Category Archives: Dr Mike’s Blog

Peace in our time

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As a natural introvert/learned extravert, I was excited to find an article in the HBR entitled “In a distracted world, solitude is a competitive advantage”. At last, my preference for quiet contemplation was being recognised.

The “Disconnect” movement is growing as we struggle to cope with the sheer volume of information coming at us every day.

The author’s argument is that information overload distracts us, causing a lack of focus and productivity. One of the solutions they recommend is that having the discipline to step back from the “noise of the world” is essential to staying focused.

Here are the steps they recommend for staying focused at work:

  • Build periods of solitude into your schedule. 15 minutes a day is all you need (see the earlier blog on personal development time)
  • Analyse where your time is best spent – and stay there
  • Starve your distractions – especially the one you use for a quick time-killer
  • Don’t be too busy to learn how to be less busy
  • Create a “to not do” list

In reality, here’s how a devoted solitude practitioner (me) manages his time:

  • Development day on Monday always starts with planning the outcomes I want to achieve in the coming week
  • Walk the dog/meditate every day – it’s not as good as sitting in a garden, but I can listen mindfully to guided meditations on my headphones while keeping an eye on the dog
  • Don’t stay at the office unless I have meetings – go home and work there
  • Content development, which requires a lot of concentration, is in my schedule and is always done at home

Guard your solitude. Put the world on mute so you can hear yourself think.

Apologies to our chairman

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We had a board meeting recently. Our esteemed chairman failed certain key insight tests:

  • He considered my shirt to be too loud (overruled by the girls in the office)
  • He didn’t understand some of the subtleties of our business

There is no hope for him on the first failure, and we intend to do nothing to increase his understanding of our business.

We don’t want him to understand it as well as we do because then he would see it like us. We would then miss out on the valuable insights he brings us because he doesn’t have any idea why we can’t or why that particular idea is too difficult to apply to us. He just says he thinks we need to [insert challenging step here].

He also thinks we’re pathetic when we try to explain to him why we can’t. We tried getting away with just agreeing and trying to move on, but he’s too smart for that one – he can spot a fob-off from a mile away (we suspect he practiced most of them when he worked in corporates).

We’ve learned it’s easier to engage, try to understand what he sees for us, and think about how we might implement something we hadn’t really considered.

He asks us to get out of our sandpit, stop playing with our toys, and have a look at the wider playground.

It’s a bugger really. We always leave the meeting feeling slightly confused as to what just happened there and how come we’ve ended up being challenged to step up our thinking again when we thought it was going to be a nice quiet non-eventful board meeting.

Thanks Dan

Who’s the boss?

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A wolf pack always has an alpha. When the alpha is strong and in control, the pack is quiet. When the alpha weakens, the next strongest is obliged to challenge him or her.

These are the rules the alpha and the pack operate on:

  • The alpha always goes first
  • The alpha eats first
  • The alpha decides who is admitted to the den
  • The alpha comes and goes without reference to the pack

Dog owners know that they have to be the boss dog, because the puppy will only obey if the boss dog is in control (this applies even to half-sized miniature schnauzers who would more often get mistaken for a rabbit than a wolf).

It’s simple: if you are not in control of your dog, then your dog is in control of you.

Control is a binary thing: you’ve either got it or what you’re trying to control has got it.

This applies to all sorts of things, such as drinking: if you don’t control your drinking, your drinking is controlling you. If you don’t control your eating, your eating is controlling you. If you don’t control your anger, your anger controls you.

You might think this is about being the boss dog with your people, and making sure they know who’s boss.

It’s not.

It’s about you and your business. Either you’re in control of it, or it’s in control of you.

If you are working more hours than you want to, if you are putting up with underperforming clients and staff, if you think you can’t go home before your staff, if you worry about what your staff would think if you took a week off, if you are missing out on seeing your family because you are late home and working at night, then you’re not the boss dog.

The business is controlling you, which makes you what exactly?


The value you’re leaving on the table

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As I’ve often remarked, one of the things I love most about my role is that it gives me a chance to get a sense of the themes in the land of aspiring businesses.

What I’m seeing right now across several different sectors is that we’re at a stage of the business cycle where there is no more capacity. A lot of businesses don’t want new customers or additional orders because they’re struggling to meet demand right now – they are at full capacity.

