We like to think of ourselves as multitaskers and often find ourselves all over the place, doing what we believe is essential for the growth of our business. The truth is, however, there is only so much you can do that really matters. Now that we are facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions, it is more important than ever to focus on these few things and restructure your business to succeed in an uncertain future. Coach, speaker, and bestselling author Bill Flynn takes a dive into some of these essentials as he joins Rodney Flowers in this far-reaching conversation. Listen to them discuss everything from business leadership, employee engagement, organizational culture, business strategy, and decision making to what the word “opportunity” really means in a time of crisis.
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Crisis, Opportunity And The Few Things That Matter With Bill Flynn
I am excited about this episode. Somebody, please ask me why am I excited. I’m always excited, but I’m extremely excited. The reason why is because thousands of businesses are started every hour of every day of every year. Most die, few thrive and the rest struggle to survive mainly through enormous effort, a force of wheel and luck. I have Bill Flynn with me and he has discovered how to take the guesswork out of growth and focus on the few areas that make all the difference. Drawn from his personal experience, 30 years of studying business success, speaking and working with hundreds of CEOs, he has neatly captured his key insights into how to scale your business. It’s also outlined in his published book, Further, Faster: The Vital Few Steps That Take the Guesswork Out of Growth. Please help me welcome, Mr. Bill Flynn. Welcome to the show, Bill.
I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me on.
Thank you for being here. You’ve taken on a major problem that’s going on in the world with startups and with businesses. Why they don’t succeed, why they fall off, and why they fail. You’ve captured some unique ideas and some concepts about how to go further faster. Could you tell us a little bit about why you’ve taken on such a big problem in the world?
It’s a shame that there are a lot of good people and a lot of good ideas that don’t make it for completely preventable reasons. I’ve always been someone who likes to figure stuff out. I’ve done ten startups in my lifetime from about 1991 to 2015. There was a point in time where I was 5 or 6, which is a good hit rate on startups. It was always a process of learning. It was always trying to get better. Why did some things work and some things didn’t? I’ve been studying business for many years and I didn’t know because a lot of us have our own experience. We don’t know until you get out there and start talking to people like your experience. You can change people’s lives, but sometimes it’s telling your own story and how you did things.
I was told by a lot of people, “The way you look at things is different than I’ve heard. It’s helpful.” One of my clients gave me what I think as a business coach and a leadership coach, is one of the best compliments ever. He said, “Bill is the highest value per word of any coach or consultant I’ve ever worked with,” which is exactly what I want to do. It’s the essence of the book. There are lots of things that you can do. There are hundreds and hundreds of things that you can do for your business, but there are a few that matter and make the biggest difference. At least from my perspective, I decided to write those down and share them so far with 100 people.
We’ve got to get into those few things, maybe not all of them here on the show, but first let’s talk about, why do you feel companies fail?
Most businesses fail through indigestion, not starvation. We generally try to do too many things. It’s the strength and the weakness of a visionary. Most founders, especially tech companies, which is where most of my background is, but I think it applies to any kind of business owner. They’re optimistic. “Anything can happen. We can make that happen.” That becomes a bit of a problem because, at some point, you have to focus. You have to try to work on one thing first and get good at that. What I learned is the businesses that do well over the long-term go very deep, initially. They get good, they understand the problem, and they get deep on the problem. Once they’ve figured that out and they helped with their competencies. They strengthened their competencies that understand their core customer and their problems. They understand their people and what it takes to make it happen, then they start to go out. What I’ve found is most businesses go too early too fast. That’s the main reason.
There’s a shallow understanding of the customer, the market, and maybe how to serve the customer. Is that what you’re saying?
Yeah. A lot of businesses early on chase revenue. You have to early on because you need some money to survive and I get that. At some point, hopefully you figured out, “There’s a problem here that I can solve.” You then get deep into that problem instead of trying to solve multiple problems early on. The best businesses survive. You said a little bit about my book and there are some great stats in there. It depends because I read a lot, probably too much, but somewhere between 70% and 96% is what I’ve read of all businesses that start, die within ten years. That’s amazing. Let’s assume it’s the worst case. There’s a 4% chance of making it, not thriving or not being a billionaire. They were just surviving. That’s tough. Good founders are Goldilocks founders. You have to be a little crazy because with those odds, you’ve got to have that warped sense of reality. You can’t be too crazy because if you get too crazy, then you get focused on your idea and forget the problem and the customer. That’s usually when things start to go wrong.
Let’s talk about the leader because a lot of the responsibility of the business, making it or surviving rests upon the leader’s shoulder. What is the main job of the leader in this case?
