You Have Three Months…


Two weeks ago I used a quotation from the late Terry Pratchett as the inspiration for the blog. Struck by the analogy between writing a book and building a business, I wondered if any other writers had some inspiration for us.

Not so much ‘if’ as ‘It…’ That’s the title of Stephen King’s book about a demonic clown which terrorises children in a fictional town in Maine. Whatever you think of the storyline, the film of the same name has just opened – with the third biggest box office opening of the year and largest opening for a horror movie in history. And whatever your view on Stephen King’s writing two facts are indisputable: he’s productive – more than 50 books written – and he’s successful, with around 350m books sold.

So like Terry Pratchett, does King have any insights that we can translate into the business world? ‘Yes’ is the short answer: thirty seconds with Google brings up Stephen King’s ‘Top 20 rules for writers.’

I’m not sure they all translate into business. Number three – ‘don’t use adverbs’ – probably isn’t relevant, I thought confidently. Scanning the list hurriedly I came to number five. ‘Don’t obsess over perfect grammar.’ Right, I’ll try not to do that in this blog what I write every week…

But let me pick out just three points, the first of which is ‘stick to your own style.’ King is counselling against trying to write like John Grisham or Tom Clancy – but the same holds good in business. We all have our heroes of the corporate world: but you cannot run your business like Richard Branson (not, sadly, that he will have much time for business now…) or whichever of the Dragons you want to be this week. You can only run a business in your own style, in your own way and – hopefully with TAB’s help – building on your strengths and compensating for your weaknesses.

‘Write one word at a time.’ That piece of advice almost sounds too obvious to be worth considering: but it has an exact parallel in business. Good years where you demolish your targets don’t just happen: they are made up of good months, good weeks and good days. Success in business is not about consistency of results, it is about consistency of effort. As I have written many times, if you do the right thing every day, the results will come.

But it’s the third point that I think is the most interesting. ‘You have three months,’ says King. ‘The first draft of a book – even a long one – should take no more than three months, the length of a season.’ By a long book King means 180,000 words, which he aims to write at 2,000 words a day over 90 days – consistency of effort.

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Interestingly, the obsession with three months chimes with something I was reading about Tim Ferriss, of 4 Hour Work Week fame. I’ve commented previously on Ferriss not doing what he thinks will make him happy, but what will excite him. He refuses to have long term plans, instead working on what he describes as three to six month ‘experiments.’ Often he has no idea where these experiments will lead: “What’s the worst that can happen?” he says. “You waste a few months and learn a lot while doing it?”

Three months for the first draft of a best seller: three months for an ‘experiment’ that might change your life. And for me, three months is a very effective period for your business. It’s long enough to set targets which have urgency, without being simply today’s to-do list. More importantly, it’s a long enough trial period.

If you still have misgivings about someone after they’ve been doing the job for three months, you’ve probably made the wrong choice. If your latest brainwave isn’t showing clear signs of working after three months, it’s probably best to cut your losses. And if your KPIs are still off-course after the third month, it is most emphatically time to take action – or bring the problem to the next meeting with your TAB colleagues.

Thanks for the reminder, Mr King. ‘You have three months’ is great business advice – and right now those three months will effectively take you to the end of the year. Make the most of them…

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Business Advice from Dr. Who


You know how I like to keep up to date with cutting edge modern business management theory, so let’s start this week by hopping in the Tardis and travelling back to the 14th Century. Then we’ll fast forward to the early 20th and consider one of the fundamental building blocks of any business – garden peas.

William of Ockham (or Occam) was a Franciscan friar, philosopher and theologian who died at age of 60 in 1347 – having first come up with a key business principle that still applies 670 years later. Occam’s Razor states that among competing hypotheses, the one with fewest assumptions should be selected. Or more succinctly, the simplest explanation is nearly always right. Or in business terms, KISS.

And now to the University of Lausanne in 1906 where the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto made the famous observation that 80% of the property in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. As you do, he then went home and confirmed the hypotheses: 20% of the pea pods in his garden held 80% of the peas. Later generalised as the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule was born.

