Archive for the ‘Top Line Growth’ Category

Sometimes too much is just that – too much.

When your best isn’t good enough, how do you feel? When your best isn’t good enough, what do you do? But more importantly, when your best isn’t good enough, what does that say about you?

If your best used to be good enough and now it isn’t, there are four possible explanations. 1.) Expectations increased and your performance is unchanged. 2.) Expectations increased and your performance increased less.  3.) Expectations increased and your performance decreased.

If expectations of your performance haven’t increased over last year, I want to work where you work because your company is an oasis (and an aberration).  Since nearly all industries and occupations are governed by the unnatural mindset of growth-year-on-year-no-matter-what, it’s highly likely your performance expectations have increased. There’s no need to review this scenario.

In scenario one, your performance is unchanged. Why? Well, you may have tried to increase your performance but issues unrelated to work have consumed huge amounts of your emotional energy, and this new drain on your emotional energy consumed the energy you needed to increase your performance.  A list of such issues includes global warming, deforestation, plastic in our water supply, COVID, political unrest, and the regular issues such as medical care for aging parents, death of your parents, inevitable health issues related to your aging. What does that say about you?

In scenario two, your performance increased, but the increase was insufficient. Maybe your performance would have increased quite a bit, but the special cause issues (COVID, etc.) along with the common cause issues (you and your parents get older every year) impacted your performance in a way that lessened the increase in your performance.  Without the special causes, you would have met the increased expectations, but because of them, you did not. What does that say about you?

In scenario three, even though expectations increased, your performance decreased. In this case, it could be that political unrest and the other special causes teamed up with the common causes (stress of everyday life) to reduce your performance. What does that say about you?

In thermodynamics, there’s a law whose implications make it certain that there’s a limit to the amount of matter (stuff) you can put in a control volume (a defined volume that has a limit).  That means that if every year you add air to a balloon, eventually it pops. Even the strongest ones. And when you extend this notion to people, it says that no matter how much pressure you apply to people, there’s a limit to what they can achieve.  And if you apply pressure that overcomes their physical limit, they pop.  Even the strongest ones. Or, maybe, especially the strongest ones because they try to take on more than their share.

People have a physical limit, and people cannot indefinitely support a mindset of growth-every-year-no-matter-what.  No matter what, people will pop. It’s not if, it’s when. And add in the special causes of COVID, political unrest, and environmental problems and people pop sooner and cannot do what they did last year, no matter what.

And what does all this say about you? It says you are trying harder than ever. It says you are strong. It says you are amazing.

And what does it say about growth-every-year-no-matter-what? It says we should stop with all that, at least for a while.

Image credit — Judy Schmidt

If you’re not creating derision, why bother?

When you see good work, say so.

When you see exceptional work, say so in public.

When you’ve had good teachers, be thankful.

When you’ve had exceptional teachers, send them a text because texts are personal.

When you do great work and no one acknowledges it, take some time to feel the pain and get back to work.

When you do great work and no one acknowledges it, take more time to feel the pain and get back to work.

When you’ve done great work, tell your family.

When you’ve done exceptional work, tell them twice.

When you do the work no one is asking for, remember your time horizon is longer than theirs.

When you do the work that threatens the successful business model, despite the anguish it creates, keep going.

When they’re not telling you to stop, try harder.

When they’re telling you to stop it’s because your work threatens.  Stomp on the accelerator.

When you can’t do a project because the ROI is insufficient, that’s fine.

When no one can calculate an ROI because no one can imagine a return, that’s better.

When you give a little ground on what worked, you can improve other dimensions of goodness.

When you outlaw what worked, you can create new market segments.

When everyone understands why you’re doing it, your work may lead to something good.

When no one understands why you’re doing it, your work may reinvent the industry.

When you do new work, don’t listen to the critics. Do it despite them.

When you do work that threatens, you will be misunderstood.  That’s a sign you’re on to something.

When you want credit for the work, you can’t do amazing work.

When you don’t need credit for the work, it opens up design space where the amazing work lives.

When your work makes waves, that’s nice.

When your work creates a tsunami, that’s better.

When you’re willing to forget what got you here, you can create what could be.

When you’re willing to disrespect what got you here, you can create what couldn’t be.