I’ve heard there’s a $15 billion industry that’s called the leadership industry. I’ve come to believe that there’s no such thing as leadership. There’s no such thing as a certain set of attributes that make the best leader. We’re all human beings. We’re all spiky. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. There is one universal thing, which is followership. If you type followership in Microsoft Word or whatever, there’s no such definition, which is funny. All leaders have followers, but all leaders are different. Warren Buffett is a completely different leader than Steve Jobs, than Bill Gates, than Steve Ballmer, than Jeff Bezos, than Sam Walton. They’re all different, but somehow something is compelling about them and their vision that some set of people have said, “Wherever that guy is going, I want to go there with him or her.”
I find that fascinating. You can be the best leader. You talk about authenticity, which is certainly an overused word, but you have to find that thing that drives you. You have to be passionate about it. You have to give someone the vision. You have to describe it to everyone in such a way as if it’s already happened. They can see themselves there and then they’ll follow you. They’ll forgive you of some of your lesser qualities. We’ve seen that. We say you have to have humility and empathy. Steve Jobs was not a humble guy and he was not empathetic. He was driven, but people forgave him of that, “That’s just Steve. You’ve got to forgive him that. That’s the way he goes.”
I have friends who worked for him and I met him once. I didn’t see that at all. I only met him for about twenty minutes. That’s what is interesting about being a leader is you have to figure out what we’re all about. I am a fan of servant leadership. If you make it about you, then they’re not going to follow you. They might come behind you or way off to the side or whatever because they need the paycheck or there’s nothing better out there but that’s not what you want. You want people to give their blood, sweat and tears to you. Those that do, feel the same thing you do. They’re going to do that. They will do more things than you’ve ever expected of them. When you’re a good leader, you’re surprised by what people will do. That’s a quarter answer to your nickel question but that’s my take on it.Most businesses fail through indigestion, not starvation. Click To Tweet
It’s funny because you mentioned in your book engagement or the lack thereof when trying to go fast or build a company. You mentioned how many people are going to work and they’re disengaged with the company’s vision. How do we as leaders create that engagement? In your book, you mentioned people are not getting out of bed and skipping to work. Happy and eager to serve the company, which is the opposite. How do we create that environment for our people as leaders?
You have to create an atmosphere. I’m a bit of a neuroscience geek. I’ve studied neuroscience for many years. I have a certificate in it, which is cool. I’m about principles. I’m about, “What are the underlying things that make stuff happen in the brain?” The brain sits on top of our body to regulate our body. You probably learn that through your recovery. If you can change the wiring in your brain, it can affect the rest of your body. That’s where you’ve got to start. The research I’ve seen is if someone is doing something that they love about 20% of the time or more, then they’re going to be much more engaged.
They know there’s stuff they’ve got to do and there is drudgery and things that go with the work but if you can give them that thing that they love. I’m a big fan of this process. The essence of it comes from a guy named Marcus Buckingham who works for ADP. He used to work at Gallup and he has his own business. He’s written a bunch of books and things. There are four aspects to it. He talks mostly about two but I do this with all my leaders and I say, “Share this with your team, it’s called love, loathe, long, and lust.” Help people figure out what they love. The essence of what you love, you may be good at it or you might not yet, but you still love it.
If you were a football player, you probably weren’t great at certain aspects of your position or whatever, but you loved playing football and it drove you to get better. You learn those things. There were days I’m sure that sucked like those practices. I was a soccer player and those two days and whatever, but you look forward to it. You love it and that’s what drove you. The guys on your team that didn’t love it, they’ll probably quit. If you can help them find that and I think the real hack or trick to that is, when does time work for you? When are you doing something that time just flew by?
I have a daughter and I ask her all the time. I said, “Go back in the last week or month. Describe for me a day or part of the day that just flew by for you. What were you doing? Who were you with? Where were you?” That’s going to start to give you clues of what you love. We talked about music and I’m not a musician. My daughter is a musician but I love playing the guitar. I’m not great at it. I work at home because I work for myself. At lunchtime, I’ll grab the guitar and all of a sudden, an hour and a half has passed by and I’m like, “I’ve got to get back to the job.” That’s when you find something that you love.
Loathe is the exact opposite. Time stops. Long is you did it before and you don’t do it anymore and you’re like, “I would love to get back to that.” Lust is something about maybe someone else or something else that, “I would love to be able to do that if I could.” You make that list and that’s when you start to work stuff. Get rid of the stuff that you loathe and try to do more of the long, lust and whatever. If you can give that at least in part to your team or your organization, that’s going to make a huge difference in my experience. That’s usually what I recommend to leaders.