We have all known about KISS and the 80/20 rule pretty much from 9:30 on day one of our business careers. We also know that they are as relevant – and as useful – today as they have ever been. So why don’t we give them the respect they deserve? And how can we use them to help build our businesses?

In many ways this is part of the ‘back to basics’ feeling that I’ve returned from Denver with. As technology gets ever more sophisticated, as a new app appears on our phone every week, as there seem to be 101 ways to solve every problem, it’s easy to forget the basics. It’s easy to forget that the simplest solution nearly always is the best solution, and that whatever we do, 20% of our customers give us 80% of our sales and 20% of our time produces 80% of our results.

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So how can we use these old rules to build our businesses?

Let me take the last point first. It’s four or five years now since I first started using Toggl to track how I was using my time – and I still remember the shock when I looked at my first report. How much time had I lost/wasted/frittered away in the week? I’ll keep that one to myself, thanks.

I’ve written many times that you owe it to yourself and your family not to work 60-80 hours a week. 40-45 is fine, providing you are working productively for all those hours. The reason that 20% of our time produces 80% of our results can sometimes be that we’re only working productively for 20% of our time.

Now let’s turn to our customers or clients. For the majority of businesses, 80% of the customers do account for 20% of the sales. So if you want to grow your business, ask yourself two simple questions: where did those customers come from? And what need do we meet for those clients? Answer those questions, and then go out and find some clients that match the same profile.

But this is where Occam’s Razor comes in: this is where we need to resist the urge to over-complicate.

I’ve seen a couple of articles suggesting that the 80/20 rule is scalable. If my top 20% of customers produce 80% of my sales, why don’t I repeat the exercise with just those customers? Wow! My top 4% give me 64% of my sales. (Trust me on the maths!)

No. The simplest solution is the best solution. Once is enough. 4% of your customers is too small a sample: you run the risk of including the one outlier that skews the statistics.

Let me finish with another instance of the 80/20 rule. We’re all familiar with the old saying: ‘I know that half my advertising budget is wasted. I just don’t know which half.’ Today, that no longer applies. Google analytics, ads on Facebook – today you can measure the return on your marketing budget very accurately. And again, you’re going to find that one or two channels account for the vast majority of your leads or sales. Don’t be afraid to concentrate on those channels: you no longer have a moral obligation to keep the local newspaper afloat.

That’s it for this week. After the summer holiday and the trip to Denver I’m looking forward to a weekend at home doing not very much. Then again I have teenage boys: time to reach for my taxi driver’s hat…

Increasingly Productive – just not Officially…


Well there you are. The Ed Reid Blog scores again.

Joe Root hits the highest ever score by someone captaining England for the first time, and it’s the first win over South Africa at Lords since the average house cost £2,530 and a season ticket to watch Manchester United was £8-10-0d. I tell you, I’m wasting my time writing business blogs…

But the ECB haven’t phoned me, my invoice for ‘sports psychology coaching’ remains resolutely unpaid so here I am – considering the UK’s fairly dismal productivity figures.

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Last week the Office for National Statistics released figures showing that the productivity of UK workers had dropped to levels last seen before the financial crisis – hourly output is now 0.4% below the peak recorded at the end of 2007.

We’ve all known for some time that UK productivity lags behind its major competitors such as the US, France and Germany. A quick glance at the world productivity ‘league table’ shows the UK languishing in 13th place. Norway lead the way, from Luxembourg and the United States, but the UK is scarcely ahead of those sun-kissed holiday destinations where everything closes for the afternoon.

The UK has recovered well since the 2008 crisis but – according to the learned pundits and commentators – that is a product of more people working, and of people working longer hours, rather than a function of increased productivity. Kamal Ahmed, BBC Economics Editor, wrote, “Today’s figures are bad to the point of shocking. [The figures] take the UK’s ability to create wealth back below the level of 2007 – and if an economy cannot create wealth, then tax receipts, the mainstay of government income, will weaken.” Others have blamed underinvestment, the uncertainty caused by Brexit and the current political situation, and sluggish wage growth.