When your work is ignored, at least you’re doing something different.

When you and your work are derided, you’re doing it right.

Image credit — Herry Lawford

Say no to say yes.

If the project could obsolete your best work, do it.  Otherwise, do something else.

But first, makes sure there’s solid execution on the turn-the-crank projects that pay the bills.

If you always say yes to projects, you never have the bandwidth to do the magical work no one is asking for.

When was the last time you used your discretion to work on a project of your choosing? How do you feel about that?

If you’re told to stop the project by the most successful business unit, stomp on the accelerator.

The best projects aren’t the ones with the best ROI. The best projects are the ones that threaten success.

If you’re certain of a project’s ROI, there is no novelty.

If the project has novelty, you can’t predict the ROI. All you can do is decide if it’s worth doing.

There’s a big difference between calculating an ROI and predicting the commercial success of a project.

If your company demands certainty, you can be certain the new projects will be just like the old ones.

If the success of a project hinges on work hasn’t been done before, you may have a winner.

Say yes to predictability and you say no to novelty.

Say no to novelty and you say no to innovation.

Say no to innovation and you say no to growth.

Say no to growth and the game is over.

Say no to good projects so you can say yes to the magical ones.

Say no to ROI so you work on projects that could reinvent the industry.

If the project doesn’t excite, just say no.

Image credit – Lucie Provincher

It’s time to start starting.

What do we do next? I don’t know

What has been done before?

What does it do now?

What does it want to do next?

If it does that, who cares?

 

Why should we do it? I don’t know.

Will it increase the top line?  If not, do something else.

Will it increase the bottom line?  If so, let someone else do it.

What’s the business objective?

 

Who will buy it? I don’t know.

How will you find out?

What does it look like when you know they’ll buy it?

Why do you think it’s okay to do the work before you know they’ll buy it?

 

What problem must be solved? I don’t know.

How will you define the problem?

Why do you think it’s okay to solve the problem before defining it?

Why do you insist on solving the wrong problem? Don’t you know that ready, fire, aim is bad for your career?

Where’s the functional coupling? When will you learn about Axiomatic Design?

Where is the problem? Between which two system elements?

When does the problem happen? Before what? During what? After what?

Will you separate in time or space?

When will you learn about TRIZ?

 

Who wants you to do it? I don’t know.

How will you find out?

When will you read all the operating plans?

Why do you think it’s okay to start the work before knowing this?

 

Who doesn’t want you to do it? I don’t know.

How will you find out?

Who looks bad if this works?

Who is threatened by the work?

Why do you think it’s okay to start the work before knowing this?

 

What does it look like when it’s done? I don’t know.

Why do you think it’s okay to start the work before knowing this?

 

What do you need to be successful? I don’t know.

Why do you think it’s okay to start the work before knowing this?

 

Starting is essential, but getting ready to start is even more so.

 

Image credit — Jon Marshall

Without a problem there can be no progress.

Without a problem, there can be no progress.

And only after there’s too much no progress is a problem is created.

And once the problem is created, there can be progress.

 

When you know there’s a problem just over the horizon, you have a problem.

Your problem is that no one else sees the future problem, so they don’t have a problem.

And because they have no problem, there can be no progress.

Progress starts only after the calendar catches up to the problem.

 

When someone doesn’t think they have a problem, they have two problems.

Their first problem is the one they don’t see, and their second is that they don’t see it.

But before they can solve the first problem, they must solve the second.

And that’s usually a problem.

 

When someone hands you their problem, that’s a problem.

But if you don’t accept it, it’s still their problem.

And that’s a problem, for them.

 

When you try to solve every problem, that’s a problem.

Some problems aren’t worth solving.

And some don’t need to be solved yet.

And some solve themselves.

And some were never really problems at all.

 

When you don’t understand your problem, you have two problems.

Your first is the problem you have and your second is that you don’t know what your problem by name.

And you’ve got to solve the second before the first, which can be a problem.

 

With a big problem comes big attention. And that’s a problem.

With big attention comes a strong desire to demonstrate rapid progress. And that’s a problem.

And because progress comes slowly, fervent activity starts immediately. And that’s a problem.

And because there’s no time to waste, there’s no time to define the right problems to solve.

