Tag Archives: Jim Collins

I’m Back!

Hello again, it’s me. Back from my self-imposed or should I say self involved sabbatical.  I ran out of things to say there for a while (I find we all do that sometimes) and faced with reprinting other people’s material, re-treading my own, or clamming up I chose the latter for three months. I must admit some guilt every time I passed my computer on my way to watching football or playing my guitar, but never enough to actually sit down and write something.  So, here I am again, with a (hopefully) simple message.

Once upon a time I had a girlfriend who told me about how her father got hit by a trolley car when he was a kid.  Obviously, he was OK as he grew up to father children, but the story goes like this:  he and his mother had just come from the shoe store where he had gotten a new pair of shoes.  He was enthralled by how shiny they were and kept looking down at them.  His mother implored him to  pay less attention to his new shoes and more attention to where he was walking. They came to a busy street corner, he stepped off the curb whilst looking at his shoes and …. well you know the rest, he got hit by a trolley car.

Why do I bring this up now? WPA, the company I started with a great group of intrepid and committed people just celebrated its 1 year anniversary.  The enterprise is going gangbusters and dare I say, is more successful in one year of operation than my previous company was in ten years. I could attribute this to any number of factors and there are a lot at work here.  But, when it comes right down to it, it’s about the people involved.  They all have vision, commitment and ambition, both personal and collective. As a group, we’ve flourished.

There have been challenges for sure. There was and still is a learning curve of how to work together for the common good. There have been control issues (mostly mine) and the fits and starts of implementing a new and innovative team system of representation and corporate culture. I’m very proud of everyone involved and what we’ve accomplished together.

What does this have to do with shiny new shoes?  Only everything. It would be so easy to sit back, look at what we’ve done and be delighted.  But, to keep staring at the glow of our shiny shoes would be to invite a trolley car to run us over.  So, instead we are looking ahead.

“Yesterday’s home runs won’t help you win today” – Babe Ruth

Too true. As we start to plot a course for 2012, we’re asking ourselves a lot of questions. What were the successes and why?  Where did we fall down and why? Both sets are tough to answer, but are equally important.  I personally have been taking a lot of time to plot goals and strategy.  Here’s what I have found: I’ve been very bad in the past at plotting goals and strategy. Here’s why:  I haven’t ever spent enough time doing it.  I’ve always just sat down and written it out, then moved on.  This time, I’m writing, considering, coming back to it a few days later, suddenly adding insight when I have an inspiration.  It’s been a process of several weeks now and I can tell I’m not done yet.

Setting goals are one thing. Adding a detailed strategy to achieve them is quite another. I just read “Great By Choice” by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen. I found it to be a fantastic system of goal setting and strategy.  The basic techniques are: set your goal, figure out how you’re going to get there with a SMaC recipe. These are actions to be taken that are Specific, Methodical and Consistent (SMaC) and are then formed into what they call a “twenty mile march.” A march you do day in, day out, week by week, year by year.

It has opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about goals.  In short, there’s an accountability mechanism built in. Because, you’re either marching or you’re not. You’re either advancing on your goals or you’re not. You have a specific list of actionable steps or you don’t. I recommend this read.

So then, what’s next for WPA?  You’ll have to keep reading. I can tell you we won’t be caught staring down at our shiny shoes.  This is Hollywood, the trolley cars don’t just pass by, they’re aiming for you.

Typical dress for a hollywood Trolley Car.


One Thing

So, yeah, the gnarliest question of all: economic engines. Strap in kids, this is where the rubber meets the road, where the wheat is separated from the chaff, where… well, you get the idea. Mostly it’s where the difference between success and failure lives.

When I was eleven years old I was an avid reader of the magazine Boys Life.  I wasn’t a boy scout and I can’t for the life of me remember a single thing I ever read in it, but I do remember being enthralled with the classifieds, filled with ads for muscle building with Charles Atlas and many ways for young entrepreneurs to get rich quick.  In one issue, I saw an ad for selling Christmas cards door to door. I was convinced that this was my ticket to great wealth, so I mailed away for the samples.

When they arrived, I was impressed. It was a big catalogue with samples of all the cards  pasted into the book, order forms and instructions. Best of all, I had a clear economic engine.  Everybody needed Christmas cards right?  I felt ready to go out and make my first million. Then came my first obstacle.

My parents told me that I couldn’t try to sell to the neighbors on my block or my relatives, as that would be imposing upon them. Fair enough, no problem I thought. This is suburbia, there are houses everywhere. So I gathered my materials, put them in an old briefcase my Dad gave me, put on my ill fitting suit, clip on tie and headed out into the July heat. Oh yes, my second obstacle.  It was July.

Needless to say, after going to about 50 houses, half of which were on vacation, and the other half unable to hide their amusement at the early start I was getting on the holiday season, I walked home tired, dejected and very sweaty.  So ended my one day Christmas card sales career.