But you know what? I think it may be time to reach for one of the more valuable business tools – a healthy pinch of salt.

Because as I look around me, I don’t see falling productivity. I see exactly the opposite. Virtually every business I work with is busier than they’ve ever been.

Yes, there’s uncertainty: but when has there not been uncertainty for the entrepreneur? And no, the vast majority of the people I work with didn’t vote for Brexit: but they’ve moved on. People running businesses are no longer fighting last year’s war: they’ve accepted the result and they’re now looking to future.

For all the despondency from much of the media, I’d say the ‘optimism index’ among owners and directors of SMEs is high. They’re certainly working hard enough: according to this story in City AM half of them took fewer than six days off last year. (Don’t worry, I’ll be taking them to task in the coming weeks…)

So I’m sceptical about the productivity figures. Traditionally, a country’s productivity is calculated by a splendidly complex formula with references to 2005 and 2013 comparators.

I suspect that we may need a new metric: the nature of productivity is changing. Web designers, app developers, SEO experts – there are plenty of jobs now which did not exist ten years ago and which don’t lend themselves to traditional ‘output’ measurements. London remains the tech capital of Europe and more people are working across borders: it may be that productivity is simply getting harder to measure by the previously used methods.

Then there are the regional differences – output per hour worked in London’s financial and insurance sectors was around seven times higher than in the regions with the lowest industrial productivity – and, even more importantly, the company-by-company differences. I am absolutely certain that if we had a ‘TAB UK productivity index’ we would be right at the top of any league table. I like to think a small part of that is because TAB keeps people focused on being productive, not on being busy.

As Paul J Meyer, founder of the Leadership Management Institute said, “Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning and focused effort.”

I don’t know anyone who captures that more than the TAB UK members, and it has been a real privilege to meet more and more of them over the last few months. I couldn’t be more excited about all our – very productive – futures.

My First 100 Days


It’s not often I compare myself to Donald Trump – well, not this side of the psychiatrist’s couch – but he’s famously completed 100 days in the White House and I’ve now completed 100 days in my new role as the MD of The Alternative Board in the UK.

I haven’t pulled out of any climate change agreements, sacked anyone or threatened wholesale renegotiation of every trade deal that’s ever been made. Instead I’ve worked with some brilliant people and generally had the privilege of running an organisation that changes people’s lives. So thank you once again to everyone who helped to make it happen, and to everyone who keeps making it happen on a daily basis.

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Quite obviously, I’ve had to get used to a few changes. I’m not driving round North Yorkshire anywhere near as much: I see a lot less of Costa Coffee at Clifton Moor…

I’m now in the office at Harrogate for 2½ days a week, working as part of a team of six. I didn’t realise I’d missed the office ‘buzz’ so much. That’s a bonus that I hadn’t anticipated.

…And I’ve discovered another, equally unexpected but far more important bonus. Every month Mags and I are in London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Manchester.

We always go on the train – and it’s a brilliant place to work. (But why, he asked innocently, could I get a mobile signal under Hong Kong harbour ten years ago but still can’t get one on the train between Huddersfield and Stalybridge? I’ll vote for whoever has that in their manifesto…)

As I was saying, a brilliant place to work – and to pick up on a point from last week, it’s a great place to work on the business. By definition you can’t work in the business, so Mags and I have time to discuss strategy, make plans and generally do all the things phones, meetings and the need to pop out for a sandwich stop you doing.

I’ve always liked working on the train. I’ve written before that if you want to think differently you need to be in a different physical location and I get some of my best work done on trains and in cafés, ploughing through as much paperwork between York and King’s Cross as I would in a full day at my desk.

Why is that?

Why do so many of us enjoy working in locations like that, and why are we so productive? And yes, I have been known to play a ‘café soundtrack’ on YouTube when I’m working in the office.

