Category Archives: Dr Mike’s Blog

Your best intentions will fail unless you do this

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Dr Mike is practicing what he preaches taking a well-earned break at the beach, with the team at The Breakthrough Company keeping things humming at HQ. So, it is with great pleasure that I’m guest blogging this missive.

Good intentions, we all have them. We begin the new year full of vim and vigour and a whole lot of resolutions to do things better, differently and with more conviction. But it is normally a matter of weeks (if not days) and we are right back to our habits of 2017.

We’re working too many hours, feeling stressed, eating the wrong things, skipping workouts, missing time with the kids, cancelling date nights, and so the cycle continues.

Why is it that we don’t stick to the resolutions that we make with such conviction on the eve of 2018?

Essentially it is because we have not clearly defined what our goal actually is and how we are going to achieve it. We have not formulated a plan and worked out a way to hold ourselves accountable to achieving the desired results.

Maybe you said you’re going to lose weight. You’re not alone – a report by the Ministry of Health in NZ said that in 2012 New Zealand adults ranked third highest out of 15 OECD countries for measures of obesity! Have you clearly defined how many kilograms, by when and how you’re going to do it? For example, you’ll go from 90kg to 80kg by 30th June. You’ll join a gym, sign up for 4 classes per week, schedule the classes to your calendar and pack your gym bag to put in the car before to leaving for work those days. You’ll find a healthy eating plan, share it with your family, explain what you’re trying to achieve and get their buy in and support, then stock the pantry with the right ingredients so that you can prepare the meals. You’ll find a support buddy who you can check in with on a weekly or monthly basis to keep you accountable. If people actually did this, we’d have a much healthier nation!

And what about your business? Each year after a good break, you come back energised thinking that this year is going to be better, this year is going to be different!

But is it really? Or are you going to fall into the same routines that you always do – chasing the urgent with no time to grow the business. The business drives you, you don’t drive the business.

Start 2018 by revisiting your strategy – get clarity and alignment on your vision, barriers, strategies and most important goals with your team. Commit to practicing the principles for success. Schedule your development day into your calendar. If you’re part of an action group or Co-lab group, commit and be present at each meeting.  Set a personal goal. Time and time again, we’ve seen our members who do this are happier and more successful in all areas of their lives, and their businesses!

We look forward to inspiring, educating and motivating you to make 2018 your best year yet – not only for yourself but for your family.


Nicky Luis

General Manager

Make it work

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It’s all very well to set Most Important Goals.  They establish what we rationally consider to be our priorities. They represent our beliefs about what’s important – they’re our convictions.

But priorities are only meaningful if they involve choice and sacrifice.

In those moments when honouring the priority involves inconvenience, disruption, additional effort on the part of yourself or others, then your commitment to priority is tested. The temptation will be to slide, fudge, defer, downplay, and thereby avoid the cost of commitment. That’s a reasonable thing to do, keep everyone happy (or at least not annoyed).

You have a choice: you can stay in the comfort zone of avoiding your own and others’ perceptions of your unreasonableness.

Or you can have the courage of your convictions, and find a way to make your commitment work.

Up to you.

Give yourself a break

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We played our last gig of the year last night – it was really great. The crowd loved it, we played pretty well and the energy was high. I got some very nice crowd response to some of my solos on the guitar, which always feels good.

Interestingly, I still feel that my guitar work is not where I want it to be. Even in the middle of a fast riff, it’s not as clear and precise and perfectly timed as what I can hear in my head.  I’ve got to do more practice to reach what I think is my potential.

You may feel this way about your work this year, as you hurtle towards summer. So much left undone, performance not quite where you’d imagined or hoped, opportunities that didn’t play out as you’d anticipated.

That’s all true, and you should hang on to your dissatisfaction with your performance because that’s what keeps driving you to your full potential.

But take a moment to listen to your version of the crowd.  Did you delight your customers? Did you enable your staff to grow? Did you make the organization work a little better? Did you do something new?

Most important, are you performing better than you were 12 months ago?

If you can answer any of those with even a partial yes, give yourself a break.

Acknowledge the crowd with a smile and a wave, and head into summer with both a sense of achievement and a determination to do better.

Innovation blah blah

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When a word like innovation gets bandied around by media and politicians as the solution it suffers from the same fate as most things left out in the open for too long – the meaning fades, and like all jargon it just becomes a substitute for thought.

We ran a workshop on innovation, and early on we decided to use a different word, because innovation has been co-opted by the start-up and high growth sectors and those who work with them. It’s sometimes hard for owners of non-disruptive businesses to identify with “innovation”.

So we re-framed it: instead of innovation let’s talk about opportunities. We may not be sure what we mean when we say we want our staff to be innovative, but we sure as hell want them to be good at spotting opportunities – whether the opportunities are in the market or internal process improvements.

It’s a good word for another reason: instead of trying to create a culture of innovation, how about developing an opportunity culture? A culture where people are looking for opportunities is also a place where people are being given opportunities for growth.

Innovation doesn’t happen by accident.

We have to invest in our people as well as our ideas. And the best way to think about that is not the lofty concept of innovation, but the sharp fast reality of opportunity.

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.