In retrospect, the greeting card company and I had the same target customer: my neighbors and relatives. But, neither of us anticipated the strict  government regulations (ie, my parents) or the effects of those regulations on the development of our empire.  For people who will buy from you because they know you and feel beholden, a sweaty kid in July is no problem. However, relying on total strangers to buy from the same sweaty kid greatly diminished our economic engine.

So, how do you pick an economic engine when considering your business?  There actually is an equation for this, that again I credit my favorite business source for, Jim Collins. In his book “Good To Great,” he asks you to consider the following questions when considering new endeavors. He calls it “The Three Circles of The Hedgehog Concept.” It goes like this:

A Hedgehog is a curious creature, much like a Porcupine with spiky quills covering its body, but with a difference: when threatened, it rolls up in a ball and becomes a sphere of thorns. Pretty good defense mechanism.  But, that’s all this animal can do. It has one singular talent that it relies on over and over again.  However the metaphor becomes a bit more difficult  for reasoning beings.  Reasoning beings can CHOOSE from various talents, that which they want to pursue.  So, it comes down to PASSION.  You and I only do things for two reasons, either we have to or we enjoy it.

That said, you need to first and foremost choose an something that you are passionate about. I mean DEEPLY passionate about.  At eleven, I can’t say I was deeply passionate about greeting cards and admittedly still don’t get terribly excited thinking about them. So, really I never got past step one.  Once you have identified your passion, you have to realilistically consider your potential level of skill.  You need to believe that with very hard work, determination and tenacity, you can become the best in the world at your passion.  Then lastly, but certainly not least, answer the question: how do I make money at this?  This is key.  If you can’t rationally answer that question, you don’t have a profession on your hands, you have a hobby.

Now, do you see that little red triangle where the circles overlap?  THAT is your Hedgehog concept.

Simple exercise? Not really. But, very helpful questions to answer in moving forward.  If you don’t, won’t or can’t answer them, yet are wondering why success alludes you….

As I write I keep thinking of the movie ‘City Slickers‘ when Billy Crystal‘s character Mitch is sitting around the campfire with the grizzled old cowboy Curly played by Jack Palance. Here’s the dialogue:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Curly: This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what *you* have to find out.

The rest is about being a Hedgehog.   I said that, not Curly.

Lord of the Flywheel

Spoked flywheel

Like this only made of stone and weighing 2000 pounds

I’m not sure what a flywheel is exactly, but Jim Collins describes it in his book “Good To Great” as a large heavy stone on an axel of some kind. Sounds pretty medieval I realize but OK. My imagination places this contraption off the ground at about eye level.

Like this, only made of stone and weighing 2000 pounds.  Great big stone with a an iron pole running horizontally through a hole in the middle.

OK then, if you were to try and turn the wheel, you obviously could not make it turn 100 MPH instantaneously, right? It would take all your strength to just move it an inch. So you take a try and indeed it just moves an inch or so. When you realize that you’ve only moved it a little bit, then what?

That’s always the question isn’t it? There are only two real answers: move it again or give up and look for a lighter wheel to turn. So, your answer to that question begs another question: how bad do you want it?  Momentum can only be built on a fly wheel by turning it little by little. With each turn a little more momentum is gained and the wheel gets easier and easier to turn.

The problem is in this fast paced, want it now, tweet it now, buy it now and have it all now world, the concept of daily toil to build momentum over time seems out of place. Mostly I blame advertising and the Kardashians for this, but like it or not, achievement demands that you struggle turning the wheel as much as you can each day. Over time all those small turns add up until the wheel can turn freely and quickly.

I read somewhere that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to gain mastery over any endeavor, be it playing a musical instrument or directing traffic. That latter one scares me for obvious reasons, but let’s make that assumption. If you were to work on the fundamentals of building a business, craft, practice, etc… for one hour a day, it would take you 27 years to gain mastery. Work 8 hours a day at it and it only takes 3.42 years to gain mastery.

Here’s the beauty of it all though: hidden within this 10,000 hours resides the effect of momentum in the form of compound knowledge that we gain by so much practice. As you invest more time in any activity the benefits come back to you exponentially. That is the beauty of momentum. That is the beauty of the wheel turning faster and faster the more you make small investments in turning it.  When the flywheel gets to turning very fast, you are really looking at all of the knowledge you’ve gained spinning the wheel on its own.

Even Kim Kardashian can do it.  One day she’s clubbing and dating football players, releasing sex tapes and showing up on every red carpet she can find. Next thing you know, she’s a judge of a talent competition show?  How does that happen? Based on what? Certainly not talent.  It’s based on the flywheel.

You see, it doesn’t matter the reason you decide to turn the wheel, it matters THAT you turn the wheel.  You choose, you can save the world like Mother Teresa, or you can be the Mother of all self promoters.

I would like to think most of us are more like Mother Teresa, but I have a feeling we’re either somewhere in between, or at the very least, just trying to figure out how to move our careers forward in subtle and unassuming ways.  Yes, I think I’ll go with that.
The Flywheel is a very powerful thing.  Daily practice of one sort or another is the message here.  Knowing what your goals are and committing to moving the wheel a little at a time is the exercise. Having faith that all your effort will get you where you want to go is the discipline.
As for me, I’m off to turn the wheel a bit.  I’m taking an African orphan to The Country Music Awards….

