May 2013 bring you happiness, health, and wealth!
May 2013 bring you happiness, health, and wealth!
It’s that time of year. That time when we invoke the spirit of Janus.
Janus was the Roman god, the guardian of doors and gates, the god of new beginnings, as powerful as Jupiter himself. January is named for him. Janus was the custodian of the universe, and was seen as the originator and orchestrator of all things – the system of the years, the changing of the seasons, the ebbs and flows of fortune, and the civilization of the human race by means of agriculture, industry, money, and laws. Janus ensured a time of peace, honesty and abundance for his people – it was the era known as the Golden Age.
Janus particularly presided over all that is double-edged in life, and what was most unique about Janus was his two faces gazing in opposite directions. One face regarding what is behind, and the other looking toward what lies ahead. But why would the god of new beginnings be artistically depicted with one face facing backward? Answer: because doors and gates look both backward and forward, inward and outward, simultaneously. The connection between Janus and new beginnings is the idea that one must emerge through a gate or door before entering a new place.
We all adopt the manner of Janus when we are starting something new, and certainly the January turn of the calendar marks a new beginning. Yet we reflect on the previous year even as we usher in the new. We look forward with anticipation toward the future while we look backward to the past that has led us so far and in fact has brought us to the new beginning.
The art of looking backward is integral to the concept of hansei, the Japanese term for reflection. Done right, it more closely resembles introspection. One practical way of I conduct a form of hansei (for there as many different ways as there are people) is something I picked up from Seth Godin: reviewing your “shipping list” (aka stuff out the door) for the year in review. The late Steve Jobs always maintained that “real artists ship.”
I follow that with a more conventional after-action review, in which I seek out the gaps between what I expected to happen and what actually happened–for those are opportunities to learn, especially when the utterly unexpected happens, which for me it did.
But first things first. My 2012 shipping list goes something like this:
Of all those, I’m satisfied most with achieving the four big goals I had going into 2012: publishing my new book, writing for HBR, writing for Fast Company Design, and nailing a spot at SXSW 2013.
Now, as far as the unexpected. I did not in my wildest, darkest, most far-reaching corners of my brain expect to have two 20mm titanium stents put into the left descending artery of my heart (aka “the widow maker.”) That’s a Black Swan of the deadliest variety. I’m an active guy, cyclist and tennis player, I maintain a bodyfat percentage in the 8% range, and swig water like there’s no tomorrow. But that’s where the learning comes in.
What I learned from this little incident, and this is something applicable to both business and life, is that vanity metrics are deceiving and deadly. What is visible on the outside may have little bearing on your true health. “Six pack abs,” low bodyfat, etc are great brag points, but they do not indicate true health. So, beware of what you’re measuring…it may just lead you astray.
I also learned that I have what Nassim Nicholas Taleb refers to as “antifragile” characteristics in his amazing book by the same name. In other words, I got stronger from that Black Swan (also the title of his previous book) event, not weaker or more fragile.
As you look forward to the New Year, don’t ignore 2012. Invoke the spirit of Janus. As Sakichi Toyoda maintained: “May your future be lit with the knowledge of the past.”
If you’ve read The Laws of Subtraction, you know that I spent time with Kevin Sprouls, the originator of the Wall Street Journal dot portrait style, known as a hedcut. Metaphorically, the art of strategically placing dots–limiting just the right amount of information–so that others may connect them (in their own way) engages the imagination. Now, one artist has taken it upon himself to kick up the dot technique a few notches and use it to help restore the identity of Benjamin Kyle.
Who’s Benjaman Kyle? As artist Miguel Endara explains on his site: Benjaman Kyle is the pseudonym adopted by a man who has dissociative amnesia. He was discovered unconscious on August 31, 2004, and is believed to be about 64 years old, and is the only American citizen officially listed as missing despite his whereabouts being known.
Using 2.1 million dots, Miguel produced the amazing portrait you see here, which he makes available as a limited edition for under $100. Miguel is dedicating 50% of the proceeds to helping Benjaman Kyle retrieve a new Social Security Number and to get his life back on track.
