One Small Step for Man…

As Elon Musk’s Starman makes his way off into outer space, I was reminded of Neil Armstrong’s famous words about small steps and giant leaps, as he stepped onto the surface of the moon.

Last autumn I had the privilege of being involved in an amazing charity project, which was the culmination of years of planning, hours of hard work by a dedicated band of volunteers and a substantial amount of fundraising.  When the idea of bringing 18 South African teachers to the UK to learn teaching methods, gain insights and to share their culture with schoolchildren in Oxfordshire, many said it was a giant leap, possibly unachievable.

But, by taking that grand vision and breaking it down into manageable chunks, the members of the group were able to take one step at a time and slowly but surely bring their dream to reality.  A large, complex task was just built of lots of smaller steps, which once executed in the right order, at the right time and in the right way, all added up to a successful outcome.

Of course, things didn’t always go to plan.  There were major stumbling blocks placed in the way – fundraising was hard, visa applications a LOT more stringent than in the past, and finding places for 18 Africans to stay for a week was not without challenges.  But small steps managed to work round, through or over even these barriers, like an unstoppable force.

[Whilst on the subject of unstoppable forces, I should note that this was not a small step for man, but a small step for woman – every one of the committee was female, so apologies to them for the masculinity of Armstrong’s quote]

In life and business, the same is true – almost any dream, goal or giant leap can be broken down into small steps – which can be taken each day or week and over time, especially with compounding, can add up to sizable impacts.  So, whatever your own version of walking on the moon is, you probably can achieve it.

  • Break the goal down into smaller tasks, or interim milestones, that will inexorably lead to success
  • Take action – do those tasks each and every day to move forward step by step
  • When barriers present themselves, take initiative and walk round, through or over them – step by step

What is the giant leap you want to take?

What are the first five to ten steps you can take to get going?

Why not start now? Or at least when you have finished reading this!

Pumpkins and Pareto

One of life’s frustrations is that the volume of business books is far greater than my capacity to read them, there are so many inspiring books out there (and then there is mine…!).  It helps, therefore to have a book recommended, so thanks to Chris for both the suggestion of, and actual gift of, The  Pumpkin Plan, by Mike Michalowicz.  The book draws upon the Pareto Principle  (that many distributions are on an 80/20 split – in this case 80% of business comes from 20% of customers, and 80% of hassle comes from a different 20% of customers).

Michalowicz then cleverly uses the metaphor of growing record-breaking pumpkins (enough to feed an army of Americans at Thanksgiving) to show how one should react to the Pareto Principle to create a successful business. In essence, one culls the unproductive plants, clears the weeds and then intentionally nurtures the prize pumpkin plant.

In business, this effectively means culling customers who don’t make us money but do drain our resources.  Often these are smaller customers, but not always.  Once we’ve reduced our client list down to the prize ones, we need to strip out unnecessary costs, processes and other “weeds” to allow us to focus on serving those key customers.

With that done, we need to consider how we nurture that prize pumpkin/customer – what resources will help it really grow, and how do we bring all we can to bear to achieve that outcome?

My three-paragraph summary doesn’t do justice to the book, which has some useful tools and exercises to help you through the process, so if your interest is piqued please do buy/download the book (  If you want a coach to help you through it, call me and we can discuss whether you could be one of my pumpkins…

In the meantime, what are the broad steps to consider?

  1. Rank your clients by a relevant measure (arguably by profit generated, but often revenue per year is the easier indicator to use)
  2. Allow yourself to adjust that mechanical ranking on more subjective issues – how close to perfect that customer is. Do they pay on time?  Do they draw a lot on your after-sales service?  Are they fun to work with?  Is the work the sort of work you want to do?
  3. Look at the revised ranking and see where the 80/20 rule applies. If you dropped 80% of customers from the bottom of the list, what would happen?  Decide where the bar rests, so that those above survive to be champion pumpkins, and those below would not.
  4. Find alternatives for those who will be culled – either refer out to other solutions, or provide them with a solution yourself, subject to them changing whatever moved them below the line (for example an admin fee or a minimum order value).
  5. Grasp the nettle, and implement the changes – withdraw services that don’t work for you, price yourself out of undesirable work, or inform customers you no longer provide the service (as LoveFilm By Post did to me this month)
  6. Focus on those champion pumpkins, and watch them grow.

Over the years I have worked with a number of clients as they have culled customers and upgraded the quality of their clients – they have done it with grace, with manners and with compassion and I cannot recall an occasion when it hasn’t meant better focus, better margins and increased business.  Maybe your pumpkins need it too?

Puns and Quotes #7

“A man is not old until his regrets take the place of his dreams”

Yiddish proverb

“If life is about the journey not the destination, we should celebrate all the steps, not just the last one.”

James Butler

I’ve recently developed a phobia of lifts, but it is OK – I am taking steps to avoid them.

I met my wife when she was playing football.  I could see straight away she was a keeper.