For many, the only way to increase that capacity is to increase productivity, which means to become more efficient.

My sense is that most small businesses are around 20% inefficient, meaning they could get 20% more output with the same level of resources. It does not mean they could reduce costs by 20%.

As an aside, I think this might have been at the heart of the failed health reforms of the 1990s (which I was involved in). Numerous studies said that hospitals were 20% inefficient, but what doctors meant was that they could see 20% more people for the same dollar. Treasury thought it meant they could reduce spending by 20%. Whoops.

There are some businesses which are less than 20% inefficient, mainly those which have automated their processes.

There are some who are much more than 20% inefficient, mainly because they don’t have standard processes, let alone streamlined.

Inefficiency comes in two forms – doing the wrong things, and doing things wrong. If you’re doing the wrong things really well, you’re still inefficient.

Doing things wrong can be seen in multiple handling of tasks, poor handovers, lack of clarity about roles, inconsistency between teams, poor communication between departments, and a lack of planning. The only way to combat this is to develop a process consciousness, get some help from a Lean consultant, and then systematically go through the business looking for opportunities to standardise, streamline and automate.

This has always been important, it’s now becoming urgent: your growth and your current customer retention depends on improving your efficiency.

If there is one thing that should get put on a placard and posted on every wall, it’s that: standardise, streamline, automate.

Okay that’s three things, but it’s one phrase. In Lean terms that’s called batching:)

What I wish I knew

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Sir Stephen Tindall is a very experienced chair. He starts meetings of new groups with a nice Icebreaker. He asks each participant “What do you wish you knew 20 years ago?”

The problem is of course we don’t know what we don’t know. Nowhere is that more apparent when someone comes into our lives who does know what we don’t know. And it’s often not until then that we realise that we really didn’t know.

This sounds a bit like that ridiculous thing Donald Rumsfeld (Bush’s Defence Secretary) once embarrassed himself with – known unknowns and unknown unknowns.

The point is this: chances are we are all lumbering along in a state of innocence/ignorance about how much better our business could be. Sometimes we think that we have people who “know” the business, but have they learned anything new or are they just repeating what they learned in their first year in the job? And sometimes we worry about the knowledge that walks out the door when someone valuable leaves, and it turns out that their replacement operates at another level up – and again we realise what we don’t know.

Two points out of this musing:

  • Don’t fear losing people with knowledge – it may be opening a door to a new level of knowledge
  • Stop valuing knowledge and start valuing learning. Especially in yourself. Remember that the enemy of learning is knowing.

About time

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Paul recently won week-about custody of his children. Suddenly he’s got to limit his hours. He finds himself saying “I don’t have time to do this – someone else is going to have to do it.” His role has changed from doing to checking.

Sue has a mystery illness that’s going to take her off work for who knows how long. She tells her foreman he has to step up. She returns but can only do two days a week. A few years later, the business has doubled and she’s still doing two days a week.

We’ve seen lots of cases like this: something happens that limits an owner’s hours, and they have to undertake what we’ll call Forced Delegation. And it’s the best thing that ever happened to them. In nearly all the cases of Forced Delegation, the business improved as a consequence because the owner never took those jobs back, and instead focused on highest value activities. The only case I know where it didn’t work was someone who had to take 6 weeks off to look after a sick parent, and when he returned he took back all the jobs that others had performed perfectly well in his absence. He’s still there, working long hours in a business that hasn’t moved at all.

Here’s the thing: If you think your time is unlimited, you’ll use all of it. If you treat it as limited, you’ll do only what matters. The irony is, you do more of what matters when you treat time as finite than you do when you think your time is infinite.

Join us for “The Power of the 3 Day Week Webinar” hosted by Dr Mike. In this free 30 minute webinar, you’ll learn the core principles that help our clients work less and spend more time on what really matters.

Under the radar

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I get concerned when I hear someone say they just want to keep their business “under the radar”. The only good reason for that is if you are so successful that you don’t want big competitors to find out and target you. Then again, if you’re that successful you are, by definition, not under the radar!

This is one of those things people say to keep themselves small. It means they don’t have to think about the hard yards of marketing. They’ll never fail because they’ll never put themselves to the test. The only people who will find them will be those diligent enough to have tracked them down or lucky enough stumble across them. By definition (again), these people are fully qualified prospects, so the owners don’t run the risk of having to sell (ew!) or rejection.