What I find is people are in these positions that they may not necessarily love because they need a paycheck. They have bills and they have the demands of life. Although I agree that that’s a great way of doing a self-check, finding out where you are, and if you need to make a move and if you love what you do, but then there’s that thing where I would like to move. It’s not what I love but I have to accept this. That now becomes year after year and nothing ever changes, which is a challenge in and of itself. I don’t know if we want to get into that now but it’s an issue that I find and it’s another problem to solve, in my opinion, because we get stuck in these positions for the wrong reasons.
Maybe they’re the right reasons to start with, and then maybe things change or you thought you want to do something or your parents thought you could be good at this. You went into it and you realize, “I hate being a lawyer,” or whatever, and then now you’re stuck. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your job either. There are two other days of the week and many other hours in the day that you can do something that you love. My sister is a good example. My sister never loved to work, but she worked so she could afford to do the things that she liked to do outside of work. She’s generally a positive person and upbeat and that kind of thing. She brought some joy to work, but she’s never fallen in love with any job she’s had. She’s fallen in love with other things about her life and what she likes to do. I think you could do that as well. There’s no one-way answer to this. It’s not you got your new job or you can find love within the work that you have, try to move towards something that maybe you think you might love.
There’s something you do outside of work. There are lots of options to do it. That one thing is important if you could find that love. Marcus Buckingham said, “Fall in love with some part of your job.” If you could find a way to do that, it will at least make you feel a little bit better. It’s like a vacation. We go through the days or weeks because there’s that vacation. There’s that light and we’re working towards that. If you can give yourself that light every day or every week, it will be easier on you. That’s the job of a leader. A good leader creates an environment. I talk to my folks all the time and I say, “You’ve got all these jobs that you think I have to be this way or that way. Why? You made them up. You made up the functions.” There’s no one way to do a job or one way that your team generally tries to get stuff done. Let’s figure that out. What does a team get done? What are the functions and sub-functions in the team? What are the skills, abilities, and things that go along with that?
You can have people switch parts of their roles with someone else. Someone who loves to sit down on a laptop and digging into numbers and analyze etc. is probably not someone who’s going to go out and talk to customers and network. Don’t try to have them do that. Those people who love to do that are going to be bored if you make them sit down and do expense reports all day or whatever. That’s part of the leader. Try to figure that out, try to figure out and make that team, those pieces of that team. Do the things that they love to do and are good at more often. You’re like a designer. It’s an interesting thing.
I was doing some research on the Golden State Warriors. I was doing a talk for a business convention. I was looking at the Golden State Warriors and the fact that they were repeating. They were the number one team in the league consistently. They were the team to beat, but they were almost unbeatable. There was an article that came out and they were comparing this team to other teams in the past, such as the Chicago Bulls and the Lakers, when Kobe and Shaq were together. This team was completely different. This was like the best team the NBA has ever seen. I was diving deep into, why was this team so good? What made this team so good?
It wasn’t that they had a lot of superstars. That was one aspect. You would think of Kevin Durant and the great players that were on the team. It was the fact that the team was multifaceted at multiple levels, multiple positions. They have multiple players that could bring the ball up, multiple players that could play down low, multiple players that could play guard and power forward. Because they were so versatile, they have multiple players that were good at multiple positions, it was the thing that made them so good and such a competitive team. They did a comparison and no other team in the NBA had that level of versatility at multiple skills positions.
When I look at businesses now, especially the way things are going and I was thinking about the concept in your book, why performance is a team sport. It leads me to that same concept where if we could not focus on having someone good at one thing like he’s the go-to guy for that thing. That’s the guy that does that thing. No other person on the team knows how to do that thing as well as he does. When you have multiple people that are good at multiple things on the team, it makes the team that much more efficient and competitive.There's no such thing as a certain set of attributes that make the best leader. Click To Tweet
Your point is well taken. I’m outside of Boston so I’m in the Patriots. I think that Belichick and his group with Tom Brady, they’ve done that. Tom Brady’s the only guy who has been there for many years and they’ve won six championships. He’s done it with multiple different people. He has that ‘do your job’ thing. He wants to hire intelligent players. He wants people who are ego-less as much as you possibly can at that level. He also wants to make sure they have multiple skills so that corner can fit in as a defensive back or a linebacker can come in and be a fullback once in a while and whatever.
That’s been proven. For a small team that’s difficult, but if you keep moving towards that, the essence is understanding not what the function is that the person does, but you focus on the team. That’s why I decided to focus much more on the team versus people or culture in the book. Culture is important. It attracts good people. It doesn’t keep them. You could be in good culture and on a crappy team and you’ll probably be going to want to leave either that team or that company or the opposite. You can be on a great team and a lousy culture and you’ll stay longer because you’re almost isolated. You have your little mini-cult in there and that’s very true for business.
Unfortunately, we hire for the individual. We hire for the skill because we want to get stuff done and we’re all busy. We hire because that person hit the ground running and all that kind of stuff. If you hire that jerk, it’s going to come out. You know what they say, it’s day 91 that matters when you hire. It’s about three months in and all of a sudden, that person that they are shows up and that’s not the person you interviewed. What happens is you hire too many of those people. They’re good and skilled, but in a team-based environment, if you don’t like them or they’re difficult, you’ll find ways to not work with them or keep them away from stuff. That slows the business or the team down. Have a good culture but don’t hire just for skill. Hire for fit and ability. Ability means something that’s underneath. Are they curious? Do they have a great and strong work ethic? Are they good at finding patterns and things or whatever it is?
That’s an ability that can be applied all around. One of the reasons why Tom Brady did so well is his brain is different. He’s not an awesome athlete and he certainly wasn’t when he came in. If you see those pictures when he first came in. He was scrawny. Somehow either through practice or genetics or both, he could see the field fast and make decisions. Wayne Gretzky was like that. Messi is like that. As a leader, if you can see that and see your team, you’ll be able to put stuff together and put them in different places when you need them as things change, you’ll be a better leader and a better coach.
You missed John Wooden. He’s probably one of the best coaches. At least in the modern era, he was the essence of what Belichick, Stevens here in Boston, Jackson in Chicago, and others have done. They have the same philosophy. It’s about the team. I read once where he said, “Could I have made Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the highest scorer for three years?” He said, “Absolutely, but we’d never have won any championships.” That’s what a leader does. A leader says, “How do I make the team better?” It’s not, “How do I make myself look better?” or focus on my favorites.
You mentioned culture previously. One of the challenges that I’ve found with not only small businesses but large corporations are two things. First, establishing a culture that they truly want and then changing it when necessary. This is to me because culture typically is something that happens in an organization. Based on my research and study, it feels that it’s not something that companies deliberately create. They talk about it but they don’t know how to create the culture that they want. People show up and the personalities of those people begin to gel and mash. This culture exists and it either feels good, we’re okay with this or we don’t like it. How do we change it? There’s difficulty in changing. How do we deliberately, consciously create and/or change the culture in business?
If you don’t deliberately think about culture at the beginning, because the culture stems mostly from you as the founder or the set of founders, you’re creating that culture. Probably in a lot of cases, these were people who know each other or somehow were attracted to each other. There’s a magnetism and an attraction between. They probably have similar values anyway, so you don’t have to deliberately do it because it just happens. What then happens is you start to hire people. That’s when the culture starts to get away with you if you’re not thinking about it. I teach people about culture. To me, it is mostly your core values and your core purpose combined with destination and some core objectives of what you’re trying to do. That’s the essence of your culture.
It stems from the leader or the leaders, but in order to keep it the way you want it, you have to pay attention to it and you have to nurture it. That’s your core values. It’s usually 4 to 6 things that almost always comes from a list of twenty. If you look at people’s lists of core values, it’s almost the same twenty, professionalism, service, innovation, and all of that. They’re the same things, but they make them their own. For instance, I had a client a couple of years ago who was a good friend of mine. As an outsourced IT services company, his team has no office. They work in the offices of the other organizations that they’re with.
He wanted to describe this essence of what that meant by being professional. You have to be professional. How do you think about it? He thought about it and the team I was working with, thought about it. He said, “We want you to act like you’re a guest in someone else’s home.” That was their value. That’s what meant by professionalism to them. If you have something like that, it’s who you are, and you hire people who believe that and can do that, then you have to do three things. One is you have to make sure that if someone violates it, maybe not the first time but definitely the second time, they’re fired. It’s a no-brainer. The second is you have to be willing to take a financial hit to support that.
A good example for those of you who are old enough to know was Johnson & Johnson and Tylenol in the ‘80s, where they had that scare with the cyanide and thirteen people died. They took everything off the shelf. They removed every shelf of every bottle of Tylenol everywhere on the planet. They then fixed the bottle. That’s why we have childproof caps. They were, in essence, the inventor of the childproof cap because they said, “Not only do we want to make sure they’re not there, but we want to prevent it from happening again.” It’s a huge financial hit to do that.
Lastly, you have to live with them every day. That’s the essence of the question, “If you don’t live them every day, catch people doing something right.” I used to say, if you see someone living out a core value in a big way, stop everything and tell him right then and there. Stop the meeting and say, “Rodney, what you did there exemplified who we are.” Given the thing and you do that over and over again, then other people will do it. You probably get this in the book. One of my companies was an outsourced email hosting company like Office 365 or Gmail but this was before that. We knew that it was about technology, but it’s about service. If your email isn’t working, you want it to get working up immediately. You want to get the problem solved.
