Two out of three ain’t bad


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…

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9 comments

  1. Simon Hudson · June 29, 2012

    It seems to me that it’s about what business you choose to be. We emphasise the nice guys, outstanding work bit and strive for deadline compliance (but sometimes overcommit). Other businesses may be happy to make a different compromise – such as not being outstanding at first ready, fire, aim) – because they are geared up differently or they have some other tricks up their sleeve (such as being a guided missile rather than a field gun perhaps?).
    It’s about choices and a willingness to be different – or the same.

  2. edreidyork · June 29, 2012

    Hi Simon – I think that’s the first weapons analogy we’ve ever had in the blog – congratulations! I think you’re right that it can depend on which business you choose to be.

  3. Rory Ryan · June 29, 2012

    Ed, I’m getting into Widget Manufacturing – sounds like a fab business!

    • edreidyork · June 29, 2012

      Rory – I’ll talk you through the basics over a pint or two…

  4. Andy Gambles (@andygambles) · June 29, 2012

    Every business is a service businesses. It doesn’t matter if you manufacture something you are still a service business.

    Managing that service business is key. I do things I think my customers want but they quickly tell me they dont. So instead of spending hours perfecting something you just set it free as is and you quickly find out if you are going in the right direction via your customer feedback.

    But to get that feedback you have to be liked by your customers, which comes back to being a service business.

    • edreidyork · June 29, 2012

      Andy – I knew you’d comment on this one! You’re one of the few people I know who do “Ready, Fire, Aim” brilliantly. I agree that every business has to be great at service to truly succeed.

  5. Dave Rawlings · June 29, 2012

    Is this related to the saying: “We can do high quality, quick delivery, low cost. Pick any two.”?
    It must depend on which two, or more, things are most important to each customer. Nobody wants to pay more for features they don’t care about.

  6. JOHN B · July 1, 2012

    Ed I guess only really great businesses ever manage to get all three right all of the time, but my concern about the”two out of three ain’t bad” analogy is the implied complacency. Lots of the businesses I have worked with have been good at two out of three and think that’s good enough, instead of focusing on improving number three.
    In terms of examples, the bad companies would make a very long list, but, without wanting to be too controversial, engineering seems to be very prone to thinking that outstanding work, with any one of the other two as optional, is good enough. However, when an engineering company gets all three right it makes for a really outstanding company.

  7. Pingback: Ready, Fire, Aim « EdReidYork's Blog

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