Category Archives: Ambition

Dream Business

Ellendene detailEverything that surrounds us was once a dream that someone made real. What do we call the people who turn such dreams into reality? Leaders.

When we bought our house, our lawyer found an old envelope in the conveyancing paperwork. In it was an ordnance survey map of the local area. On the map, someone had drawn a small block and an ‘X’, in pencil, in a field, by a farm lane.  In the margin, they had written a word: “Ellendene”.

In 1938, the original owners had marked where they would build their house. They imagined it enough to give it a name.

It had been their dream. Someone made it real. And now, after many years, their dream was now our house.

All houses were once dreams.  Not all of them have such stories, but for every house ever built, someone had to imagine what it would be.

Then someone had to build it and turn this dream into reality.

For every house, someone did.

It’s not just houses.

Unless we are standing naked in the wilderness (and, perhaps, even then) everything about us was once someone’s dream.

The office I am sitting in? Someone dreamt what it should be like.

The shoes I am wearing? Someone dreamt these up.

The coffee I am drinking? Someone dreamt how it would taste and how they would serve it.

The electricity that lights the room in which I am writing this? Someone dreamt how to generate it. Someone dreamt how to distribute it.  Someone dreamt the design of the lamp that lights my desk.

We are surrounded by dreams made real.

Sometimes, our dreams are world-changing. Eradicate polio. Create the iPhone. Replace horses with automobiles. Stage the Olympics.

Sometimes, our dreams change our own lives and those around us. Build a house. Open a restaurant. Choose a university. Launch a fund-raising campaign.

Most of the time, however, our dreams are pretty mundane. Remodel the store-room.  Grow sales revenues next year.  Launch a product in a new way. Treat more patients than last month. Have our team work better.

It’s ok if they are.

They are still dreams. We have to imagine them. And then we need to make them real.

What do we call the people who make dreams real?

Leaders.

Leaders envisage what could be.

Perhaps what should be.

Then they help the people who work with them to understand the dream, to have them want to make it real, and to understand what they can do to help turn the dream into reality.

Because dreams are about what could be, they are about the future. Leaders help others to shape that future.

Most of us may do so only in small ways, but when we do, we are leading.

When we don’t, we let other people’s dreams shape our future.

If we want our dreams to happen, we need to work to achieve them.

Perhaps we all need to be leaders.

If so, maybe the first step is to ask ourselves: “what dream do I want to start making real today?”

The customer revolution begins…at start-up

Customer rockLean Start-Up methods offer an overwhelming case for working with customers as early in the product cycle as possible. This lesson applies to all of us, not just start-ups.

Eric Ries, the author of Lean Start-Up, worked with Steve Blank while he was forming his ideas.  Steve has just posted on the HBR blog a phenomenal summary of the lean start-up approach and why it, as he says, “…changes everything.”

Lean start-up relies on a number of tools – experimental design, minimum viable product and so forth – but if I read him right, one of the central concepts which makes it work is this: the only authority is the customer.

This idea runs through the process like a name through a stick of rock.  Involving the customer in the design process, getting to customers early, behavioural (A/B) testing – the whole lean start-up gamut begins with the customer and how propositions can only succeed if they are designed with and for the customer from the get-go. At all stages, the primary decision driver is what the customer tells us (or better, shows us).

Build it like this, and the customer experience is not an overlay to be applied afterwards, nor is it something ‘fluffy’ or intangible or unimportant – instead, the proposition and the customer experience become the same thing.

Even more interesting is the lean start-up promise that doing things this way will get our propositions to market MUCH more quickly and (probably) more cheaply than the alternatives.

Thinking this way changes everything.

Does it apply only to start-ups?

I don’t see why. Are there really any barriers stopping the rest of us from applying these ideas in our organisations right now?

I didn’t think so.

In praise of unreasonable

inspiration-mars-spacecraftCustomers aren’t reasonable – and our customer strategies shouldn’t be either.

Dennis Tito (the man who paid $20m as the first tourist in space) has announced he wants to send a flight to Mars by 2018.  He doesn’t yet have the money, the spaceship or the crew. But if he succeeds, he hopes to inspire the World into thinking differently about our place in the Universe.

Is it realistic? Probably not – but I wouldn’t bet against him succeeding, and I would love it if he did.

If you work in a city, look around.  See the tall buildings, the shops, the underpasses? Each was once a dream.  Each began only when someone said, “What if we….?”

And each became real only when this someone ignored the toxic voices which said, “Yes, but….” or “With the greatest respect…”  or (the most lethal of all, because it sounds so very sensible) “Let’s be realistic…”

But ignore them they did. And, instead, they built the bridges, and the skyscrapers, and the health service, and Apple and Facebook and all the other, unrealistic, unreasonable things that define the twenty-first century.

No, let’s not be realistic.

Lets be unreasonable instead.

Customers are unreasonable.

If they want a product, they don’t care about our immensely complicated supply chain. They want it – now.

If they have a problem, they don’t want  it fixed within “..the contractual response time” as per the Service Level Agreement (SLA).  They want it fixed – now.

(More importantly, they don’t want it fixed, they want it never to have happened in the first place).

And they don’t care that our lines are very busy and that their call is “very important” to us. They want to talk to someone – now.

They want it perfect, they want it cheap, they want it easy and they want it – now.

…And if we can’t do these things, they’ll find someone who can.

Are these expectations reasonable? Not a chance.

But do customers care? No.

 “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

– George Bernard ShawMaxims for Revolutionists 

So let’s not have reasonable standards for customer strategy and service.  Lets aspire to the unreasonable.

How about an unreasonable customer cycle time? Cycle time – the time the customer experiences when we do anything which affects them: from when the customer first becomes aware of us, through to when we supply our products, from their paying us or our providing customer service.

Why not aim to have a cycle time of zero? 

Why zero? Why not? Wouldn’t it be fantastic?

Customers get everything they want, straightaway.  Our costs plummet because our supply chain is instant.  Our service is better because we can respond immediately. Our people are happier because fewer things get between them and giving the customer what they want. And our competitors are left in the dust.

Is this reasonable? God knows.

Is it desirable? Hell, yes.

Is it attainable? We’ll never know unless we try.

Because it is only by aiming for the unreasonable that breakthroughs happen. It is only by being unrealistic that we genuinely force innovation and creativity. And it is in this space – the “are you mad…?” space – that you can inspire greatness.

So let’s not be at home to Mr Reasonable.

Let’s shoot for Mars.

Let’s be great.