I’ve had some really bad jobs. For just over a year in my teens I worked in a paint factory where one of my main responsibilities was literally watching paint dry. Thoroughly bored, I left that job to try my hand in the local potato factory.
If you purchased a bag of spuds from the West Midlands in the late nineties that were inconsistent sizes, then it’s time for me to apologise, as it’s possible that your un-chippable bag of pots could have been down to me.
Something needed to change. I dreaded the thought of spending my whole life mischievously mixing up root vegetables to pass the time while accruing nothing more than the minimum wage.
With fear in my belly, I followed my first shift in the potato factory with my immediate resignation. Hoorah! My first life changing achievement, with many more to come.
That first day at Spuds-R-Us was almost 20 years ago now. In that time I’ve gone from part-time potato-sorter to managing the project that has given birth to what may be the UK’s fastest growing start up business.
How did I do it? I spend every minute that I can watching people that achieve greater successes than myself, from call centre managers to famous photographers to billionaire venture capitalists, spot the commonalities in what they do, and then apply them to my life and work as well.
A handful of my findings were simple changes that yield powerful results for anyone that applies them. Here are those adjustments, my top 5 tweaks.
Settle for third-best
“Give them the third-best to go on with; the second-best comes too late, [and] the best never comes.” Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt
In 1935, Pioneer Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt developed radar capable of detecting approaching aircraft from long distances. His invention was deployed across Britain and fitted to fighters, but he wasn’t installing refinement and perfection. He was kitting out Britain’s defences with only workable prototypes.
Watson-Watt was transparent about his systems’ resulting flaws, crediting them to his cult of the imperfect. He knew that time wasn’t on his side, and so instead of striving for the perfect product, he focussed instead on having anything that worked. Any aircraft detection was better than no detection at all.
The invention of radar is considered fundamental to victory in the Second World War.
The principals of the cult of imperfection are present today in growing business too, often referred to now as Minimal Marketable Product. This idea enables you to launch a product quicker, get cash flowing sooner and receive customer feedback earlier.
Cancel that deadline
Parkinson’s Law says it best.
“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
A deadline in 3 months takes 3 months’ worth of resources to complete whereas work left until the last minute only take a minute to do.
Every entrepreneur launching or growing a business has a milestone written in their diary, whether it’s launch day, the release of a new product, the start of a marketing campaign, or something else big and significant that represents the next huge step forward that their company will take.
All too often though this is the only entry on an entrepreneur’s calendar, a critical deadline that’s weeks or months away. That’s weeks and months spending resources on progressing towards that goal. Weeks and months of costs.
A lot of the time that date represents an old estimate based on out-dated information.
Wise entrepreneurs save themselves time and money by crossing that single deadline out. They break those milestones into targets set in hours and days rather than weeks, months and years. They iterate.
Stop motivating people
Googling “how to motivate staff” returns over 50 million results. There’s a lot of managers out there without out teams that are motivated to do their work! The outcome is a lot of managers making time in their calendar to expend valuable energy in activities to motivate their staff.
That’s valuable time that could be spent doing something else.
The problem of de-motivated staff is not answered by temporary initiatives and incentives to motivate them. Nor can it be solved by leaving them to find some motivation themselves.
To paraphrase author Jim Collins from his book Good to Great, “only hire motivated people and remove anything that could demotivate them”.
If you have de-motivate people, remove anything that may decrease their motivation, and if that doesn’t solve the problem, it’s time to give thought to the people themselves. Experience tells a great leader that motivating is only temporary.
Turn down great opportunities
Noah Kagan, who was once employee #30 at Facebook, has a story about the time in 2005 when he held a presentation and tried to convince Mark Zuckerberg to monetise Facebook.
In response to Kagan’s pitch, Zuckerberg did 2 things. First he wrote “GROWTH” on the meeting room whiteboard. Then, Kagan says, he “proclaimed he would not entertain ANY idea unless it helped Facebook grow by total number of ‘users.’”
It’s this commitment, dedication and focus to a specific goal that grew Facebook to be a bigger business than Walmart, and generated Mark Zuckerberg’s personal net worth of $41.2 billion dollars.
With a growing business, the volume of offers, ideas and distractions increases too. It takes incredible discipline not to wander off track tempted by something shiny and new.
Make yourself redundant
A lot of Tim Ferriss’ success comes from delegating everything that can be allocated to someone or something else, whether it’s sending administrative tasks to a virtual assistant based in Asia, handing the responsibility of email responses over to some inbox rules, or directing customer enquiries to an outsourced call centre to give even a small project that big corporate feel.
This commitment to becoming redundant from day to day tasks increases an entrepreneur’s availability for development growth, and with all that personal learning and progress comes business growth too.
If it isn’t fun or profitable, does it need doing at all? If it does, hand the work over to someone that will find it fun or challenging, or automate if you can. If the task isn’t something important, then there’s no better time to stop working on it than now.
Ben Edgar has managed the launch programme for rapidly growing extra energy supply limited since 2013. In his spare time he writes about the secrets he’s learnt from the super-successful people he’s met and observed for his blog getthebasicsright.com
Further reading: Learning outpaces market change in high-growth periods