I was reading an article on Fast Company, on “how to go from idea to prototype in one day“, and it echoed many of my own ideas through 3 decades of work and consulting, that there is no prizes for laggards and procrastination.
Writer Michael Grothaus outlined some very practical wisdom, such as keeping things simple, and not striving for perfection.
These 2 points are completely relevant for any business, especially startups and emerging small businesses.
In the age of real-time, speed is everything. How do we then avoid procrastination and missed opportunities? How do we sustain our small businesses in the age of sharks and uncertainty?
1. Lowest denominators.
As the concept of keeping things simple, it is all about cutting our business processes and products down to the lowest denominators. The simpler the product, the easier and more affordable for us to make the product en masse. The shorter the business process, the easier for us to sustain the business and to propagate to all our employees without crippling them at the front-line.
Simplicity is both an art and a science, and it takes some work to be able to simplify. Look at the iconic products of Apple in the past decades, and you an see the elegantly simple and utterly beautiful products such as the Mac SE, the Mac LC, the PowerBook Duo, the iMac, and so on. Those were some of the simplest and yet most compelling products many users loved and used.
For designing products, bespoke or mass-produced, it is important to think in terms of functionality, the ease of manufacturing, and the availability of parts. There is no point designing a product to meet with parts shortage, high failure rates in manufacturing, and merely superfluous designs. The best designs are simple, not complex.
For business processes, strive to find the shortest route to get from a requirement to a fulfillment. Any extra steps in between that do not serve the requirement and the fulfillment will be useless and should be discarded. Find automation in business processes, and do not be afraid to commit and try, until the shortest, most logical, most sustainable, processes are derived. It is about speed and agility.
2. Be practical, not perfect.
Unless you are delusional, there is no such thing as perfection, at least in human hands. Humans may be intelligent and capable of great things, but there is no such thing as perfection as long as our minds and hands are entrenched in the process.
So, rather than micro-managing and attempting to tweak everything to perfection, it is more financially responsible and practical to simply design products and business processes that get the job done as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible.
There is a market for limited edition hand-crafted products, but I doubt most businesses are in that space. So, for most businesses, it is about the mass market. When designing a product, if there is a manufacturing impossibility or a near-impossibility due to prohibitive costs which would prevent consumers from committing, then find an alternative and approximate process to design the product. Sure, the product may look slightly different, but you are at least able to manufacture the product at the lowest costs possible, for the long haul, and availing your product to as many consumers as possible.
For business processes, find the fastest way to get to at least 80% of your requirements, and there may be a small percentage of needs that may never be thoroughly fulfilled by the same process, but require some other process. It is permissible as long as you are not spending millions to attempt to find the 100% solution to the same process. You may exhaust your funds and still be high and dry with no 100% solution in sight. In the marketplace, there are far too many such catastrophic failures due to the frequent or incessant intrusions of would-be perfectionists during the design and implementation of business processes. Take a step back, and you may realize the world would not end if just a little imperfection exists. And yes, imperfection is part of our humanity. No one can erase it from existence.
3. Focus on the big picture.
If you are a leader, it is important to keep tabs on the pulse of the world, and know where the world is heading. Your role is to focus on the big picture, from the macro ecosystem of the world, to the micro-ecosystem of your own venture. Leave the micro-management of the daily grind to your people, and look out for the horizon and where your ship is heading. That is good enough.
Micro-management is the bane of good business, and can cripple product design, or destabilize team collaboration and front-line engagement.
Imagine a manager who would confront front-line employees every time a customer voices a complaint, rather than allowing the employees to find personal empowerment to solve the problems. This toxic environment will soon be too challenging to retain good employees, and will be toxic and extremely stressful for the long haul. Let your people make some reasonable mistakes, and collaborate together offline to guide them to understand where and how the mistakes were made, and how they can be avoided. Always take the stance of helping someone succeed, and not finding fault.
The advantage of a big picture leadership is that everyone can steer the ship together, and go fast towards the same collective goal. Allow your people to experiment, innovate, and invent. Allow your people to find opportunities, and allow them the latitude to decide and implement as they see fit. After all, they are closest to the marketplace, their senses are in tune and in step with the competition and the market demands – and you are farther removed. Some of the best companies to work for, happen to be those that allow employees the widest berth of experimentation and creation, and also happen to be companies that are wildly successful as well.
Travel light and fast
When you can lower everything to the smallest denominators, with the utmost practicality, and allowing everyone on your ship his own space to work and innovate, you will find that you will need the least to go from your dreams to your destination as well.
Every business today, large and small, well-funded or bootstrapped, is about traveling light, traveling fast, traveling together, and reaching on time.