Early studies suggested that it was what’s known as ‘the audience effect:’ that we work better when we have someone to work with and/or compete with – witness the peloton in the Tour de France.

But according to an article in New Scientist, what applies to Team Sky doesn’t – for once – apply to us. The answer, apparently, is that hard work is contagious.

A study was done which involved sitting people doing different tasks next to each other: neither could see what the other was working on. When A’s task was made more difficult B started to work harder as well, as he or she responded to subtle cues like body posture and breathing.

I’ve often talked to TAB members who say their number one criteria for hiring another member of their team is work ethic: now it looks like there’s real evidence to back up that good old gut feeling.

…Except, of course, the evidence also suggests that I shouldn’t be on the train or in the coffee shop. I should be where people are working really hard. So I may hold future meetings in the library at Leeds University – and if it’s still the same as in my undergraduate days, on the same floor as the law students…

The Monday Morning Quarterback


It’s just about the perfect description. Instantly, we all know what it means…

So the wide receiver’s wide open. 20 yard throw straight into the end zone. Hell, even my six year old can do that. What’s he do? Tries to run it himself. Gets sacked. Turnover. And it’s game over. Season over. See you in September.

There isn’t an equivalent phrase in the UK, but no office is short of an expert round the watercooler on a Monday morning.

Seriously, he thinks X is a centre back? He needs to buy Y. And no wonder Z didn’t try an inch. My mate’s brother says he’s been tapped up by City.

Whichever side of the Atlantic you’re on, no sports fan gets a decision wrong on a Monday morning. Hindsight is a wonderful thing – and it guarantees you a 100% success rate.

Sadly, the entrepreneur doesn’t have the benefit of hindsight: he has to make decisions every day – and he’ll get plenty of them wrong. As a recent article in the Harvard Business Review put it, ‘The problems entrepreneurs confront every day would overwhelm most managers.’

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…And – just like the QB on a Sunday night – entrepreneurs get plenty of decisions wrong. Any entrepreneur who gets 50% of his decisions right first time is doing remarkably well. Fortunately, TAB members can improve on those numbers. They can bring their problems to the monthly board meetings – and rely on the collective wisdom, experience and insight of their colleagues: the Tuesday/ Wednesday/ Thursday quarterbacks. Once a problem – or an idea – has been run past seven people instead of one, the chances of a correct decision increase exponentially.

But I’m aware that not everyone who reads this blog is a member of TAB York: plenty of readers are just starting their journey as an entrepreneur. So here are three of the most common problems, proposed solutions and – ultimately – mistakes that I’ve seen in my business life. I hope they help – and don’t worry if you tick all three boxes: every successful entrepreneur has done exactly the same.

  • No-one else cares like I care. The only answer is to do it myself

That’s true. It’s your business: no-one will ever care like you care. But you cannot do everything yourself. That way lies fatigue, burn-out and your wife telling you that she needs to talk… Embrace the division of labour: we live in an age where everything can be outsourced online. Your job is to manage the business: let someone else do the tedious stuff that takes away your creativity and your productivity.

  • There’s no more money in the budget. The only solution is to throw more hours at it

Let me refer you to one of my favourite books, Rework, and page 83: ‘throw less at the problem.’ As the authors say, the solution is not more hours, people or money. The solution is almost always to cut back. You cannot do everything and, as I wrote last week, success comes from a focus on your core business – not on trying to please all the people all the time. Besides, more hours simply means a second, more serious, talk with your wife…

  • Fire people: hire people

When you’re starting out you’ll be a small team: that breeds closeness – and loyalty. But not everyone who starts the journey with you is capable of finishing it. Sadly, at some stage you’ll learn just how lonely it can be as an entrepreneur: one day, you’ll accept that Bill’s just not up to it any more. You have to act: if you don’t, you’ll cause resentment among the rest of Bill’s team – and risk losing people who are up to it. And when you hire Bill’s replacement, don’t be afraid to hire someone smarter than you. See above, your job is to manage and lead the company, not to be the expert on every single aspect of it.

 

When I write this weekly post I sometimes ‘let it go cold’ for an hour and then give it a final read through. That’s what I did this week and I need to correct myself. The three mistakes above are mistakes we can make at every stage of our business journey – not just when we’re starting out.

It’s all too easy to slip back into bad habits, to think ‘it’s easier to do it myself’ or ‘If I work through the night I’ll have cracked it.’ We’ve all done it. But at least you won’t make the mistakes for long: those quarterbacks round the TAB table will be watching you…

New Year: New Quotes


Good evening/morning – and a very, very happy new year. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that you’re now ready to enjoy a truly stellar year.

…And if I sound enthusiastic and positive, it’s because I am. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to any year as much as I’m looking forward to 2017. (Ah – damn it. Apart from the year I got married, of course. Only four lines into a new year and I put my foot in it…)

For me – and I hope for all of us – 2017 is going to be full of challenges and opportunities. And isn’t that what life and business is all about?

So let’s start the year with some inspirational words. Anyone who’s been in business for a while will have read all the standard Steve Jobs/Henry Ford quotes: so I’ve done a little digging to see if I can find some you might not have come across before. Hopefully one or two of them will kick-start a very successful year for you.

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The first one is from Jake Nickell, the CEO of Threadless. I try not to make any decision I’m not excited about.

I couldn’t agree more. If I turn to someone in a TAB meeting and they say, “I’ve had this idea. I think it’s OK and it might make some money,” then I guarantee that in six months it will have been quietly shelved or – much more likely – it will have turned into a problem and be losing money.

If, on the other hand, my Board member is so excited she needs to stand up when she starts talking about her new idea; if she’s waking up to make notes on it at three in the morning – then we might just have something that changes a business and/or a life. You’re an entrepreneur: having ideas is what you do. You only need to act on the ones you’re passionate about.

The vast majority of us will have seen ads for Under Armour when we’ve been watching sport. Here’s what founder and CEO Kevin Plank has to say: There’s an entrepreneur right now, scared to death, making excuses, saying, “It’s not the right time yet.” There’s no such thing as a good time. Get out of your garage and go take a chance and start your business.

Or as Seth Godin, author of Permission Marketing, put it, If you wait until there’s another case study in your industry you’ll be too late.

There are 101 reasons not to do anything new in 2017. Worries about Brexit. What will Trump do? Elections in Europe. The possible collapse of the Chinese credit boom…

But there are 101 reasons not to do anything in every year. If you’ve had a great idea; if it keeps you awake at night; if you have the support of your peers round the TAB table… Then, as the iconic Nike ad said, Just do it.

Who’s up next? Indra Nooyi, Chair and CEO of PepsiCo. I cannot just expect the organisation to improve if I don’t improve myself and lift the organisation. That [is] a constant.

I’m not sure there’s much I can add to that. Today – more than ever – you simply have to go on learning and improving. If you stand still your business will stand still – and as I’ve written many times, once a business stands still and starts to stagnate, it’s the beginning of the end.

Fiddlesticks. I’m going to have to admit defeat: I can’t get away without a Steve Jobs quote after all. But here’s one you might not have come across.

Jobs was giving a small, private presentation about the iTunes music store to some independent record label people. At the end of the presentation they were all bursting with ideas and features that could be added. “Wait,” Jobs said. “I know you have a thousand ideas. So do we. But innovation isn’t about saying ‘yes’ to everything. It’s about saying ‘no’ to all but the most crucial features.”

Why do I like that story so much? Simply because you can take ‘innovation’ out and replace it with ‘success.’ And if you want a recipe for success in 2017, that’s it. Make decisions that excite you, don’t wait to put them into action, constantly improve yourself – and above all, say ‘no’ to everything that’s not crucial to your own success and the success of your business.

Why Being Ill is Good for You


I bumped into an old work colleague at the weekend.