Driven To Distraction

Yup, that's distracting

What was I saying? Yes that’s it, no wait, I’ve got it:  I’m distracted.  It’s not that I’m not motivated, I’m plenty motivated, it’s just that there’s plenty on TV, there’s Facebook and the hours that can be spent “Liking” pictures of our relatives pets and lets not forget we need to wring our hands a bit about Fox News’ slow ooze towards undermining Democracy.  Wait, what was I saying agin?  Oh yeah, distraction.

I have lots of ideas, some of them really good and it’s easy to think that any one of them are the solution to all my problems, financial, creative, interpersonal.  These ideas can be along the lines of those dreams we all have where during our sleep we have an earth shattering epiphany, only to wake up and realize that what we were dreaming about, while in the dream made perfect sense, in reality wasn’t even coherent, and you then realize in the dream you weren’t even wearing pants.

Ah well, here it is, the end of summer again.  The end of summer seems to bring more “I’ll knuckle down and start putting my better ideas into action”  than that champagne induced semi correction we call New Years Eve.  But, how is this year going to be different?

For me, I just read the best business book I have ever come across (and I’ve read quite a few) “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.  I highly recommend this book, especially for those artists and entrepreneurs with no formal business education. Simply put, it is an examination of the differences between merely good enterprises and great ones.

Now there are six main concepts in the book, but I only want to talk about one of them here.  All of the “great” companies had in common what Collins refers to “A Hedgehog Concept”  That is one idea that you pursue that has three attributes:

1.  Something, a product or service you are passionate about

2. You feel you have the potential to be the best in the world at the skill of.

3. Something that has a CLEAR economic engine to sustain you.

Why go all business book on us Steve?  What does this have to do with distraction?  We have a tendency to bounce from idea to idea that we think will be a silver bullet of growth, progress and quick reward.  The reality is you have to work on your hedgehog concept over a long period of time.  You have to commit to your concept and keep going especially when it gets rough, especially when there are obstacles, for in those obstacles lie the opportunity for the greatest growth.

Very successful companies have these concepts and stick to them.  Walgreens runs drugstores, they don’t get distracted by a momentary interest in making engine parts for the space shuttle.  Mainly because they aren’t passionate about it, can’t be the best at it, and funding it would destroy the economic engine they’ve established.

That sounds sort of abstract and duh, I know.  But don’t we as entrepreneurs do the same thing all the time?  I constantly have new opportunities put in front of me.  I am getting much better at staying in my “Hedgehog Concept.”  I love doing what I do, I try everyday to get better towards my goal of being best in the world at it, and the economics, while always striving to improve them, are clear and can sustain me.

What’s getting in the way of your “Hedgehog Concept?”  Are you unclear on what you’re passionate about?  passions change for sure, but there are differences between passions and being passionate about something.  Being passionate about something mens you have committed yourself lock, stock and barrel to the idea of immersing yourself as far as you can, the idea being a person, business or craft.  The “Hedgehog Concept” just keeps you focused on the process of making that successful.

Biggest de-railer is fear.  What if I fail? What if it turns out not to be my passion? What if it’s too much work?  What will my parents think because what I really want to do is  drive an ice cream truck? Unfortunately, if you stay in that head you will never get started, so get over it.  Look at the horizon, it’s not going to walk towards you, so you might as well walk towards it.  If you have faith in what your potential can be and can just start moving, you will be surprised how much ground you can cover.

Now, the elephant in the room is that thing we were told when we were kids, (this is America, you can be anything you want when you grow up, it’s the land of opportunity,) that conotes ease and entitlement  and personally, part of me is still waiting to grow up, so from time to time that’s what distracts me.  Have I picked the thing for my life that I’m most passionate about?  How the hell am I supposed to know?  I have many passions.  However, I committed to agenting and being a positive force in the livelyhood’s of others a long time ago, and I have found that my relationship with my craft has deepened.  At the time I picked it, did I recognize it as my dream job? NO!  I needed a damn job at the time, so I jumped in and I found after a while I really enjoyed it.  That caused me to want to get better, and that process made me passionate about it.  It’s not always passion first that gets you started. Sometimes it’s good old fashion necessity and discipline.

But, I still get distracted from my goals.  I wonder sometimes if this blog is another one of my distractions.  After much introspection, I’ve realized that giving business advice and helping people to have the best career the can IS my Hedgehog Concept, and this is a simple tool to support it further.

I encourage you to sit down and write out your concept, clearly and using those simple steps.  I’ll warn you upfront, you have to think about it a lot and one or another of the steps won’t have clear answers at first (some of the companies studied took many years to realize their concept), but once you realize what you want to do and decide to do JUST THAT THING without distraction, you will be surprised how many options and possibilities suddenly present themselves.

Enjoy, I’m gonna watch sports, maybe go to a movie… just kidding… I think.