 

And there’s no bigger problem than solving the wrong problems.

What You Don’t Have

If you have more features, I will beat you with fewer.

If you have a broad product line, I will beat you with my singular product.

If your solution is big, mine will beat you with small.

If you sell across the globe, I will sell only in the most important market and beat you.

If you sell to many customers, I will provide a better service to your best customer and beat you.

If your new projects must generate $10 million per year, I will beat you with $1 million projects.

If you are slow, I will beat you with fast.

If you use short term thinking, I will beat you with long term thinking.

If you think in the long term, I will think in the short term and beat you.

If you sell a standardized product, I will beat you with customization.

If you are successful, I will beat you with my hunger.

If you try to do less, I will beat you with far less.

If you do what you did last time, I will beat you with novelty.

If you want to be big, I will be a small company and beat you.

I will beat you with what you don’t have.

Then, I will obsolete my best work with what I don’t have.

Your success creates inertia. Your competitors know what you’re good at and know you’ll do everything you can to maintain your trajectory.  No changes, just more of what worked.  And they will use your inertia. They will start small and sell to the lowest end of the market. Then they’ll grow that segment and go up-scale. You will think they are silly and dismiss them. And then they will take your best customers and beat you.

If you want to know how your competitors will beat you, think of your strength as a weakness.  Here’s a thought experiment to explain.  If your success is based on fast, turn speed into weakness and constrain out the speed. Declare that your new product must be slow. Then, create a growth plan based on slow.  That growth plan is how your competitors will beat you.

Your growth won’t come from what you have, it will come from what you don’t have.

It’s time to create your anti-product.

The Next Prime Directive – Software-Based Recurring Revenue

If you know how what the system wants to be when it grows up, you can work in this line of evolution with 100% impunity.  In that way, the key to success is learning how to see what the system wants to be when it grows up; learning to see where it wants to go; learning to see what it likes to do; learning to see what it wants to achieve; learning its disposition.

What do systems want?  Well, for business systems, here’s a hint: Business systems seek top-line growth (increased sales revenue).

When you align your work with what the system seeks (top-line growth) roadblocks mysteriously remove themselves out of the way. No one will know why, but the right things will happen. Don’t believe me that roadblocks will disappear? For your next proposal, build it around top-line growth and use “top-line growth” in the title, and see what happens.  I bet I know what will happen and I bet you will get approval.

Assess the system to learn what is missing. Then, create a proposal to fill the vacuum. Or, better yet, fill the vacuum.  Do you need to ask for permission? No. Do you need formal approval? No. Is it okay to work outside your formal domain of responsibility? Yes. Is it okay if you encroach on other teams’ areas of responsibility? Yes.  Is it okay if people disagree? Yes. And why is that? Because the vacuum is blocking the path to top-line growth. And why is that a big deal? Well, because the Leadership Team is measured on top-line growth and they think it’s skillful to unblock the path to Nirvana.  And why is that?  Well, because they are judged on and compensated for top-line growth. And, because they told the Board of Directors they’d deliver top-line growth. And if there’s one thing a Leadership Team doesn’t want to do is to break a commitment to the Board of Directors.

Here’s a rule: When your work creates top-line growth, you don’t need to ask for approval.  You just need to go faster.

Here’s another rule: When you help the Leadership Team deliver on its commitment to the Board of Directors to deliver top-line growth, your career will thank you.

There are different flavors of top-line growth, but the best flavor is called “recurring revenue”. This is when customers commit to a monthly payment. Regardless of what happens, they make the monthly payment.  Think Netflix and Amazon Prime. Month in and month out, customers pay every.  And you can plan on it. And the revenue you can count on is much more valuable than the revenue that may come or may not.  And though they don’t know how, this is why companies want to do software as a service (SaaS). And for those that don’t can’t figure out how to do SaaS, the next megatrend will be hardware as a service (HaaS). It won’t be called HaaS, rather it will be called RaaS (Robotics as a Service), machines as a service (Maas), and AaaS (Automation as a Service).  But, since AaaS sounds a lot like ASS, they’ll figure out a different name.  But you get the idea.

