Have you ever made the mistake of making something too complex?
I remember when I was about 12 years old at school and we did a project called “Make a Million.” The idea was the children had to team up in pairs and then run a project that, during break times, would create revenue. Looking back, it was a great way for the school to instill some business and entrepreneurial skills into us as kids.
However, my project didn’t go down so well. Whereas some teams sold posters of clipart that they printed from their computer, or sold a set of 5 penalty kicks, or charm bracelets that they had made, my business partner and I decided to make a complex game which was a mix of snakes and ladders fused with monopoly. Suffice to say that when break time came, we normally sold one run on the game as it took the whole break to play it. But even then, people were reluctant to play because it was, well, just so complex! It was easy to buy a poster or kick a ball, but this was just too much.
Thus it was here that I learnt my first business lesson. Keep it quick, simple, and scaleable. I’d like to tell you that I learnt my lesson there and then, but my perfectionist mindset has struggled with this one for a long time as I have often defaulted back to building the perfect system as opposed to a profitable one, or even a useable one!
The simple one wins. Ask Dropbox.
I read a similar, more grown up version of the same story on Quora. Isaac Hall, co-founder of Syncplicity discusses why Dropbox is more popular than other tools that have similar and often better functionality. What he boiled it down to was simplicity. It just works. No tweaking necessary. (You can read his answer here, just click on “change log” to see his full response.) The most pertinent part of it was this:
In the end, it really came down to one incredibly genius idea: Dropbox limited its feature set on purpose. It had one folder and that folder always synced without any issues — it was magic. Syncplicity could sync every folder on your computer until you hit our quota. (Unfortunately, that feature was used to synchronize C:Windows for dozens of users — doh!) Our company had too many features and this created confusion amongst our customer base. This in turn led to enough customer support issues that we couldn’t innovate on the product, we were too busy fixing things.
After I left Syncplicity, I ran into the CEO of Dropbox and asked him my burning question: “Why don’t you support multi-folder synchronization?” His answer was classic Dropbox. They built multi-folder support early on and did limited beta testing with it, but they couldn’t get the UI right. It confused people and created too many questions. It was too hard for the average consumer to setup. So it got shelved.
I like this – Dropbox could have multiple folders, but they don’t, because people just don’t get it.
Making things simple is about making sure people get it. It’s realising that too many options paralyzes people (which one should I do?), that asking for settings scares people (what if I get it wrong?), that an unclear benefit deters people (why spend my time on this?)
Starting with simple
My friend Darren Smith is an expert in user design and experience and he tells me that when it comes to design there is a general rule to ensure that no matter how advanced a design gets its core remains simple, ensuring that any further levels of complexity advance the feature set without compromising the simplicity of the core.
This useful point helps us with something that Brian Driggs and I have been discussing on the subject of making meaning and also writing SMART email. When it comes to building a platform for people to live their lives on, it needs to be simple with optional further levels of complexity. As to how that looks, I’m not sure – but I’m up for discussing it.
5 ways to keep it simple
So what are the main lessons here? My main points, in contrast to my failures with my efforts to make a million at school, would be:
It can be explained in a sentence. My game couldn’t.
You can look at it and know what it is. You can look at a poster and know that you buy it. But when you look at a peice of card with directions scribbled on, it’s not that obvious.
You don’t need a manual. What is good about the iPhone is when you get it, it’s ready. No configuration. This isn’t the case with many phones that I’ve tested!
It’s quick. The great thing about Dropbox is that you install and it’s done, and you can use it right away. Again, no more configuration.
Any complexity is guided step by step. I loved playing this pinball game that I downloaded on my iPad a while ago that taught me how to use it step by step in a test run. This isn’t anything new, but it’s amazing how many platforms lack this and just expect you to figure it out through trial and eror.
So those are my 5 lessons. Now over to you:
Your Leading Thoughts
Thinking offline, how do we take the platforms that we are building and ensure they are simple, with further levels of complexity?
The end of December is always an enjoyable time for me as I focus on the coming year and my priorities. Whilst it’s true that if you want to do something, you should do it, the New Year is helpful in providing a distinct time for reevaluation and refocus.
The trouble with New Years’ Resolutions is that they have a lot of bad PR – namely that they aren’t worth the hot air they’re spoken by – and whilst we have ever intention of starting on January 1st with a whole new outtake on life and a brand new daily routine, we all know in the back of our minds that it won’t last.
