Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. – Lao Tzu
As you build your business there is one question you should ask over and over again.
What happens next?
I once came across a concept called the velocity of money, something that people who really understood business seemed to understand instinctively, understand deep inside.
One way to think about this concept is to imagine a stream,
Imagine clear, sparkling water dancing its way along, moving, changing, shimmering.
It’s clean and crisp and refreshing and inviting.
Now, imagine a pool filled with stagnant water, unmoving.
That’s not so inviting, is it? It’s old, stale, dirty, polluted.
Rot starts to set in when something stops moving, when you stop being active and renewing yourself every day.
Staying still atrophies the mind and dulls the senses, just like metal rusts and tools lose their edge, when left alone and untouched.
It’s the same with work as you do it in your business.
Everything you do needs to move your business and your customer’s business on – it needs to work in a flow and it’s when that doesn’t happen that you start to struggle.
When something is finished and is now only fit to be preserved, kept pristine and untouched, we call it art.
Everything else is work in progress – something that fits into a greater purpose – and your job is to figure out how to keep things moving in the service of that purpose.
Which you can do by repeatedly asking, “What happens next?”
Raw in, clean out
Imagine you run a business that helps other businesses – like a management consultancy.
When you describe what you do to someone who has used consultants before you’ll often notice them wince.
They’ll probably ask you if you do something like come in, have a look around and write a report.
This is a common sales approach that many such consultancy organisations take – they carry out an audit examining the current situation and identify issues and recommend changes.
When this is done well they show the prospective client what needs to be fixed and they talk about how they (the supplier) can fix the issues.
This can lead to a sale.
The problem happen when the report tells the client what they (the client) has to do next – when it’s a prescription rather than a cure.
That kind of report tends to gather dust on a shelf.
And that’s because most people are too busy doing what they need to do.
They haven’t got time to do what you want to do.
If you want to be useful to them you have to fit into their flow – figure out how to insert yourself into their way of working and add value.
And you can do that by showing them what they will get from you that they can use in the next step of their own process.
For example, we recently visited a maze that the farmer creates every year using maize.
She described how she comes up with a design and then an experienced tractor driver plants the crop in rows.
She then plucks out plants to create the design.
When it’s ready she gets a drone operator to take an aerial image which then goes into the marketing literature and the maze is now open for business.
The farmer has a flow – a number of things she has to do over a few months to get this attraction ready for visitors.
Everything she buys in as a service has to help her move towards this outcome – help her achieve this goal.
If you can help her, then you might have an opportunity.
But you have to provide something that is clean, something that she can use in the next step of her process.
For example, that image from the drone operator is clearly useful for marketing – the picture itself, maybe some video footage, can be used for branding and publicity.
It’s not just a work of art, even if it looks good – it also has purpose and function and fits into a larger whole.
Get rid of waste in your process
A useful side effect of asking what happens next is that you can identify things that don’t help.
In most cases, trying to track what’s doing on and create reports doesn’t help.
That creates busywork that you don’t really need to do.
Sometimes you have to monitor things to understand what is going on, but it’s not something you have to, or should do all the time.
What matters more is getting what needs to be done done.
Anything that doesn’t contribute to moving you own, to keeping the flow going, should be considered for elimination.
You can’t get things wrong that you don’t do at all.
The best way to improve quality is not to do what you do better – but to do less of everything you do and focus more on the things that matter.
When you stop thinking in terms of time or tasks and focus on flow – on what happens next – you’ll start to develop a feel for the velocity of your business.
The smoother, faster the flow, the more you keep things moving, the cleaner and more efficient you will be.
You’ll also be more effective.
As you design your business keep this principle in mind.
At each stage, provide clean output – something you or your client can use without modification.
Something that fits cleanly into the next step in the process.
But you won’t get this right on your first attempt – you’ll need to work at it to get to that point.
Which is what we’ll cover next.