, and guaranteed salaries – what do you get?

Independence. Autonomy. Autonomy with the sole responsibility to survive, and if possible, thrive, by my measures, on my terms.

Everyone’s a freelancer now.

If you’re an organisation with opportunities to grow, you’re going to have to find new ways to recruit them to your cause.

Command and control won’t cut it any more (not even in the army)

Purpose, agency, mastery and self-fulfilment will.

This is a great opportunity to re-think the structure of your business.

The good news is you can make it better for everyone.

The Millennial Mis-match

The Millennial Mis-match

I hear a lot from fellow small business owners about millennials and their younger successors, mostly not good.

“arrogant and entitled.”

“the attention span of a goldfish”

“think they can choose when and where they work.”,

“think they should have a say in everything.”

“won’t be told.”

“can’t stick at anything.”,

“don’t distinguish between life at work and life outside work.”

“aren’t responsible.”

“always letting me down”

I think it’s unlikely that young people today are that different from me at their age.

It’s more likely that there is a simple mismatch of what ‘work’ means.

Like me, millennials crave agency, meaning, mastery and self-fulfilment. They also crave connection. They want to collaborate and co-create, not work for.

They want responsibility.

So why not call their bluff?

Give them responsibility, and the autonomy to deliver on it.

Support them, create feedback mechanisms that tell you and them how they’re doing.

Reward them for the results they deliver, not for being ‘at work’.

It worked for me, and you never know, you might just please everyone.

Traps for the unwary

Traps for the unwary

Today I had to pay £14.95 to get out of a car park (on top my parking).

Because the user interface had been (deliberately?) designed to let me forget to take my token back.

The payment console had very visibly prompted me to insert my parking token with an eye-catching animated graphic, but there was no eye-catching graphic to prompt me to take it back again. I didn’t realise my mistake until I reached the exit barrier.

Up to that point I’d had a good morning, spending my money in a local museum coffee shop, a couple of clothes stores and a bookshop.

“There is a sign on the machine.”, aaid the man on the other end of the intercom.

“But I was looking at the screen.”, I replied. “And I’ve never parked here before.”

“That’s just how it is I’m afraid. I’ll send a transaction to the machine for you to pay the fine. It will issue you with a replacement token”

Yes, it was that easy for them to let me have another token to exit the car park.

Oh well. I won’t do it again.

Because I’m never shopping in Maidstone again.

What traps are you laying for unwary customers?

Intentional or not, they’ll lose you business.

image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Make my day…

Make my day…

This morning, I did a bit of shopping on my way home from my early morning networking. 

At the till, I waited behind another lady, while the woman serving us chatted to an old lady at the end of the checkout.   I didn’t mind, I wasn’t in a hurry, and the chat wasn’t stopping the assistant serving us.

After the old lady left, the assistant explained that this was a regular occurrence.    Every day, the 94 year-old looks in to see if her friend is on the checkout, and if she is, comes in to have a few minutes chat. 

“I like dealing with people.  I don’t have grandparents or parents any more, so I don’t mind, and I think it helps her feel a bit less lonely. “

Both I and the lady before me joined in.   That means that at least 4 people have been ‘seen’ – acknowledged as human beings – in this exchange, that didn’t take any longer than the usual checkout.

“Actually, I think it makes her day.”

It did mine.

Thank you.


Frans Hals [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons