Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil! –Golda Meir
How do you know if you’re doing the right thing right now in work and life?
For example, is your business working as well as it should? Are your staff happy? Are you pleased with your work and responsibilities? Are you losing weight?
And if not, what are you going to do to change the situation?
It’s tempting to think that what’s needed is to work harder, to get others to work harder or work smarter, create better incentives or set up rules and procedures.
So, how do you get started doing that?
It probably looks something like this.
Lets get in a room, set up a flipchart and do some brainstorming.
Let’s get some divergent thinking under way to see all the things out there.
No idea is too silly – let’s capture all of them.
Then, from the list that comes up, we can prioritise, rank, order and create lists of actions. Let’s get the convergent engine going to focus on the things we need to do and set some goals and action plans.
Good. That’s it then. Go off an execute and we’ll review progress in six months.
That’s your typical intervention process – probably being carried out right now by a team somewhere in the world.
But, as I am discovering, there is a problem with this whole process.
And it has to do with the difference between what is, what you think is, and what should be.
The problem with focusing on what you think is going on
When you spend time thinking about what is going on you build a model of what you believe reality looks like.
For example, you might draw process flows, use sticky notes to map how things move along or where the capability sits.
All these tools are a way to capture reality in a model.
What happens when you capture reality exactly?
Well, you’re obviously not going to, because reality is quite detailed, but if you did, your model would be the same as reality, and you might as well look at reality.
Hopefully this makes sense but if not.
Say reality is A.
Say you build a model of reality, B, that is an exact match of reality.
Then, by definition, B = A. You don’t need B, just look at A.
A model of reality is always much less than reality ( B << A ) – it’s a simplification through necessity.
Spend time looking at the actual situation
That’s why if you want to understand what happens in real life don’t interview people – go and look for yourself.
Look around the a factory, follow a piece of work as it travels from hand to hand and see what happens to it.
Don’t worry too much about documenting every step – the document will be out of date very soon anyway.
The point is to spend some time looking at reality for what it is.
What’s important is what should be going on
If you must create a model you need something that helps you understand what should be going on.
It’s a conceptual model – one that you can then compare to reality.
Say this is C, then what you are doing is comparing C to A and asking questions like are we doing the right things here?
How does this work in practice?
If all this seems quite pedantic let’s look at how it might actually work in your business.
Imagine you want to start a B2B startup and are looking for an opportunity – how can you go about doing that?
What model should you have in mind?
As an example, I’ve drawn a model that builds on recent reading I’ve been doing on systems thinking.
It starts by asking who is your customer’s customer?
If you want to offer a B2B service you need to figure out why someone will buy what you have.
It’s not enough to show that you’re going to save them money.
In most cases, the money you save them will flow right out again to their customers in the form of lower prices.
What you’ve got to ask is how what you do helps your customer to add value to their customer.
That’s why things like websites and brochures are seen as obvious things a business needs – they need them to communicate to their customers and explain how they add value in the first place.
Your product that offers cheaper printing has a less compelling offer than a competitor who offers market research and advice on competitive positioning that informs the copy.
So, what does value work look like?
This is the key question – what can you do which will deliver results that makes your customer happy?
Let’s say you want to help a customer with a direct mail campaign.
You could just charge them a 6 figure sum with no promises.
Or you could show them a route to developing, testing and rolling out a campaign that invests progressively in what works, and where their losses are low but the upside is unlimited.
If you do that you’re doing work that has results – value work.
But do you have what it takes to do that work?
Many people believe that the answer is yes and you can figure out how to get the work done when you get the contract.
That’s all very well, but you’re simply setting yourself up for failure if you don’t have the expertise in place.
Then again, maybe you need to develop the expertise and this is an opportunity to do just that.
As an individual or business owner your job really is to get the expertise needed to the point where value work can be done.
And it’s a simple question really – can you make that happen?
Because if not, failure work shows up
Failure work is work that has to be done because something is going wrong somewhere.
If you don’t know how to design a stationery package and take on the work what you create will look off – and the client won’t be happy.
For example, I look back at business cards I designed myself and cringe at how the alignment is wrong – something a professional would never do.
But that’s a small problem.
What if you make a mess of that million pound property portfolio?
That’s a bigger mess and is going to cost you in time, money and angst to sort out.
Finally – what’s happening in reality?
If you look at the four points that make up the model – understand the customer’s customer, define value work, obtain the expertise required and be alert for failure work – you can compare this to what happens in reality in your business.
But of course, we’re looking at a startup example – something that doesn’t exist in real time…
Which is why you can answer these questions best in a business you already understand – which is why it makes sense to look for value within your sphere of competence – something Warren Buffett would advise.
If you’re experienced at farming and land use then an software app is not the best place for you to have a go.
You could learn – but be open to the prospect of paying for that knowledge by making mistakes along the way.
What all this boils down to is that we should probably be clear on exactly what lens, what perspective we’re taking at any one time.
Are we looking at what should be – what our customer’s experience is when they get the benefits of value work?
Or are we looking at what is – what is actually going on and whether we’re doing value work or simply fixing the results of failures.
Because, at the end of all this work, we want to end up in a better place.