The company I worked for was called groupSPARK. We came up with this thing called sparking someone. Anyone could do it. It was that thing. If they were either going out of their way to help a customer or going on a way to help one of their peers and colleagues helping a customer, then anyone could spark them. The sparking was an email that they sent out to the whole organization. We then at our monthly meeting would call them up if they wanted to come up and we would clap for them. We would give them a blue ribbon that they could put in their cube or their office if they wanted. We did these things where you could get dinner.
We lived it on a regular basis and not just the leaders or me, it was everybody. We had to get it going at the beginning. We had to say, “We had sparked someone.” Someone would say, “This works. This might be a good idea to spark them.” “I don’t know if I want it. I feel uncomfortable doing that.” You go, “Do you want me to write it? Tell me the story. I’ll write it for you and you can fix it, whatever you had to do.” You have to goose it a little. After 2 or 3 months of that, we never had to do it again. There were at least 10 or 12 every month where someone was sparked. We gave them $50 right away to let them know we give that initial reward.
It was my idea to do the ribbons. I thought maybe it’s too hokey. These are 30, 40, 50-year-old people and I was wrong. They were mostly in cubes. If you’ve been in a cube environment, you have to go in and enter their cube. The first thing you see is the back of that thing and guess where the ribbons were. It’s right there. It’s what everyone is seeing as soon as they walk in my cube. It was cool. That’s culture and that’s how you live it and keep it going. Mostly culture is on a card or in your wallet or a wall. That’s not culture. That’s an aspiration. You’ve got to work.
To make it real or to make it alive. In your book, you talk about running your business as a coherent system. There’s a framework. This is only a piece of a framework. You talk about a house and the coherent system is only part of the house. You talk about the roof, the walls, and all of that. Could you give us a crash course on the system and how running your business as a coherent system fits in that process?
When I talk to leaders and I ask them what their biggest challenge is, often they give me some execution or operational problem, “People aren’t doing the right things. We’re not hitting our deadlines. They’re not doing it the right way.” I usually talk to the CEO or the business owner most of the time. He or she is complaining about his team. They may be complaining about other people, but it’s mostly their own team. I say, “What are they executing on?” I usually get, “What do you mean? They’re executing on the thing that I tell them to do, but let’s go up a higher level. What does that tie to?”
I’m trying to get them to say, “It’s our strategy.” Usually, I get them to the plan, “We have a plan and they were supposed to be executing the plan.” I say, “How do you come up with the plan?” The plan is thinking towards the plan, which is doing is strategy. Those two things are inexorably and inextricably connected. I asked them this and I said, “An execution is important. I get it. If we do agree that execution and strategy are connected, then I’d like to go in and ask them one question before we start helping to be better executors because execution is relatively simple. It’s hard to do because it takes discipline and rigor, which we’re not generally good at, but it’s relatively simple. It’s three things, priorities, metrics, and means. That’s execution, but you’re executing on some strategies.”
I’d like to ask him one question and I say, “Let me come in and ask them all to write down in their own words, what is your current strategy? We’re all going to read that out loud to each other.” I say, “What do you think we’d hear?” I usually get a smile and laugh. It’s like, “They’ll be all over the place.” I said, “This might be one of the reasons why they’re not doing the right things the right way. They’re executing on their version of the strategy. You’ve got to have this one voice around the strategy.” When I asked them, they don’t say exactly the same words, but the essence of that has to be the same, “Our strategy is this.” The best strategy in the last 50 years at least of a public company is Southwest Airlines. Their strategy is two words, “Wheels up.”
I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve heard stories. I don’t know if you fly Southwest, but if you go to the person who was doing your ticket, the flight attendant, or whatever and asked them, “What’s your strategy?” They will tell you, “Wheels up.” They all know it. Their job is to get the wheels up because they know they make money when they’re flying. It’s not when they’re sitting on the ground. I’ve heard this as well that their planes are in the air two hours more than any other airline in the world. They’re the number two airline in the world and they only serve the United States. Three hundred thirty million versus seven billion, that’s good. It’s because they’ve got this strategy that they execute on a regular basis.You don’t have to have a perfect strategy at first. Execute, find out where you sucked, fix it, and repeat. Click To Tweet
There’s a good story about chicken Waldorf salad. Someone said, “People are trying to be healthier. We give these Oreo cookies, crackers, saltine and whatever in bags. We all know that’s not probably the best thing for us.” They want to have choices. They had a meeting about it and they said chicken Waldorf salad or something healthy. They said, “Will it get the plane in the air any faster?” “Maybe, maybe not. It might delay it. If the truck doesn’t arrive with the chicken Waldorf salad, if the refrigeration breaks down, then it could delay our flight.” “No chicken Waldorf salad. Sorry, you’re getting the bags of Oreos and pretzels and whatever, because we’re not putting at risk anything that would keep the wheels on the ground.”