Here are some closeups of Miguel’s technique at work. I can’t imagine the focus and patience involved. But that’s what makes the effect to impressive, and the outcome so valuable. No photograph, no matter how artfully rendered, could achieve the same level of impact.
Here’s the finished piece.
Here’s Miguel with Benjamin and the finished piece.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is one of my favorite times of the entire year. Most of my clients are either shut down or on abbreviated schedules. I get to load up on books and movies, ride bikes and play tennis, reflect on the year and prepare for the next (I’ll post something on that this week). I love the lighter load. It helps quiet my mind.
And to that end, you’ll find my latest article on that subject over at Harvard Business Review, where they’ve just posted the third in my three-part series expanding on “The Less-Is-Best Approach to Innovation,” my very first HBR post in which outlined three important trends in innovation (lean features, loose reins, and quiet minds).
It’s called “Quick and Easy Ways to Quiet Your Mind,” and judging by the comments, it looks like a lively topic with lots of folks weighing in. I’d love for you to join the conversation, which you can do by clicking HERE.
I love stories like this one, mostly because of my bias toward the disciplined pursuit of less as the pathway to something better. It’s the story of Brian Lam, told by David Carr, who writes the Media Equation column for the Monday Business section of the New York Times, which is where I read it.
The arc of the story in a nutshell. Act I: Brian interns at Wired, becomes editor of Gizmodo, and takes the blog from 13 to 180 million pageviews in 5 years. Act II: Brian burns out at age 34, coming to hate the neverending chase for posts and page views, feeling like he was living like a robot, and quitting Gizmodo. Act III: Relaunches a gadget site, with a distinct difference, called The Wirecutter, and spends more time surfing.
Instead of trying to cover everything, Brian becomes a curator, a distiller, a trusted expert…of one, and only one, item in each category. As Carr writes: “Mr. Lam and his staff of freelancers decided to rely on deep examinations of specific product categories. Using expert opinions, aggregated reviews and personal research, they recommend a single product in each category. There are no complicated rankings or deep analytics on the entire category. If you want new earphones or a robot vacuum, The Wirecutter will recommend The One and leave it at that.”
At the heart of the subtractive new site is Brian’s deep desire to provide “evergreen content that didn’t have to be updated constantly in order to hunt traffic. I wanted to publish things that were useful.”
It reminds me of one of my favorite Lao Tzu quotes: “Profit comes from what is there, usefulness comes from what is not there.”
What isn’t there? Clutter. Distraction. Complication. Indecipherable rankings and evaluations which are mostly meaningless and anything but helpful. Brian is not delivering everything there is to know, only what you you need to know.
And, he isn’t chasing ads. Most of The Wirecutter’s revenue comes from affiliate fees (read, Amazon). That’s a good move, since ad rates “continue to tumble.” And, as the article states,“Brian’s insight is that in a world of loudest and fastest, he has turned it down, doing it slow and doing it right. And by being consumer facing, he doesn’t have to have monster numbers. The people come ready to buy.”
EPILOGUE. “Mr. Lam’s revenue is low, about $50,000 a month, but it’s doubling every quarter, enough to pay his freelancers, invest in the site and keep him in surfboards. And now he actually has time to ride them. In that sense, Mr. Lam is living out that initial dream of the Web: working from home, working with friends, making something that saves others time and money.”
You can read the full story HERE.
As my friend Bob Sutton is fond of saying, “sometimes the best management is no management.” Over at Harvard Business Review, they’ve posted The “Loose Reins” Approach to Management, the second of my three-part series building on The “Less-is-Best” Approach to Innovation. You can read the full post HERE.
Harvard Business Review published part one of a three part series I wrote that builds on my October HBR piece (The Less-is-Best Approach to Innovation) which identified three subtractive trends in innovation: lean features, loose reins, and quiet minds. Here’s Part 1 reprinted, which HBR retitled from “7 Targets for Lean Innovation” to “It’s Time to Wage an All-Out War on Waste.” (Kinda like my original title better!)
