As The Crow Flies

Developing a strategy for a company is challenging without clear sight of our target. We don’t know if what we’re aiming for is right or wrong and it’s nearly impossible anticipating all the possible contingencies. Are we focused on the right things? Do we have everything in place? Are we positioned to succeed? What is our backup plan? These are questions we need to be asking ourselves, and many more. If we fail to answer our questions with certainty, we will always be aiming at a moving target.

We need a strategy with a straight line of sight (as the crow flies) to make sure we hit the target. If “fake it ’til you make it” is your motto, then you’ll be sure to have a long winding road ahead.

Developing a strategy is similar to cooking a meal. When we understand what the outcome needs to be, we tend to take a different approach to reach our goal. It works the same way we prepare a meal. We flip the package over or follow a recipe and read the directions. Step 1… Step 2… at 375° for 40 minutes.

We carefully follow directions and gather together the ingredients, how we need to mix them, when to mix them, at what temperature, and for how long. We clearly identify what we need to do. But, sometimes the directions are not always clear. Other times we think they are, but are they? Understanding how to do something is one thing, understanding (why) we do something is entirely different.

Did you know crows are often identified as clever tricksters?

Wrong Diagnosis

Discover how creating systems help minimize common mistakes in the workplace.

Oregon Research Institute completed a study of doctors asking a group of radiologists at the University of Oregon: How do you decide if a person has cancer from a stomach X-ray? The doctors explained there were seven major signs. The Oregon Researchers then asked the doctors to judge the probability of cancer in ninety-six different individual stomach ulcers.

Without telling the doctors what the researchers were up to, they showed the doctors each ulcer twice, mixing up the duplicates randomly in the pile so the doctors wouldn’t notice they were being asked to diagnose the exact same ulcer they had already diagnosed.

Surprisingly, the doctors’ diagnoses were all over the map: The experts didn’t agree with each other. Even more surprisingly, when presented with duplicates of the same ulcer, every doctor had contradicted himself and rendered more than one diagnosis: These doctors apparently could not even agree with themselves.

You could beat the doctor by replacing him with an equation created by people who knew nothing about medicine and had simply asked a few questions of doctors.

In fact, I was able to identify a wrong diagnosis myself, perhaps you had a similar experience. The only difference may lie in how we arrived at knowing the diagnosis was wrong. Having a gut feeling is one thing, but knowing with certainty is something else. There is no evidence to support a gut instinct. Read my story about how I systematically analyzed information to identify the correct diagnosis.

The above is a slightly edited excerpt from: Michael Lewis. “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds.” Long story short, the system ensures the result.

Let’s take a look at another real-life example.

Which is more important, the system or individual? Watch the 40 second video.

In this case, algorithms ensured the result because humans often make mistakes or become easily distracted. In only 8 seconds the video demonstrates how an algorithm can prevent common mistakes in human judgement. Tesla’s Autopilot 2.0 System warns of a wreck before it occurred and immediately alerted the driver while stopping the vehicle.

The Lesson

Everything we touch and interact with at work on a daily basis is a piece of the puzzle. Combined they are pieces of the big picture. Each piece holds a value within our work environment. It could be our customers, a brush, a roller, or the drill used to remove hardware. All of the pieces play a role in our success. The pieces have the potential to make or break our business. Never underestimate how little things can make a big difference.

The people who have become successful in business recognize the importance of using good pieces. It could be their customers, sales team, estimators, marketing, products, whatever. The underlying message I’ve pushed throughout the last 20 years is to get “good pieces.”

The more good pieces we use, the better.

The next time we give an estimate, or make a new hire, or buy a new brush, roller, or sprayer, ask yourself, “Is this a good piece of the puzzle?” Is this a good fit? Does this piece fit good with the other pieces? We need to avoid allowing our emotions get in the way of clear thinking and stop making poor decisions.

When we make choices based on how much money we saved on gallon of paint or primer, or a brush, or a new hire ⎯- we are basing our decisions on the wrong principles for the system that ultimately makes us money. Sometimes we need to step back and carefully look at the pieces.

Always be thinking… smart decisions = smart results.

Systems

Systems are an important part of running a business. They are the living breathing schematics for how a business operates on a daily basis. Systems originate from developing a business strategy and vital for maintaining a healthy business and employee morale. They provide an uncluttered illustration of how a business is organized and how it needs to work.

Operating a business without some sort of strategy or system may lead to hardships such as poor employee morale, psychological issues, focus issues, deadline issues, money issues, growth issues, profit issues, new business issues, loss of business, or an inability to obtain referral business; to name a few.

From a problem solving perspective in relation to smooth operations, I am looking for the cause of common problems and seeking to understand their origins then implement the solution into the system. We need to be asking, Why is this a problem and how can we prevent this problem in the future?

Systems are intended to prevent a vast majority of common problems experienced running a business. Many problems encountered are simply the result of not having a system in place to prevent the problem from occurring. A haphazard approach to running a business will not lead to much of anything except perpetual chaotic nonsense.

The Big Picture

In my line of work I often find myself talking about the “big picture” in relation to systems development. On occasion people ask me to explain what I mean by the big picture. Imagine a pile of puzzle pieces, each piece represents something connected to our business and our environment.

Seeing the big picture is having an ability to look at a pile of puzzle pieces and know what the puzzle looks like without putting it together. It’s a visionary thing. In other words, knowing how the pieces connect and work together.

In my case, that ability comes from being in business 30 years and studying each piece individually and understanding the impact each piece has on other pieces; the good pieces, the bad pieces and the gold pieces.

A disciplined analytical process allows the discovery of which pieces are irrelevant, unnecessary, obsolete, a waste of time, or have little impact, etc.

Systems vs. Goals

Why do we fail at reaching our goals? What are we lacking? Systems-driven people hold the key to answering both questions. They create efficient and effective ways of looking at things. They are big picture driven and simplify ideas to the core. They put things in place to make sure things happen.

By definition, a system is a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done, a set of rules to achieve a desired result. The things we do every day are systems. The things we plan to do are goals.

Systems-driven people are effective because they focus their energy in the right direction. They have a clear path to their destination. They see the end as clear as the beginning. They accomplish what they set out to do every time they apply their system. They are effective at reaching expected results efficiently.

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.
— Peter Drucker

People generally know what goals they want to achieve, although, they are ineffective in achieving those goals. We can set goals all we want, but if we fail to put things in place to reach our goals, we will fail every time. While this post was in the oven baking, I gave the following example of a system on Facebook.

If every day when you woke up in the morning you tripped a wire as you walk down the hallway that starts the coffee pot as you walk to the bathroom, what just happened? It’s a series of events put in place to make something happen.

Simply going through the motions ensures the result.

Systems are similar to building toy models. We learn how the pieces come together and what we need to make it happen. When we’re finished, we experience the end-result. The highest benchmark for any company to achieve is implementing the right products, the right systems, in the right place, at the right time.

Choices and Outcomes

On the topic of Fixed or Growth mindsets, it would be interesting to discuss a few arguments, topics, tasks, strategies or product ideas and explore ‘what-if’ scenarios depending on our choices (how we process information before we open our mouth or make a decision). Then compare the outcomes.

We can talk a lot about a fixed-mindset because it can be witnessed so readily in every day life. People with a fixed-mindset are often stuck in their comfort zone. They are literally stuck because they ignore all of the things (feedback) that could push them forward either because they were told to or their fixed-mindset automatically rejects anything negative. We can learn how to move away from a fixed-mindset into a growth-mindset by expanding our comfort zone.

A fixed-mindset doesn’t easily allow you to change course.
— Carol Dweck Ph.D.

As long as we are trying something new, we’re learning, we’re growing. What we do for a living is much less important than how we do it, but results take effort. We don’t just wish success into existence. The first step is becoming aware of how we process information. We need to recognize when we’re closing the door on opportunities.

I have a lot on my plate at the moment, but once the smoke clears, this is something I would definitely like to explore later (maybe in a podcast). We could talk about some very practical day-to-day choices.

The Approach

If our objective is to take-over an outpost, we need to understand the obstacles standing in our way. We could go in guns-a-blazing and hope for the best or we can stop, observe, and think things through. We can put together a plan of action.

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.
— Peter Drucker

An accurate self-assessment allows us to understand the edge of our abilities. What we do with that knowledge defines the difference between a good or great outcome.

For example, we’re not going to take-out a fully armored Heavy with a cap gun. That would be silly, but we can perform a stealth take-down with a knife from behind. Now you have his weapon. You have increased your abilities. Read more on Stealth Strategy.