That’s the essence of what I mean by a system. Those are two things that work together. You probably know Simon Sinek since you study a lot. He’s written a book called The Infinite Game. That’s what he means. That’s the infinite game. How does your execution be the infinite game? You’re going to keep doing it. It doesn’t have to be a perfect strategy. Southwest did not have this great strategy right off the bat. They executed and they found out where that sucked. They fixed it and they did a little bit better and they keep doing it. The reason it keeps going is tastes change, technology changes, markets change, all sorts of things change. You have to be adaptable. You have to be able to have optionality. We’re living through optionality because we’re talking about this during the COVID crisis. Those that don’t have optionality that are focused on one thing, probably are going to have trouble.
Those that didn’t think about the fact that 2008 wasn’t long ago, neither was 9/11. “I should be prepared to have about six months of cash in the bank in case.” “No, it’d be fine. Everything’s going great. We’ll keep spending and spending.” They were growing and now some of those businesses are not going to survive this. I’m down 95%. My revenue went from 100% to 5% because my clients are super busy and they don’t have time for me. I’m a coach. They want to pay their people. They don’t want to pay me, which I get. I’m in the same boat. I have a little bit of cushion. I can’t last probably more than a year. I hope we don’t have to. That’s what you have to do. You have to think about those things. That’s the system we have to put together because when that system works well, it makes money. It drives cash and cash is fuel for growth. That’s why it’s important.
One of the things you talk about, which is very polarizing in your book, especially now going through a crisis like this is the ability to make decisions. What I found polarizing about your philosophy is you want it to focus on taking the time to make the right decision where everyone’s busy. Most leaders are praised because of the ability to get to decisions quick and fast without having all the proper information to make a decision. You’re taking a polarizing view and taking a step back and said, “Let’s make sure we take the time to make the decision.” Could you expound on your philosophy?
Decision-making is a very not often practiced art. I’ve come to believe that there are two main aspects of decision-making. One is what kind of decision are we making? What is that decision and how do we make it? What’s the process that we make it? There are four different types of decisions. There’s a simple decision which is, “We’ve seen this before. We need to apply our best practices, whatever you call them and just do it.” There is a complicated decision which is, “We haven’t seen this before, but it’s certainly been out there. We get it. Maybe we need to go learn something from someone else or talk to someone else. We then adopt some of their best practices.” That’s a complicated decision.
The next is a complex decision which is, “This is so unusual or has many different moving parts that it’s better to try to do safe to fail experiments.” A good example which most people understand is pricing. Pricing is a complex decision because you’re trying to figure out a whole massive people how much they’ll pay for your product. You think differently than I think or than others think, so it’s hard. You have to try stuff and see what happens. People want to pay as little as possible, close to zero. We’ve certainly learned to do that these days. Without gouging, you want them to pay as much as possible. You’ve got to figure out what that is. You have to try stuff. That’s one thing.
Now, what we’re in is the fourth kind of decision, which is chaos. Sometimes you have to make a decision and then see what happens and then adjust. What I’ve been advising my clients in the case of COVID is that there’s a framework you should have for decision. One is people are feeling uncomfortable. As a leader, the first thing you do is try to alleviate as much of that discomfort as possible. One of the best ways to alleviate discomfort is to get people to focus on their work because they can control that. It gives them some sense of control. There’s so much thing going on around them and chaos right now. They can’t do anything about that. Don’t get them lost in that. Get them thinking on the work. That’s one. Do that.
The next is cash. It’s the next thing you have to do. Can I get cash? I was talking about myself. What did I do? I cut my expenses by 65%. I said, “I’m not spending any money on these things.” I worked for myself, so I increased my line of credit. I at least have a buffer. I’m going to apply for the CARES Act, SBA loan, and that kind of stuff. My wife and I have chickens and stuff. We were focusing more on that. Get that runway because we don’t know how long this runway is. Create an environment where you can keep the runway as long as possible. Also, focus on things that drive more profit. It’s not only saving cash, but you can make more money by focusing on your best customers, focusing on the most profitable products, divisions, or whatever it is. That at least allows you to have as much money as possible, and then it’s people. I want to keep them all as long as I can, but I have one of my clients who had to lay off 60% of their workforce.