What I want to share with you today is a simply mindset change that will help you achieve the change you want to make in a year, without experiencing resolution cut-out or just plain burnout from the 52-part routine your day now consists of.
1. Your Vision For The Year
Every year I have a vision for the year – an overall statement that will guide what I do. Last year my vision for myself was “a leader of teams, not a doer of things”, as I was the bottle neck for way to many projects because I was the one doing all the work. Instead, I had to make 2010 about being a leader of teams and not a doer of things if I wanted the projects to become significant.
I find a vision is more helpful for an overall year that a list of 50 monthly goals, because the vision helps you make quick decisions (does this fit in with my vision for the year?), and also is more a guiding vision than a list of objectives that, if they aren’t fulfilled, can discourage your greatly.
2. Change Your Mindset: The Vision Is For The End, Not The Beginning
Once you have your vision statement – mine for 2011 is “Fatherhood” – then here comes the most important shift that will change the way your approach this year.
Rather than making the vision about what you must be from January 1st, your vision is actually what you want to have integrated into your life by December 31st. In other words, it’s not about making 10 immediate changes to your work habits and setting wildly outrageous goals for exercise, family time, professional achievements and spiritual development on a week by week basis. Instead, it’s taking the pressure off and relieving this intensity by setting a picture that you want to move towards, rather than a marker that you must already be at. The vision is for the end, not the beginning.
If you think about this, this is just common sense. I can take a year to fully integrate a new routine in my life, but I am unlikely to get it into my life tomorrow. This is what the Apostle Paul was talking about in Philippians when he said “not that I have attained on been made perfect, but I press on towards the goal.”
3. Work Backwards In Quarters
Once you’ve got your vision as where you want to be by the end of the year, work backwards and set an objective for each quarter.
Too often we set a vision but then never layout a path to get there, and the mistake I’ve made is by setting the vision and then having a few key objectives that I didn’t make time sensitive, and as we all know when it comes to getting things done, you need a due date.
Now I’m not saying that these objectives become to-dos on our to-do list. But what I am saying is they are timed and measurable markers to help us move towards our vision. So my first of 4 objectives is to “have a daily routine for my life, for life”, by which I mean a daily routine that I can be happy with for the rest of my days and works at my optimal level, with room for adaptation. This is my first objective, so of course, it’s tied to the first quarter (due: end of March!)
By having this overall quarterly aim, I am still avoiding the intensity and weight of a totally changed life from day 1. In fact, it’s not even an intensity per month, but per quarter. I also think that if your vision needs more than 4 quarters to get to, it’s too big for the year.
Once you have your objective, you can then break it down into some smaller goals to help you get there. But don’t make too many – we want to keep this simple as you already have enough complexity in your life.
4. Develop A Daily And Weekly Routine
I recently taught a group of leaders that I mentor about daily and weekly routines and was surprised to find how none of they really had one. So whilst I am indeed talking to early adopters and suspect many of you do, I will still go over how I suggest it’s done.
First thing is that simplicity is the key. I have no interest in creating more work to manage my work. I need a routine that is basic, adaptable and easy to complete so that I don’t get discouraged.
My daily routine goes a little bit like this, which Chris Brogan posted this week – so have a watch:
The key points to add in addition to Chris are 1] I have a set bed time and wake up time as my body loves this, 2] I know what food makes me feel better in the morning, so I eat that! 3] I have a rule when I can use a computer from – in order to force me to disconnect, and 4] my daily routine is more basic than this, but the idea of sectioning time is what I want to get at here.
My weekly routine is even more basic. On a Sunday, I mind map the projects that I am doing on my iPad (I’ll discuss this another time), and based on that mind map, I allocate slots of time to work on those projects in my diary, like appointments with myself. This leaves no whitespace in my calendar and thus that time can’t be taken up with other things like meetings and so on. It also means I have made that commitment with myself, and then can make commitments with others based on what I can get done in those time slots. This means I have accountability with my teams.
5. Get Things Done
If you haven’t read Getting Things Done, then rather than buying the book, you can read this summary by Olivier Roland. This is the very summary that changed my life two years ago. There’s also a fuller summary here. It’s important that you have a daily system for the work you do, and whilst I would assume you as an early adopter do, there are so many people that don’t that I don’t want to assume.
Over To You: Your Leading Thoughts
I always ask for your thoughts to build to this post, as there’s more wisdom in the comments than in my brain! I’m keen to know:
How do you plan for your year? How have you learnt to make every year count?
What is your vision for this year?
What tools can you suggest others here use that you have found indespensible?
Also, I’m so passionate about productivity and being efficient and effective that I’m really keen to help with any questions that you have – so please, ask away.
So I’m the type of person who likes a framework, in case you didn’t know, and recently I’ve been trying to clarify to a group of leaders I am mentoring what the top qualities are that I desire in people on my various teams.
I’d suggest you read the article yourself, as Jocelyn not only lists and describes the 5 qualities, but she shows you how to test for them too.
The Qualitites That I Want
After struggling, as I said in starting, to get down my most sought after qualities in people, I think this list is pretty much bang on. Initiative, or pro-activeness, is certainly my top quality and I see it as the bedrock of the others. If someone has initiative I can deal with their issues and build up their strengths as opposed to someone who just isn’t moving in their life despite having a great set of strengths already. One of the primary roles of a team player for my teams is to lighten the leader’s load – to lighten my load – and people without initiative do the exact opposite and increase my load because now I have to continually ‘work them’ to get them to work.
Communication and problem solving are two different skills but both joint second for me. Communication is a no-brainer – someone with poor communication slows the team down. Problem solving is perhaps similar to initiative, but I would see it as a distinct creative quality that shows lateral thinking. I know people who can take the initiative, but they can’t problem solve.
Curiosity and risk-taking are at the lower end of my list and I’m not sure if I would keep the list at 5 qualities to keep them in – I might just make mine 3 and remove them. Or I might replace them with something like loyalty, faithfulness, trust worthiness, etc.
Your Leading Thoughts: What Are Your Top Qualities?
What is your list of 3, and then your list of 5?
If there had to be ONE top quality above all others, which could you make it?
One of the things that my pastor, Michael, taught me was that you “add truth to your truth”, in other words, when you find something to be true you don’t throw away what your previously knew to be true.
Perhaps the best example is in church life. If you’ve had a certain understanding of a passage in the Bible, but then someone presents a new way to understand, that doesn’t mean you delete what you previously knew. You just add this new truth to the existing truth. In the same way that if you have a computer programme, it has it’s core, you keep adding more modules to it whilst the core remains intact.
I think this is relevant because in our fast changing world (especially online), it’s easy to want to change our core and adopt the newest and most fashionable truth. For instance, whenever I watch a TED talk, I immediately want to do what that speaker does because they make it seem so incredible – already I’m ready to delete the core. But I’ve learnt instead that new experiences must instead be added to – not swapped in place of – previous experiences.
Your Leading Thoughts
I’m sure you’ve been a culprit of this before like I have. Why are we keen to throw away truth when we find new truth?
How have you learnt, practically, to add to the core?
I’ve always maintained that you can find everything about marketing and social media in the bible. Why? Because it’s all about human behaviour at the end of the day and the bible is a fantastic documentation of human behaviour whether you agree with it’s conclusion or not!
My ultimate framework for Social is based on ‘Scatter, Gather, Matter’, a three step proces to becoming more and more social by socialising channels (scatter), then content (gather), and then culture (matter). These are the three social strategies that I consider exist today.
In this podcast I go through the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4, which Jesus tells as an analogy for how the gospel message is spread and also received. Scattering is the act of spreading your message without discrimination. Some seed will be eaten up, some won’t take root, and other seed will be chocked by thorns, but some seed will take root and grow, and the point is that it is dangerous to custom pick which seed you sow in which location because you don’t know what will prosper.
Most people when it comes to spreading a message like to carefully plant their seeds. They narrowly define who they want and focus on a very small number of people (normally people just like them) but expecting their message to get mass attention. It’s like fishing with a fishing rod, carefully planning which fish you want and how you want them, but then expecting to pull in a boat load.
We’ve all had times when the ones we thought who would come through for us didn’t, and the ones we didn’t expect did. In fact, this isn’t just some of the time, it’s all of the time. We have to continually readjust our expectations.
Seed becomes wheat that needs to be harvested else it will dry up, and this the act of gathering. When, out of the seed that you’ve scattered, some begins to participate back with you and bare fruit, you have to draw it to yourself.
The key here very much is to participate at the level to which you are being participated with. This is where volume becomes value. The volume play is in scattering the seed, in not limiting who follows you, in posting your content in various places, in putting your marketing where people are, in getting your organisations message slogan to become a mantra that everyone shares. The value play is then participating with those who participate with you – gathering.
The trick of gathering is that you don’t draw them to you as much as you respond to their first step towards you. You must provide a place for people to gather.
Gathering means you know who you have, and provides a way for you to increase your relationship with those people. In church we have many “gathering points” and these serve to increase the involvement of someone in church and increase their spiritual life.
What do you do with the harvest? What happens with the seed that is planted in the ground? A harvest feeds people and a tree bear fruits that feeds poeple.
The whole aim of this is tied up in mattering to people, because people matter. It’s not enough to say “add value”, we must matter to people by helping them matter for others. This is the two folds of the point – mattering to people, in order for them to matter to others. Thus the crux of this third and final stage is empowerment.
I had a very valuable conversation with Catherine White and others over the weekend about social media campaigns. It appears the end of many is just awareness. They would get far more long term return if instead they focussed on empowerment. What use is an aware person if they do not build upon that awareness and become empowered? Then, they can help themselves and help others.
I love Mike Myatt’s blog. A leader’s leader, Mike has a wealth of leadership experience and insight that he boils down into quick but prudent lessons everyday. I remember speaking with him on the phone at the beginning of the year, and it was clear to me that whilst Mike works with top companies and is a revered figure in leadership theory circles, he walks his talk. The very fact that he time for a phone call with me also speaks volumes about him.
One of Mike’s main things is focus. This isn’t just a singular focus on one thing, but it’s about adjusting focus as a balance between near sighted and far sighted. He famously says that “It’s not leadership or management, it’s leadership and management. It’s not strategy or tactics, it’s strategy and tactics”, which gives you an idea about this approach.
It is on the subject of focus that I clipped this article of his that demands some treatment from the Friends here at our blog. In his post, “Ideas Don’t Equal Innovation“, Mike lays out 15 elements to measure what you could do against what you should do. We have no shortage of ideas today and thus the defining characteristic of strong leaders, particularly in the digital space, is a focus that is not deterred easily by what they could do. We’ve certainly all been in that place where we’ve been governed by could instead of should.
Mike’s 15 Filters
1. The idea should be generated within a solid framework for decisioning. It should be developed as a solution to a problem or to exploit an opportunity. The idea should be in alignment with the overall vision and mission of the enterprise.
2. If the idea doesn’t provide a unique competitive advantage it should at least bring you closer to an even playing field.
3. Any new idea should preferably add value to existing initiatives, and if not, it should show a significant enough return on investment to justify the dilutive effect of not keeping the main thing the main thing.
4. Put the idea through a risk/reward and cost/benefit analysis.
5. Whether the new idea is intended for your organization, vendors, suppliers, partners or customers it must easy to use. Usability drives adoptability, and therefore it pays to keep things simple.
6. Just because an idea sounds good doesn’t mean it is You should endeavor to validate proof of concept based upon detailed, credible research.
7. Nothing is without risk, and when you think something is without risk, that is when you’re most likely to end-up in trouble. All initiatives surrounding new ideas should include detailed risk management provisions.
8. Adopting a new idea should be based upon solid business logic that drives corresponding financial engineering and modeling. Be careful of high level, pie-in-the-sky projections.
9. Any new ideas should contain accountability provisions. Every task should be assigned and managed according to a plan and in the light of day.
10. Any new ideas being adopted must lead to measurable objectives. Deliverables, benchmarks, deadlines, and success metrics must be incorporated into the plan.
11. It must be detailed and deliverable on a schedule. The initiative should have a beginning, middle and end.
12. Ideas need to be incorporated into strategic initiatives and not constitute disparate systems. They should be incorporated into integrated solutions that eliminate redundancies, and build in tactical leverage points.
13. Ideas should contain a road-map for versioning and evolution that is in alignment with other strategic initiatives and the overall corporate mission.
14. A successful idea cannot remain in a strategic planning state. It must be actionable through tactical implementation.
15. Senior leadership must champion any new idea being adopted. If someone at the C-suite level is against the new idea, it will likely die on the cutting-room floor.
Your Leading Thoughts
I don’t want you to discuss all 15. You might want to clip this for later, but there’s too much here for you guys to take time out now to spend a length of time discussing, instead:
Pick 2 out of the 15 that are issues that you have faced recently and have had victory in. Share your story and your lessons so that we can learn form your practical implementation of these points.
Every Sunday I share an inspirational video and this week’s is a 2 minute inspiration blast from my very good friend Robin Dickinson.