And the new metric of choice will be Time to Recurring Revenue (TtFRR). It won’t be enough to create recurring revenue. Projects will be judged by the time to create the first dollar of recurring revenue.  And this will make software only projects more attractive than projects that require hardware and far more attractive than projects that require new hardware.  Hardware becomes a necessary evil that companies do only to create recurring software revenue.

All this comes down to Situation Analysis or Situational Analysis (SA). On a topographic map, SA is like knowing the location of the hills so you can march around them and knowing where the valleys are so you can funnel your competitors toward them to limit their ability to maneuver.  It’s a lot more nuanced than that, but you get the idea.  It’s about understanding the fitness landscape so you can speculate on dispositional or preferential paths that the system wants to follow in its quest for top-line growth.

If you don’t know how the system wants to generate top-line growth, figure it out. And, next, if you don’t know what the system needs to achieve to fulfill its desire for top-line growth, figure that out.  And once you identify the vacuum created by the missing elements, fill it and fill it fast.

Don’t ask for permission; just do the work that makes it possible for the system to achieve its Prime Directive – software-based recurring revenue to create top-line growth.

Image credit — JD Hancock

Are you doing what you did last time?

If there’s no discomfort, there’s no novelty.

When there’s no novelty, it means you did what you did last time.

When you do what you did last time, you don’t grow.

When you do what you did last time, there’s no learning.

When you do what you did last time, opportunity cost eats you.

If there’s no discomfort, you’re not trying hard enough.

 

If there’s no disagreement, critical thought is in short supply.

When critical thought is in short supply, new ideas never see the light of day.

When new ideas never see the light of day, you end up doing what you did last time.

When you do what you did last time, your best people leave.

When you do what you did last time, your commute into work feels longer than it is.

When you do what you did last time, you’re in a race to the bottom.

If there’s no disagreement, you’re playing a dangerous game.

 

If there’s no discretionary work, crazy ideas never grow into something more.

When crazy ideas remain just crazy ideas, new design space remains too risky.

When new design space remains too risky, all you can do is what you did last time.

When you do what you did last time, managers rule.

When you do what you did last time, there is no progress.

When you do what you did last time, great talent won’t accept your job offers.

If there’s no discretionary work, you’re in trouble.

 

We do what we did last time because it worked.

We do what we did last time because we made lots of money.

We do what we did last time because it’s efficient.

We do what we did last time because it feels good.

We do what we did last time because we think we know what we’ll get.

We do what we did last time because that’s what we do.

 

Doing what we did last time works well, right up until it doesn’t.

When you find yourself doing what you did last time, do something else.

 

Image credit — Matt Deavenport

Great companies are great because of the people that work there.

You can look at people’s salaries as a cost that must be reduced. Or, you can look at their salaries as a way for them to provide for their families. With one, you cut, cut, cut.  With the other, you pay the fairest wage possible and are thankful your people are happy.

You can look at healthcare costs the same way – as a cost that must be slashed or an important ingredient that helps the workers and their families stay healthy.  Sure, you should get what you pay for, but do you cut costs or do all you can to help people be healthy? I know which one makes for a productive workforce and which one is a race to the bottom. How does your company think about providing good healthcare benefits? And how do you feel about that?

You can look at training and development of your people as a cost or an investment. And this distinction makes all the difference.  With one, training and development is minimized. And with the other, it’s maximized to grow people into their best selves.  How does your company think about this? And how do you feel about that?

You can look at new tools as a cost or as an investment. Sure, tools can be expensive, but they can also help people do more than they thought possible. Does your company think of them as a cost or an investment? And how do you feel about that?

Would you take a slight pay cut so that others in the company could be paid a living wage? Would you pay a little more for healthcare so that younger people could pay less? Would you be willing to make a little less money so the company can invest in the people? Would your company be willing to use some of the profit generated by cost reduction work to secure the long-term success of the company?

If your company’s cost structure is higher than the norm because it invests in the people, are you happy about that? Or, does that kick off a project to reduce the company’s cost structure?

Over what time frame does your company want to make money?

When jobs are eliminated at your company, does that feel more like a birthday party or a funeral?

Are you proud of how your company treats their people, or are you embarrassed?

I’ve heard that people are the company’s most important asset, but if that’s the case, why is there so much interest in reducing the number of people that work at the company?

In the company’s strategic plan, five years from now are there more people on the payroll or fewer? And how do you feel about that?