In 1996, James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones popularized the term “lean thinking”. It was their expression for what they observed studying Toyota’s manufacturing operations: an absence of waste. Today, lean concepts have moved beyond the factory floor to become an organizing set of principles and practices applicable to all business operations and activities, including entrepreneurial startups. Every idea in your company can benefit from a lean approach, be it a product, process, service, or strategy. But what does it really mean to be lean?
It’s often easier to describe what lean isn’t than what it is. Lean isn’t about being spartan, skinny or stingy. It isn’t about slash-and-burn cost cutting, reducing headcount or beating up suppliers to get the lowest price. Being lean means taking a subtractive approach and systematically removing anything impeding the free flow of value to the receiving party.
Lean innovation isn’t about doing more with less; it’s about doing better with less. I realize that’s a nuance, but think about it: You’ve undoubtedly said “no more” many times, even when it comes to something good. When was the last time you said, “Let’s not get any better”? Put simply, there is no limit on better.
To keep your innovation efforts lean, you have to wage an all-out war on waste. There are seven basic varieties:
Overproduction. Anything done without regard to whether the demand for it counts as overproduction. That includes something as simple as processing an order before it’s actually needed. Uber, a just-in-time limousine service that doesn’t take advance reservations, has successfully excised this waste.
Overprocessing. When there are too many non-value-added steps to achieve a given outcome, you’ve got overprocessing. Examples include too many operations to complete a phase of work, the effort needed to inspect and fix defects arising from poor tool or product design, and redundant data entry due to a lack of integration between multiple systems. Amazon, a lean company, banished overprocessing with the “1-Click” innovation.
Conveyance. The very best you can hope for when transporting goods, material, and information from one place to another is that nothing goes wrong. Conveyance is a necessary evil to be reduced wherever possible, and the U.S. Postal Service is in decline precisely because technology is helping us do just that.
Inventory. Any time inventory builds up, it creates unhelpful pressure to reduce or eliminate it. A visit to the average car dealership—an experience considered by many to be painful—is a case in point: it’s the buildup of cars that is the root cause of sales pressure and unfriendly consumer tactics.
Motion. While you might have the leanest process in the market, needless repetition of that process sucks time, productivity and cost. Even the mighty Amazon, with its enviable 1-click process, struggles with this: you cannot, for example, buy more than a single Kindle edition at a time. Last year, a large tech company wishing to buy five hundred copies of the ebook version of Guy Kawasaki’s bestselling Enchantment, tried Apple’s iTunes first. Apple told the company to buy five hundred gift cards, scratch off the back, and then enter individual gift codes one at a time into iTunes. At that point, the company gave up on Apple and tried Amazon. An employee of the company ended up making five hundred individual credit-card purchases. According to Kawasaki, “This fried my brain.”
Defects/Rework. Everyone has experienced a defect of some kind: errors, inaccurate or incomplete information, flawed products. It’s important to reduce the probability that things don’t work the way they should. Surprisingly, reducing defects is often not top-of-mind, even in life-critical experiences like medical care. A 2010 survey from t the Department of Health and Human Services found that about one in every seven Medicare patients in hospitals suffers a serious medical mistake, contributing to the deaths of an estimated 180,000 patients a year. Of those, roughly 80,000 were caused by errors that could be caught and prevented, with the simplest of methods—standardized checklists like those used by every airplane pilot—as surgeon/author Atul Gawande so rightly points out in his book The Checklist Manifesto.
Waiting. Tom Petty had it right: the waiting is the hardest part. Whether it’s an endless, unmoving queue, being stuck in idle while you wait for an approval to proceed, or simply a slow connection speed, we’ve all experienced waiting, and the accompanying sense of helplessness and lost productivity. Both MinuteClinic and WellnessMartMD have eliminated the bane of every healthcare patient’s existence: the dreaded waiting room. By minimizing procedures to those that are quick and easy to handle, waiting has been reduced to the point of not needing a room to do so.
Where is the excess and waste in your business, and what are you doing to eliminate it?