I have a step-ladder I really love. I never knew my real ladder.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

This autumn I spent three weeks on holiday in the Pacific North West (Alaska and Canada).  Not only does it rank as one of the most memorable holidays (in a very strong field), it has probably provided sufficient inspiration for a year of blogs!  The trip was planned round a few “bucket list” items Bev (my wife) and I wanted to do:

  • Visit a friend who lives in British Columbia, who we haven’t seen for ten years, and never in her own home
  • See orcas in the wild
  • See glaciers calving into the sea
  • See grizzly bears catching salmon in the river

The last one had particular interest in a business sense, because I have used the bears-catching-salmon metaphor in coaching and training for many years.  The grizzly is at the top of the food chain and can eat almost anything, but it knows that if it goes to the river in September, the salmon will almost literally jump down their throat.  It is a great metaphor in terms of sales focus.

Bev had done a lot of research to find the top place to see this natural phenomena – and we invested money and nervous energy to catch a succession of smaller and smaller planes to get to a remote eco lodge where, we told people beforehand, seeing the bears eating salmon was “guaranteed”.

Except we don’t always get what we want, as the Stones taught us.  We were there, on a viewing platform just feet from a huge grizzly bear, a perfect spot to see her eating salmon.  Sadly, the salmon weren’t there.  On a river that can expect a peak of a million fish, in exactly the week we were there, just 5,000 were milling about down river – and none of them were jumping.

For us, a long-held dream was shattered.  For the bears, this could mean the difference between life and death this winter – the salmon are their key calorie source as they fatten for winter.  We had a clear plan, devised over years and carefully executed.  The bears had a plan, based on hundreds of years of learned behaviour across many generations.  But the salmon hadn’t read the plan…

The military have a saying that “the map is not the territory” – in this context I think this tells us that whatever we may have in our business plan, strategy or our life plan, that map is a statement of intention, it is not reality.  In life and business, we can encounter any number of versions of the salmon not turning up.

So, how should we react to this reality, as successful human beings and managers?  For Bev and I, we needed to redefine what success looked like – within the realms of what we could control.  So, we did have amazing bear sightings, we did see them eating mussels and barnacles and small fish, and we were in an amazing landscape and wilderness.  Hard not to see that as success…  For the bears, they needed a plan B.  They won’t survive by slapping their head and saying “Boo hoo, poor me”.  They need to eat something else, as much as possible, and get ready to hibernate.

  • When it comes to your life and business goals, do you have a plan?
  • To the degree that it is in your control, are you assiduously working that plan to give it the best chance of success?
  • If you face unexpected uncontrollable outcomes, now or in the future, what’s your Plan B?
  • If this article has made you think about something in your life, what can you do today to change things for the better?

We don’t always get what we want.  But we increase the chances if we actually know what we want, and have a plan to get it.  I humbly hope my bear story helps inspire you to plan on getting more of what YOU want.

Milestones and Anniversaries – when’s yours?


This year, I passed the 15th anniversary of me handing in my notice from my corporate job at Biffa and setting off on my own.   Sometimes I cannot believe all that has happened in those 15 years – the colleagues, clients and contacts I have worked with, the interesting projects and the successful businesses I have been part of.  It is a real privilege helping people realise dreams: for several that has meant becoming millionaires, for others success has been defined differently but has been sweet nonetheless.

When are your milestones?  What anniversaries are coming up for you?  How can you use those anniversaries to inspire more success?  There are three key ways milestones can be used:

Pause and reflect

  • You can look back on the years and notice the ups and downs, the triumphs and the tribulations, and how you reacted
  • You can identify and work on areas for improvement – so that you are better in the future
  • You can celebrate your successes and reward the successful contributions of others
  • As with walking up a mountain, be sure to look down and draw strength from your progress, don’t just look up at the task remaining.

Plan the future

  • You can set the next milestone – either a point in time, or a point in the project
  • You can break down the gap between now and the next milestone, to give mini-milestones to work towards
  • You can set goals for your next milestone and the mini-milestones on the way (this is effectively what the business planning cycle in my book creates – by giving you a one page plan for the next six to twelve months. You can buy the book here, or contact me to chat about what you need specifically).
  • You can balance your expectations, so that you have stretching goals by the next milestone, but not too many, or too ambitious.

Work in promotions or offers

  • Of course, any promotion needs to be driven by your marketing plan, not just a spur-of-the-moment idea
  • Any offer should look to engage your audience, not just be grasping for business
  • Your offer should be genuinely time limited (unlike the DFS sale, which seems to end every Monday…)
  • Remember the five-finger model for a marketing message – identify a problem, propose a solution, present proof your solution works, make an irresistible offer and set a deadline.

So, what are your forthcoming milestones?  What dates or points in a project resonate for you?

What do you want to have achieved by the time of those milestones?

What steps will you take to start getting there?

After reflecting on fifteen years of coaching owners and managers there is one major lesson I would wish to share with you.  We are capable of much, much more than we realise – provided we consistently take small steps in the right direction, guided by a long-term plan.  Please set your own milestones for the future, and start heading towards them.

Enjoy the journey.

Scott Adams – comedy genius

I am a huge fan of the Dilbert cartoon by Scott Adams – his ability to cut through the realities of working life is incredible.