I use the word ‘colleague’ in its loosest possible sense. Brian was a man whose success at office politics was exceeded only by his opinion of himself: whose survival skills were in directly inverse proportion to his business skills. And for whom the expression ‘pompous oaf’ (or stronger) might have been invented.

But Season of Goodwill and all that. I smiled my welcoming smile…

“Edward. How goes the world with you? Still doing just enough?”

My smile slipped a little. “I’m managing, Brian. And you…”

“Never better. Just been ill. Best thing that ever happened to me.”

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I made suitable sympathetic noises while wondering why your phone never rings when you need it to.

“Gastric flu. Wiped out. Five days. Never been so ill in my life. But now, marvellous. Cleared out my body and – ” Brian jabbed me to make sure I understood the next point was important – “Cleared out my life as well.”

I indicated that I was grateful to be drinking from the well of such wisdom. “Yes. Could have swanned off to Switzerland and paid thousands. Did it all myself. Even a man of my talents can take on too much. You won’t have heard the expression – some American or other – but they call it ‘the thick of thin things.’”

And mercifully, at that moment, my phone did ring. “Mis-sold PPI?” I said. “Thank you so much for calling…”

As most of you will know, if there are 30 people in a room there’s a better than even chance of two of them sharing a birthday. With the massed ranks of TAB York, there must be equally good odds that one of us will, like Brian, be ‘wiped out’ in the run up to Christmas.

And much as I disliked the man, I had to admit that he was right. Sometimes, being ill can be good for you.

If you’re running your own business – or you’re in any position of authority – switching off is one of the hardest things to do. At home with the children? Date night with the wife? Ordering lunch on the beach… Even then, there’s either a problem that won’t go away or – because you’ll always be an entrepreneur – an idea that pops into your head.

For me – with due apologies to my wife and hopes that she’s already bought my Christmas present – the most totally relaxing thing I do is play squash. I’m physically and mentally engaged. Work couldn’t enter my head if it tried.

But Brian – proving the ‘broken clock’ adage – was right for once. Being really ill for a few days is a superb way to detox your body and your life.

The last time it happened to me was six years ago. I couldn’t do anything. The ominous shivering: the slow crawl into bed. Extra blanket. Dressing gown on top of you. Nothing works. And you all know the rest…

When I emerged back into the world I was washed out. Body emptied: mind emptied. I’d drunk nothing but water for five days: I was totally detoxified. But I was also more focused: much more clear about what I needed to do – and completely astonished at the mental clutter I’d allowed to accumulate before I was ill.

The first thing I did was tidy my office: then I abandoned my notebook/planner/to-do list and started a new one. I was acutely conscious that I didn’t want to drift back, to let the same clutter build up again.

Ultimately those five days I spent shaking and sweating turned out to be five of the most productive days I had that year.

So if it’s your turn this year, see being ill as a positive experience – at least in the long term. It can refresh your brain, detox your body and help you break bad habits.

And as the font of all wisdom pointed out, look at the money you saved by not going to Switzerland

Why you Should Make Big Decisions in the Morning


“I’m a morning person.”

“I’m totally useless in the morning. Can’t do anything until I’ve had three coffees.”

We’ve all heard people make those claims: I’ve no doubt the vast majority of people reading the blog would file themselves in one of the two categories.

But there’s increasing evidence that what your Granny told you was right. The early bird does catch the worm. Early to bed, early to rise and there’s only one possible outcome…

In simple terms, we’re at our cognitive best in the morning. I can vouch for that: without question, I’m better in the morning. I’m sharper, more alert and I’m conscious that I’m making better decisions.

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But enough of the anecdotal: what about the analytical?

Researchers in Denmark studied the performance of two million 8 to 15 year olds in standard tests, taking the time of the test into account. The results showed that for every hour after 8am results declined by 1% – apparently equivalent to missing ten days of school.

As lead researcher Dr Hans Henrik Sievertsen said: “Our ability to focus, make decisions and react is affected by cognitive fatigue.”

So if your teenage son comes home clutching his exam timetable and beaming because his exams are all in the afternoon, he might be paying a high price for sleeping in.