They’re in the study abroad industry. No one’s studying abroad right now and probably not for a while. They said, “We don’t want to get rid of these great people, but it’s an opportunity for us to try to keep the best people. Give them a big hug or a virtual hug saying, ‘We need your help.’” You might have to be a versatile player. We might put you in things that you’re not comfortable with. We believe in you and we believe in your skills and your abilities, etc. Lastly, once you get there, then you can start thinking about the future, “What’s going to happen? What, if, where, and when should we get out of this? What are we prepared to do?” That should only take at least a half a day or a day to assign someone, “Go and research every fund out there that we could get access and money to.”
Those are the quick decisions you make, but it’s around a framework that hopefully, you’ve thought about before. That’s what I want people to think about. In a crisis situation, a lot of times you have to decide, assess, and then respond. You’re rarely in a crisis situation. Unfortunately, we love the tyranny of the moment. We like the quick decisions and having people come in and having them solve all problems. Leaders should only be solving 1 or 2 big problems a day if that many. Your job is to think about the future. If you’re sucked into the day-to-day, then you won’t have time to think about the future. If it’s polarizing, so be it. That’s what I try to teach my clients. I say, “Your job as the CEO is to fire yourself from the day-to-day.” That’s your first job. As you start to do that, now you’ll have more time to think about the future because the future is unpredictable. You need to do research. You need to talk to people. That takes time. If you’re having a line outside your door and you’re solving problems, that feels good. A friend of mine calls that a mink call. Have you ever heard the word mink call?
No, I have not.
I love this term. It’s a rattle that feels good, but it’s still a rattle. It feels good when you’re in it so you don’t realize it. It’s that proverbial frog in the boiling water thing. Even though that’s a fallacy, but it’s a good story. What happens is something like this happens and you’re like, “Oh my God.” You blame everything. You should have been prepared, especially if your business was going well. You should have been preparing for this because it’s going to happen again. We’ve had three of these in twenty years. That’s a lot. That’s what I mean by decision-making is more thinking and preparing. At some point, you’ve got to make the decision and then try it. If it’s a bad decision, fix it or course-correct.
Getting back to predicting the future philosophy as the leader, I was reading your book and you were talking about how Steve Jobs was always 3 or 4 quarters ahead of the company in terms of their thinking. They were looking for the next growth potential or growth possibility. It could come in the form of a new product or whatever. Given the COVID-19 situation, because I believe that although this is horrible, it’s challenging, it’s disturbing, it’s also an opportunity for the next growth thing to appear. I believe there’s a lot of opportunity in situations like this. For some companies, this could be devastating. If you’re looking at this with the right lens, this could be an opportunity. This could be the next growth opportunity. What is your thought about that?It's our job as leaders to figure out the few things that matter and help ourselves and others focus on them as much as possible. Click To Tweet
Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t work well when it’s under threat. Looking for a new opportunity is harder. You’re an unusual human being. You’re able to look at the possibility and make it happen. We’re not all as strong as you and resilient as you because our brains are working against us. Our brains are lazy. Our brains are 3 pounds and 20% of our energy, which means it has to be extremely efficient. If it doesn’t have to do something, it’s not going to do it. Since a lot of things happen outside of our conscious awareness, our brain is tricking us into doing things that we wouldn’t have done otherwise. You had to make a conscious decision. I read your bio. You were in a lot of tears and it was like the world is against me, etc. At some point, you stopped your brain from doing that. You said, “There is something I can do here.”
You resisted that and that’s what leaders have to do. They have to at least control what they can control so they can get out of this fight, flight, freeze mode, so they can start thinking about the future. It’s a good opportunity. One of my clients, my oldest client and one of the leaders who run one of the largest groups overseas. He said, “This sucks, but all the things, you’ve been teaching us about focus on the things that matter, most profitable products. Get your A-players on board and challenge them. Get rid of the C-players. Now, we can do it. It’s not a good reason, but it’s an opportunity.” The opportunity shouldn’t be necessarily to go and do something else, although that’s certainly something you can do. I found there is so much headroom in your business as it is that you’re not seeing because you’re not looking and now you can look.
The best example is Google and Waze. Years ago, one of the guys in Google that are 20% off time created Google Maps and it was a good map. It put MapQuest out of business. They thought they were in the map business so they made a good map. The job that most people hire them out to do, especially if you’re a commuter is to get from point A to point B on time. Waze said, “That’s the problem I’m trying to solve. A map would be good, but that doesn’t solve the whole problem. What would we do?” They looked at the technology and they took advantage of the opportunity to solve the same problem in a different way. It’s a philosophy or a theory called jobs to be done, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. They are around for many years.