They also don’t have to do the hard work of thinking about:

  • Which segments are we trying to appeal to?
  • What’s our value proposition to that segment?
  • How do we reach that segment?
  • What do we say to that segment to arouse their interest?
  • How do we take them from lead to prospect to sale as effectively and efficiently as possible?

In aviation terms, flying under the radar is dangerous because the plane is flying so fast and so close to the ground.

In business terms, under the radar is just about the most comfortable (and slowest) place to be.

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Making waves

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At our last board meeting, our chairman looked at one of our graphs and asked when we launched our Mastery Programme. We said it was three years ago, and he congratulated us on having achieving nearly 50% of our revenue with a product that didn’t exist 3 years ago. It is particularly gratifying is that our revenue was up nearly 30% last year and we had a record profit.

But while that’s good, it’s not the whole story, or even the most relevant part of the story.

I always think that in business it’s less about what you are and more about what you are becoming. Mastery is now a Horizon 2 product that we continue to develop and promote. It’s one of our Most Important Goals (MIGs). But one of the other MIGs refers to Horizon 3 – what are we working on now that will be as successful Mastery in 3 years’ time?

These are the waves of development, growth and maturity that we all have to manage if we are to stay relevant to our market. Your wave cycle might be longer or shorter, but you have one too, unless your market is immune to change.

The most gratifying part of Mastery’s success and the progress in our new product pipeline is that we are doing pretty well at the biggest business challenge of all: running today’s business while creating tomorrow’s.

On the death of my mother

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My mother died on 25 May, quite suddenly but not unexpectedly. This is not the place to eulogise her, but she touched many lives with her deep empathy and wisdom.

At her vigil the night before her funeral, I read a passage from the last page of my book:

“I remember what my mother said at the party for her 80th birthday. She has done a reasonable job raising 6 children. It’s probably not fair to hold her responsible for my brother John who drinks my birthday present before he gives it to me – every bloody year. She is a mentor to a number of her nieces and nephews. She is, in the eyes of her many friends and family, a Wise Woman. She’s not someone who has sought the limelight – her husband and her 6 noisy children were always hogging that, so there was never any room. So here she was, in the limelight at last, and I was really interested in what her reflection on her life might be. She said something like this:

When I think about how I’ve lived and what I say when people ask for my advice, I suppose it just comes down to this: get on with it. Whether you’ve been through a trial or you’ve been through a triumph, you’ve just got to get on with it. Whether you’ve got to finish something or start something new, you have to get on with it. Whatever it is you’ve chosen to do or whatever has been chosen for you, you’ve just got to get on with it.”

And that’s how she lived.

A couple of questions come up for me:

  • What will I say at my 80th – and am I living my own advice?
  • What should I be getting on with right now?

If you’d like to read more in my book, you can buy a copy here.

If it’s a good idea later…

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If it’s a good idea later…

…then it’s probably a good idea now.

Twice in the past week I have been reminded of one of my learnings in life. If something is a good idea for further on down the track, it’s probably a good idea now. Usually all that’s missing is the permission/encouragement to do it now.

For example, one Managing Director wants to hire a guy who would represent a significant lift in capability in a key area. He would bring in significant levels of new business across several divisions. But the MD is already hiring a critical senior resource, and cash is tight, so his plan was to sit on the appointment for 8 months. I pointed out the risks of letting this guy go to the competition or out of the industry, and the risk that we would limp along at the current level of performance. We need the lift now, and if we’re right about his capability, then we will get a return on the cash outlaid anyway. This is one of those times we have to up the ante. The MD agreed with a sigh.

Another MD has a problem performer on his management team. He hasn’t really delivered on the promise, and this week did something stupid, committing a basic error. I said there are 3 options: train, transfer, terminate. The MD thought he would have to move him out before the end of the year. My comment was that if it’s a good idea to get rid of him later, then it’s probably a great idea to get rid of him now. This MD agreed with a sigh.

Think about the things you plan to do later on. How many of them are pushed out because of the demands of sequencing, and how many are pushed out because you just don’t want the hassle/cost/stress? Is that a good enough reason?

Learn about these and other common mistakes in the 7 MISTAKES BUSINESS OWNERS MAKE eBook — FREE DOWNLOAD.