It’s not just students. An article in the Scientific American cited the fact that doctors are more likely to default to simply prescribing antibiotics and prescription drugs as the day wears on.

And judges become less lenient…

In one study, 1,112 bench rulings in a parole court were studied. The data showed that as judges advanced through a day’s cases they became more likely to deny a prisoner’s request and accept the status quo. The proportion of favourable rulings started out high early in the day, at about 65 per cent. By the time the court broke for lunch, favourable rulings were close to zero.

Scientific American draws the same conclusions as Dr. Sievertsen: “the demands of multiple decisions throughout the day erodes their mental resources and leads to inappropriate and all-round bad decisions.”

I think this is fascinating – and it’s got real implications for business. Clearly, we need to be making our big decisions in the morning. Granny was right again: ‘sleep on it’ – because you’re going to make the best decisions when you’re fresh.

It also looks like we’re more creative in the morning. As the day wears on – as cognitive fatigue sets in – both the judges and the doctors were more likely to revert to the status quo, the easy option. If you want to think ‘outside the box,’ you need to be doing it over breakfast. After all, we know what you get if you ‘do what you’ve always done…’

It’s not just making decisions and being creative: there’s the experience of the prisoners and their parole – or lack of it. Clearly, you need to ask for things in the morning as well: if you have to negotiate, then negotiate at nine in the morning. (Preferably not with a judge though!)

So with the analytical and the anecdotal in full agreement, one of my commitments to myself for next year is to be even more of a morning person. Dan and Rory are getting older: we don’t need to be quite so ‘hands-on’ as they get ready for school – so there’s more time for tea, toast, planning the day and feeling in control. I know that benefits my business and my TAB York members.

And there’s a work/life balance bonus as well: with work planned and organised and the big decisions made, evenings are there for my family – not for my laptop.

Five Days Good, Four Days Better


I’ve written about the length of your working week two or three times this year. Specifically, I’ve discussed the difference keeping Monday mornings free has made to my effectiveness and my weekends – and the simple fact that ‘throwing hours at it’ is never the answer. Once you go over 50 hours a week the evidence is very clear: you become less, not more, effective.

I’m not alone with my ‘Monday mornings’ – or Fridays as they are for several Board members.

So I was intrigued when I came across this article in Cap X: ‘Why a four day week isn’t good for your health.’

The article is by Allard Dembe, Professor of Public Health at Ohio State University. The four day week is the Holy Grail he says: it gives more leisure time and family time – and significant cost savings for business.

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He points out that many big companies have tried the four day – or ‘compressed’ – week. It’s not just Amazon and Google, Professor. Plenty of businesses I work with in North Yorkshire encourage flexible working, recognising that they’re in the results business, not the hours business.

In his article Dembe concedes some of the advantages of the four day week: but ultimately maintains that the evidence suggests it isn’t good, either for employees or for companies.

He states – rightly – that the same amount of work needs to be done. In simple terms, five days of eight hours translate to four days of 10 hours. And it’s the extra two hours – tacked on at the beginning or end of the day – that draw his fire. “All hours,” he says, “are not created equal,” citing studies showing that longer working days can contribute to ill-health later in life. And he questions whether a ten hour day is worth it if it means losing time with your children for four days of the week.

And as you’d expect from a professor of public health, he also points out that workplace accidents happen when we’re tired.

I’m not going to put Professor Dembe’s article in the same category as Liam Fox’s assertion that we’re all ‘fat, lazy and off to play golf’ – a claim I note he didn’t make at the Conservative conference – but I do fundamentally disagree with it, especially for the entrepreneur.

He makes some valid points, but there’s a simple fact: flexible working is here to stay. The challenge for anyone running a business is to find working arrangements that work for all the members of your team. You have to do that: the top talent that you want – and need – is increasingly demanding flexible working.

But even more importantly, I think flexible working is essential for you: for the entrepreneur.