If you understand the job that people hire your product to do for you, then you can do much better at solving the problem. I would recommend to leaders to not try to find some new opportunity, although that’s certainly a thing. Use this as an opportunity to understand your best customers. Why do they use you? How are you making their lives better? What struggle are you solving for them? What progress are you helping them make? You can then do it better. For instance, with Waze, they still have one problem to solve, which is those of us who live in and around a large city, the last mile is the parking. We’ve got a spot here and whatever.
At some point, there will be technology where we’ll have nanobots and things inside tar and cement. It will signal this spot open. Eventually, there will be Waze for cities, I’m assuming. I don’t know when, 5, 10 years, but that’s the problem. You’ve already got a whole bunch of customers. If leaders could solve the problem even better, they’ll value more, they’ll stay with you, and they’ll buy more stuff from you. You can look outside. It’s not a bad thing, but try to look inside first before you go outside. It’s so much information.
How can people connect with you, Bill?
I have a website called CatalystGrowthAdvisors.com. It’s a simple website. I do have a lot of resources there. I mentioned a lot of books. I read about 50 or so books a year give or take. I only put the ones on there that I think are helpful to people. I have a bunch of other resources in the book that I wrote. Further, Faster also has a set of resources you can read along and then go to my website and do the exercise yourself. It’s designed to be DIY. My email is Bill@CatalystGrowthAdvisors.com. If I can help anybody or point them in a direction, I’m certainly willing and so far able to do that. I’m not that busy yet. My calendar has freed up tremendously. That’s how people can reach me.
Thank you for coming on the show. This has been a wonderful conversation. I’m going to finish reading the book. I’m not completely through it, but I’ve found some good nuggets out of there. It’s intriguing. It stimulates your thought about how to run your business in and how to go further faster. You’ve captured some insights and you put them in your book. It’s very easy to follow. Yet it’s not something that you just want to read through. I find myself letting it sink in and do some study. There are some neat quotes in there. I love the way you’ve laid out the ageing process and you call it something in grace, little nuggets along the way that you have in there.
The little brain breaks. It’s called the gray matters. I love that idea. That worked out well. I’m glad to hear that. I tried to write a simple book. Many business books are dense and hard to even understand, which there is a reason for that. Business is difficult to grasp. I’m glad to hear that. You’re the third person who told me that this is easy to read, but I want to stop and absorb a little bit, maybe go to the website and do some stuff. I’m glad to hear them. It’s so heartening when you do something and you throw it out there and you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s great. I appreciate that. You’re a stranger. Most of the people that told me it was a great book are people who like me and know me. Sometimes I feel like they have to be nice. It’s nice to hear from someone who I don’t know who’s also getting something out of it.
I appreciate it. The diagrams you have in there are very helpful too. Typically, I don’t look at the diagrams. I go through the content. The diagrams amplify what you were saying in the content and made it sink in. We’d like to end with a game-changer mentality message. What do you have to offer us here, Bill?
My message is, few things truly matter but those that do, matter tremendously. It’s our job as leaders and as parents and as people to try to figure out what are those few things that matter, and help ourselves and others to focus on those as much as possible. That changes games, lives, or whatever. That’s it. It changes many things.
It is a simple exercise that we can take on is to evaluate. I love the way you talked in your introduction about looking at your calendar and looking at what’s in there. Identifying, what’s in my calendar that matters? Can I remove this? It creates a perspective. That’s what we can do as for those of you that are reading. Sometimes we’re busy, especially at a time like this. We feel like we have to do this and do that. We can lose focus. Sometimes we think we’re focused, but we’re not laser-focused. When you become laser-focused there are a few things that matter. If we can take inventory, it focuses on the things that do matter.
You’re a living example of that, Rodney. Thank you for all that you do and inspiring other people. It’s wonderful that you came through it and now you share that with the world and making a difference. I appreciate that.
Thank you. It’s another successful episode. As always, we thank you for reading. We love you. Until next time, peace and love.
- Further, Faster: The Vital Few Steps That Take The Guesswork Out Of Growth
- The Infinite Game
About Bill Flynn
Bill Flynn has more than thirty years of experience working for and advising hundreds of companies, including startups, where he has a long track record of success. He’s had five successful outcomes, two IPOs, and seven acquisitions, including a turnaround during the 2008 financial crisis. Bill is also a multi-certified growth coach, has a Certificate in the Foundations of NeuroLeadership and is a Certified Predictive Index Partner. Away from work, he is an avid reader and athlete, and enjoys volunteering locally. When he is not off cheering on his collegiate-champion daughter, Bill lives in Sudbury, Massachusetts, with his wife, dog, cat, and four chickens. He is recently a best-selling author – Further, Faster – The Vital Few Steps that Take the Guesswork out of Growth.
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