The best bit about this inspiration video? It isn’t telling you what you need to do that you aren’t already doing. It’s telling you what not to do that you are already doing: do the boring stuff.
I love this. Robin basically says that the business is in the boring. Once you’ve got the idea and made the sale, now you must deliver, and delivering isn’t as fun. I certainly have struggled with executing the boring on a regular basis, and have suffered greatly because of it. I continually find myself restless, looking for new things to tweak because I don’t want to knuckle down and deliver.
Obtaining vs Maintaining
In our attention age we have two problems that have strengthened the hold of boredom as an influencer on our lives:
We are so used to multitasking and being distracted that the focus on mantainence is increasingly unnatural to us (and thus needs to be learnt.) Remember that it’s easier to obtain than maintain.
The saying that “you can do anything you put your mind to” has created a youth culture in particular that thinks, “I can do anything I put my mind to and don’t really need to fine tune my skills because I can do anything.” What they forget is that you have to put your mind, and everything else you’ve got, to do anything of worth. Thus we have a complacency and an atitude that considers itself to be above the boring. Again, they’d rather be obtaining (having fun) than maintaining (sharpening the saw).
We need a major shift in our thinking to overcome this detrimental habit:
Getting Clear On Results And Rewards
We need to get smart about what our results are, so that we can stand being bored because it gets my results. I would say that when I haven’t done what was boring but necessary, it was because I wasn’t clear that it was necessary for my end results. We must focus! This also requires a challenge to know what does hit our bottom lines, and filter everything by that.
Secondly, we need to know what our reward is: that being bored by getting my results empowers me to have time for what I really enjoy. If I can get into the mindset that the boring empowers me to have the fun, then perhaps I’d stop working 18 hours a day.
Respect The Boredom
Robin’s best quote is that he “respects the boredom.” I think I should take that same atitude, and get some healthy respect for the boring but profitable things that work, albeit without glamour. I know what many of those things are, and I feel the results when I do them. It’s just bad that often times emotion takes over and pushes the important underneath the interesting.
I love our blog. We had a wonderful discussion this week about the reformation of this blog into “Scott Gould and Friends” as a place of collaboration, where comments and equal to blog posts, and where regular contributors can have a voice.
One of my thoughts around this is that this blog is only part of the conversation. If I’m on James Poulter’s blog, I’ll be discussing the recommendation economy, whereas if I’m on Jeff Hurt’s blog, I’m discussing event design. It’s one big conversation that I’m having with similar people, but the topics at Scott Gould and Friends are different to the topics elsewhere.
If I think like this, then I realise this is just one a many corners for conversation. But the best most blogs come to realising this fact is a blog roll or aggregating posts – neither of which are a particularly meaningful way to join conversations together.
In the comments on Tuesday, Robin said so truly that “the currently available blog templates are designed around the self-centric web-logging.” That means we need to address how our blogs work from a design standpoint if we want to adopt the idea that conversations are happening across multiple blogs, not just in one place.
What I Want
I want to provide every regular contributor here, every Friend, a profile on the WordPress installation. Then they could have a profile so you can find out about the main people adding to the conversation here. That would also mean that their posts are pulled into this site (but linking to their sites), meaning that the homepage on this blog is more about showing the best conversations across multiple places.
It would mean that these Friends can also write posts for this site and add to the conversation. This would go hand in hand with a new way to display comments, ideally, as just as important as posts themselves, with the ability to tag those posts.
This is just the beginning, but I think it gets in moving in the right direction towards the future of blogging – collaboration and sharing.
I then like the idea of having a digital book club, whereby we have conversations about a particular book say every Friday, where people can read up before hand and come to the conversation prepared. This could subsequently ooze into video interviews and such.
Your Leading Thoughts
What do you want here on your blog? Speak up and be bold.
1. Sort out my to-do list every morning
2. Start at 7 every morning.
3. Review my 99 day goals every week
4. Review my stats every week
5. Keep my CRM system up to date
6. Bring my laptop to meetings and be productive when waiting for people before meetings.
7. Do the GYM at least 3 times a week at lunchtime. The GYM helps me think and makes me more productive.
8. Avoid the laptop 1 day a week. You are more productive with 6 days work not 7.
9. Group my tasks by context, if I’m on the phone I try to do the phone calls all at once.
10. Make sure I’m doing 1 to 9 :-)
I’d say those are pretty good - although point 10 is blatant cheating.
Your Leading Thoughts
Dont’ worry about 10. What are your top 3 productivity tips?