I like him so much I subscribe to the Daily Dilbert – an emailed cartoon every day, which is one of the things that makes me smile each day.

As I celebrate 15 years of self-employment, today’s strip seemed especially relevant!


Puns and Quotes #6

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection”

Mark Twain (according to the internet, though I have my doubts)

“Make every detail perfect, and limit the number of details to perfect”

Jack Dorsey

Do you know what I find odd?  Numbers that are not divisible by two.

Did you hear about the Spanish magician?  He counted “Unos, dos” and then <poof> he disappeared without a trés.

Princess Elsa and Perfectionism

There are many qualities required to be successful in business (I have learnt from observing others), and high standards and ambitious goals are definitely two of them.  Wanting everything in your business to be perfect – whether your branding, your communications or the way your product is packaged – is likely to wow customers and help your business be very successful.  But the flip side of that craving for perfection can be that we hang on to stuff we should delegate, we become a bottleneck for decisions we don’t trust others to make or we meddle in the work of people who actually know how to do it and resent the intrusion.  I know many who prefer to delay delivery, perhaps indefinitely, whilst they strive for 100% perfect rather than accept the work of others, perhaps 96% perfect, which could be delivered much more promptly.  Any of this sound familiar?

Luckily, Disney have given us Princess Elsa to constantly remind us of how we should react to this over-perfectionism (see the video here).  Yes, to allow our businesses to grow, to reach their full potential with motivated, engaged staff, we need to let it go.  How can we do that?

  • Firstly, start with baby steps – let go of small projects, little decisions or discrete pieces of work, so that you can build your confidence in your team, and slowly trust more
  • Be sure to delegate effectively to your team – make sure you have set clear expectations and boundaries, clarified their understanding of the desired outcome and then got out of their way, before checking in on progress at agreed intervals
  • When it doesn’t go to plan, or someone makes a mistake, discuss this openly (but not judgementally) with them so that you and they can learn from what happened and do better next time. Don’t brood on it and build greater and greater evidence that people can’t be trusted, without trying to rectify things.
  • Occupy your attention with higher level stuff – things that befit your pay grade. Don’t obsess on the colour of the tiles in the loos, do obsess on where your market is going in the next five years, or how you can win and retain big new accounts.

However, letting go isn’t just as simple as a to-do list.  It is likely that the reason you are a perfectionist and not letting go is a behavioural manifestation of deeper beliefs and values.  Unless you work on the deeper underlying cause, the symptoms will keep coming back.  Unless you understand what is causing you to hold control or not to trust others you will never be able to truly let it go.

So how can you do that, I hear you ask.  Well, that’s a bit deep for a simple blog.  For that you need some time with a quality business coach who can walk you through obtaining greater awareness and creating options for a different future.  That’s what I do for a living, so give me a call!

Puns and Quotes #5

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”   

Unknown (often incorrectly attributed to Ghandi)

“My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours” 

Desmond Tutu

”Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”

Helen Keller

I was tempted to make a joke about the long-term unemployed, but I realised they just don’t work.

And in the “You Couldn’t Make It Up” category of humour, I see an election candidate has reacted to the Manchester tragedy by saying we should introduce the death penalty for suicide bombers.  Err…

How can we stand together?

Like 9/11 and 7/7, last week may become a memorable point of inflexion in many of our lives, and in the life of our nation.  Notwithstanding the obvious human emotion invoked by the horrible events in Manchester, our time will be defined, as many of us are defined in our own lives, not by what happened, but by the reaction to what happened.

As dark forces seek to render division amongst communities, my own belief strengthens that, as with challenges in the workplace, the solution doesn’t lie in blame, recrimination and further conflict, but in finding common humanity as a means to establishing a collaborative way forward.  As someone with no religious beliefs and a deep love for Southern Africa, I have always been fascinated by the theology of Ubuntu – defined by some by the phrase “I am because we are”.

Whether in dealing with the demonisation of a religion because of the actions of a tiny few, or in dealing with the more mundane practicalities of serving customers in our own work, I believe we achieve more by working together, understanding difference and exploring commonalities.

Stephen Covey first introduced me to the tenet “Seek first to understand” – the concept of listening to others, trying to comprehend their background, their beliefs and the reasons for their decisions.  Whether between colleagues, between teams, between parties in a trade relationship or between communities and countries, I believe we have much to gain by first trying to understand each other.

To do that, we must have conversations, not just with those in our group, with those who believe what we believe or think what we think, but with those who will challenge us, question us and perhaps provoke us.  Failing to do so means we judge them based on our assumptions, our prejudices and our fears, and something tells me that is not going to produce the best results.

It is possible for opposing views to coexist in a system, provide all parties show respect, and know their responsibilities to each other.  Our media, and some of our business experience, may suggest that respectful, responsible, tolerant behaviour is increasingly rare.  I beg to differ.  I just think it is increasingly drowned out by the noise of the other approach.

Allowing that to happen, or resisting it, is a choice, and I hope, prompted by the unity shown in Manchester and elsewhere, that as a community enough people will stand up and say “we stand together, whatever our colour, creed or orientation”.  I believe that is how we win this struggle.