Yes, we carry our phone and our iPads and we access Dropbox. And yes, that means work is never more than a couple of taps or clicks away. But it also means we have far greater flexibility – that we can both work when it suits us and work around family commitments and our work/life balance.

Earlier this year I mentioned the tendency to think in the same way if you’re in the same place. It’s almost impossible to think strategically about your business if you’re at your desk, ensnared in what Stephen Covey described as “the thick of thin things.” That’s why I’m an absolute advocate of spending working time away from your desk, be that Friday, Monday morning or whenever best suits you.

Working at home – or in the coffee shop – gives you space to think and to emphatically work ‘on’ the business not ‘in’ the business.

As the Scottish poet said, “’Tis distance lends enchantment to the view.” As the English business coach says, “’Tis distance lends perspective to the business.”

And that perspective is one of the most crucial factors in making your business a success. So don’t be afraid to work from home one day a week or to shorten your working week: in the long run it can only benefit you and your business.

You Don’t Need to be Outstanding


…Or ground-breaking. Or develop a wonder-drug. Or an app that no-one’s ever dreamed of before.

If you want to be successful in business, you don’t need to do any of those things.

You just need to be 10% better than your competitors.

And now let’s travel back in time. The year is 1985. The place is Seattle. A husband and wife are having a conversation…

Wife: This is madness. I’m pregnant with our first child and you want to throw in a good job and start a business based on a trip to Italy!

Husband: Yes

Wife: And how much do you need?

Husband: $400,000

Wife: Do we have $400,000?

Husband: You know we don’t

Wife: So you’re going to borrow the money. You’re going to risk everything – including the future of our child – because you want to open a coffee shop. Like the world needs another coffee shop. For God’s sake, Howard, you have a good job with Starbucks…

If you haven’t guessed, the husband was Howard Schultz – then just about to sink $400,000 of borrowed money into Il Giornale, a coffee shop based on a trip to Italy – where they sold excellent expressos, where coffee shops acted as meeting places and where there were 200,000 of them. Two years later the original Starbucks management decided to focus on Peet’s Coffee and Tea and sold its Starbucks retail units to Schultz and Il Giornale for $3.8m. The rest, as they say…

But in many ways, Mrs Schultz was right. The world didn’t need another coffee shop.

The world didn’t need another operating system either. Windows? IBM, Atari – about half a dozen companies already had operating systems.

Neither did it need another social network. It already had Friendster and My Space.

And with seven search engines already operating, the world most certainly didn’t need Google…

But Howard Schultz – along with Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin – knew he could do it better.

And that’s true of 99% of the business successes I’ve seen. For every one ‘why has nobody thought of that before’ idea, there are 99 businesses that have succeeded by simply doing it better.

best

Unless you’re a creative genius, the very-high-chances are that the business idea you’ve just had has already been thought of. In fact, as soon as you’ve had the idea you’ll find that everyone is doing it.

That is not the time to be discouraged. Exactly the opposite: all you’ve done is proved that there’s a demand for your idea. Now, you simply need to go out there and consistently deliver a better product or service.

Starbucks isn’t significantly better than its rivals. But – as I’ll describe next week – the remorseless attention to detail that Howard Schultz ingrained in the company’s DNA means it is that crucial 10% better in several key areas.

Let me finish by returning to that conversation between Mr and Mrs Schultz. The numbers and the business may be different, but I’ll wager heavily that a lot of people reading this blog had exactly that conversation.

And no – the world didn’t need your business. But like Howard Schultz, you had the drive and the vision to believe that you could be 10% better: the 10% that makes all the difference.

The world didn’t need another peer-to-peer business coaching company either. After all, anyone can get together with a few friends and create a mastermind group. Just make sure the group is a good fit, commit to meeting each month, find someone to coach you and you’re away…

Except it’s not quite that easy.

Like Starbucks, Google and Facebook, I absolutely believe TAB does it that crucial 10% better. It’s what makes our business model so successful – and if you’re not a member of TAB York, it’s what could add the vital 10% that would make all the difference to your business.