Image credit — Gk Hart/vikki Hart/G

Wrong Questions to Ask When Doing Technology Development

I know you’re trying to do something that has never been done before, but when will you be done? I don’t know.  We’ll run the next experiment then decide what to do next.  If it works, we’ll do more of that.  And if it doesn’t, we’ll do less of that. That’s all we know right now.

I know you’re trying to create something that is new to our industry, but how many will we sell? I don’t know. Initial interviews with customers made it clear that this is an important customer problem. So, we’re trying to figure out if the technology can provide a viable solution.  That’s all we know right now.

No one is asking for that obscure technology. Why are you wasting time working on that?  Well, the voice of the technology and the S-curve analyses suggest the technology wants to move in this direction, so we’re investing this solution space.  It might work and it might not.  That’s all we know right now.

Why aren’t you using best practices? If it hasn’t been done before, there can be no best practice.  We prefer to use good practice or emergent practice.

There doesn’t seem like there’s been much progress.  Why aren’t you running more experiments? We don’t know which experiments to run, so we’re taking some time to think about what to do next.

Will it work?  I don’t know.

That new technology may obsolete our most profitable product line.  Shouldn’t you stop work on that? No. If we don’t obsolete our best work, someone else will. Wouldn’t it be better if we did the obsoleting?

How many more people do you need to accelerate the technology development work? None.  Small teams are better.

Sure, it’s a cool technology, but how much will it cost?  We haven’t earned the right to think about the cost.  We’re still trying to make it work.

So, what’s your solution? We don’t know yet.  We’re still trying to formulate the customer problem.

You said you’d be done two months ago.  Why aren’t you done yet? I never said we’d be done two months ago. You asked me for a completion date and I could not tell you when we’d be done.  You didn’t like that answer so I suggested that you choose your favorite date and put that into your spreadsheet. We were never going to hit that date, and we didn’t.

We’ve got a tight timeline.  Why are you going home at 5:00? We’ve been working on this technology for the last two years.  This is a marathon.  We’re mentally exhausted.  See you tomorrow.

If you don’t work harder, we’ll get someone else to do the technology development work.  What do you think about that? You are confusing activity with progress.  We are doing the right analyses and the right thinking and we’re working hard.  But if you’d rather have someone else lead this work, so would I.

We need a patented solution.  Will your solution be patentable? I don’t know because we don’t yet have a solution. And when we do have a solution, we still won’t know because it takes a year or three for the Patent Office to make that decision.

So, you’re telling me this might not work?  Yes. That’s what I’m telling you.

So, you don’t know when you’ll be done with the technology work, you don’t know how much the technology will cost, you don’t know if it will be patentable, or who will buy it? That’s about right.

Image credit — Virtual EyeSee

Two Sides of the Equation

If you want new behavior, you must embrace conflict.

If you can’t tolerate the conflict, you’ll do what you did last time.

If your point of view angers half and empowers everyone else, you made a difference.

If your point of view meets with 100% agreement, you wasted everyone’s time.

If your role is to create something from nothing, you’ve got to let others do the standard work.

If your role is to do standard work, you’ve got to let others create things from scratch.

If you want to get more done in the long term, you’ve got to make time to grow people.

If you want to get more done in the short term, you can’t spend time growing people.

If you do novel work, you can’t know when you’ll be done.

If you are asked for a completion date, I hope you’re not expected to do novel work.

If you’re in business, you’re in the people business.

If you’re not in the people business, you’ll soon be out of business.

If you call someone on their behavior and they thank you, you were thanked by a pro.

If you call someone on their behavior and they call you out for doing it, you were gaslit.

If you can’t justify doing the right project, reduce the scope, and do it under the radar.

If you can’t prevent the start of an unjust project, find a way to work on something else.

If you are given a fixed timeline and fixed resources, flex the schedule.

If you are given a fixed timeline, resources, and schedule, you’ll be late.

If you get into trouble, ask your Trust Network for help.

If you have no Trust Network, you’re in trouble.

If you have a problem, tell the truth and call it a problem.

If you can’t tell the truth, you have a big problem.

If you are called on your behavior, own it.

If you own your behavior, no one can call you on it.

Image credit – Mary Trebilco

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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