I’m much too young to remember Meat Loaf – goodness me, I can barely recall the Spice Girls – but I’ve heard one or two of his songs. In particular, Two out of three ain’t bad.
The song was running through my mind as I drove around North Yorkshire the other day. The message is simple – and excuse me speaking so bluntly this early in the morning, but – I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you/Now don’t be sad, ‘cos two out of three ain’t bad.
Before there’s an outbreak of off-key singing and air guitar among Board members, let me quickly relate this to business. I’d been chatting to a client of mine who runs a very successful business in the creative sector.
“I’ll tell you a secret, Ed,” he said. “Most businesses only need to deliver on two out of three to be successful.”
I was slightly sceptical (more than slightly, but I was being polite) and said as much. “No, really,” he said. “My business is built on three things – I’m a nice guy. I deliver on time and we do outstanding work. But,” he went on, “we could miss out on any one of those three and for 99% of customers the other two would compensate.”
I was thinking about this as I spent a peaceful afternoon on the York ring road. ‘Nice guy who delivers on time and does reasonable work.’ OK, that one was fine. ‘Nice guy, outstanding work, misses deadlines.’ Maybe that didn’t work so well for me. Or outstanding work, delivered on time from someone who maybe wasn’t a nice guy. Personally, I can put up with a lot for outstanding work that’s on time. But I’m realising more and more that my business model is based on liking my clients. That’s essential for me, as I run a business based almost exclusively on personal relationships. But supposing I was the mythical manufacturer of widgets? How important is a personal relationship then?
In an ideal work I’d like all three. Call me old fashioned, but for me ‘good enough’ has never been good enough. The trouble was that I was now wondering if two out of three really wasn’t bad… Is it possible to ignore some of the fundamentals of business – or at least the fundamentals as I’ve always understood them – and be successful? Are the basics of business changing?
I’m going to look at this in much more depth in next week’s blog, but there certainly seems to be a growing movement – especially among technology companies – to abandon ‘ready, aim, fire’ in favour of ‘ready, fire, aim.’ To get something to the marketplace and then re-adjust in the light of customer reaction, not only accepting that you’re going to get something wrong, but positively welcoming it.
Back in the car I was still thinking about Meat Loaf, and about companies I’ve seen succeed despite ignoring some of the apparent fundamentals of business.
And at that point I’d be interested in your views. Is it possible to succeed without getting some of the basics right? And what are the best (or worst) examples you’ve seen? There’s no need to name names: company X will do just fine. I believe a few members of the legal profession read this blog…