Ask More Questions

Today I was told a great consulting proposal should be made up of 70% questions and 30% answers. While it’s a rough guide, it’s surprising. Writing a proposal is a response to a set of problems you have been tasked with solving, yet this suggests questions are equally, if not more, valuable than answers.

Often we think we must have the answers to be credible, but it’s not a realistic expectation. Knowing what the right questions to ask is a long term career, mostly because nobody knows the correct answer to every question.

Mental Calluses

“You have to build calluses on your brain just like how you build calluses on your hands. Callus your mind through pain and suffering.”

David Goggins

When I first started kayaking seriously, I would rarely finish a session without having sore hands. The friction between my hands and the paddle would build up until it rubbed the skin away, leaving painful sores. Other kayakers would try different techniques to prevent this, but I found the only thing that worked was to let my hands harden naturally.

Over time, calluses built up, protecting my hands and enabling me to paddle without any pain. However, as I pushed myself to paddle longer distances, my hands would become sore again. Each time I tried to go further, it took time for the calluses to become stronger and enable me to go further and further.

But pushing myself to go further didn’t just put calluses on my hands. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it was also putting calluses on my mind.

It was through kayaking that I learned how the brain tries to protect the body. Whenever I pushed myself to kayak further, it pushed my body into discomfort. In these moments, my mind would try to use every trick in the book to get me to stop, to prevent me from stepping too far outside my comfort zone.

Sometimes, I successfully ignored my brains complaints and pushed on. The more often I did this, the less my mind complained and the better I got at ignoring its complaints. By pushing through when I most wanted to quit, I was building calluses on my mind.

I read once that the average person thinks 2,000 – 3,000 thoughts per hour. With so much going on in our minds, doubts are inevitably going to crop up unless we learn to control our thoughts.

I’ve personally found physical training provides the best environment to learn how to manage your thoughts. However, there are many other ways to put calluses on your mind. Any activity where you can regularly seek out situations that push you outside your comfort zone will work. Then when you most want to quit, you must push on.

You should start with a small step into the unknown to prove to yourself you are capable of overcoming what you thought you could not. Then it’s time to knuckle down and tackle the source of your more significant fears head-on.

Every time you take a step forward when your mind is telling you to stop will make your brain stronger, ready to take on your next challenge.

Good luck!

The Accelerating Pace of Change

The world is changing at a faster and faster rate. It’s not our perception; it’s a genuine phenomenon that is explained by the networking principles that form the basis of our social systems.

The pace of life systematically increases with population size: ideas spread faster, businesses are born and die more often, and economies continue to grow. This increase in pace follows the Geoffrey Wests 15% rule, which states that if the population doubles then the pace of life will increase by 15%.

Sustaining this growth requires the time between innovations to get shorter and shorter. Significant changes and paradigm-shifting discoveries must happen at an ever-accelerating pace. The general pace of life is quickening but also that rate at which companies must innovate is getting faster and faster!

To see this in action, we only need to look to history. It took humans over a thousand years to move from the Stone Age to the Iron Age but less than thirty years to move from the “Computer Age” to the “Digital Age”.

You can see this same acceleration in the developments of human consciousness. Frederic Leroux’s work defining five stages of social consciousness development demonstrated how the time it takes for societies to shift phase is decreasing.

All of this means that although time isn’t getting faster, the pace of change is speeding up relative to it, driven by the forces of social interaction. It’s the reason we feel life is getting faster and also why companies must find new ways to develop innovations at a faster rate than ever before.

Whole Selves

Workplaces have traditionally encouraged people to show up with their “professional” self and to check all other parts of themselves at the door. This strange personality separation can lead us to some pretty bizarre behaviours.

We sometimes forget that our actions at work can have a profound impact on others lives outside of work. And equally, peoples lives outside of work can severely impact their time at work.

We need to create workplaces where people can bring their whole selves, and we understand how our actions impact people holistically. Opening our organisations to wholeness is how we can develop tighter bonds and help each other achieve our true goals.

Can Companies Grow Infinitely?

Over the last eight years, I’ve worked with a lot of different companies as a consultant. One question I’ve asked every company is, ‘what goals do you have?’ and I cannot think of a single one that didn’t mention growth.

I have nothing against growth, but I wonder if it’s always the right goal. Year on year revenue growth has become the default metric of success for most companies but is it possible to continue to grow indefinitely?

To try and find an answer, I turned to Geoffrey West’s book, Scale. It’s a fantastic book, that explains how the universal laws of scaling apply to everything from animals, cities and indeed companies.

West, explains that companies growth is fuelled by profit, the difference between total income and expenditure. Profit generally scales linearly with the number of employees, and mathematically, linear scaling leads to exponential growth. Just what most companies are striving for.

While exponential growth sounds good, it’s a significant challenge. The overall economy is also expanding exponentially, so individual companies need to grow at the same rate as the economy or faster to register real growth.

And here lies the issue. Young companies tend to shoot out the gate and grow rapidly before slowing down as they mature. But as they age and growth slows, they begin to rely on the growth of the market to sustain themselves. If you factor out the growth of the market, most mature companies (over $10 million in yearly revenue) are not growing. They are just floating on the foam of overall market growth.

This is dangerous territory. If these companies cannot keep pace with the growth of the market, they are in danger of drowning. This is why innovation is so crucial for mature organisations. Entering new markets and solving new customer problems isn’t optional. It’s essential if you are to weather the storm, keep your head above water and keep up with market growth.

An Introduction to Collaborative Innovation Funding

“The budget is a tool of repression rather than innovation.”

Bob Lutz, Ex-CEO, Chrysler

Every business wants to be a competitive success. We want to build great teams, that can continually innovate to delight greater and greater numbers of loyal customers while reducing costs and increasing revenue. However, for most organisations, this is a dream, not a reality.

It’s not for want of trying though. Companies spend vast amounts of money, developing new strategies to encourage innovation, but only 6% of executives are satisfied with their innovation performance

This failure is not one of strategy, but of execution. The management model used by most organisations today is not up to the job. It was initially designed to enable central planning and control, but this is now stifling many organisations ability to innovate.

Collaborative funding is a way to change that. Decentralising control of some money allows those closest to the problems to make decisions about they invest collectively. Think Kickstarter style crowdfunding, for internal projects.

The decentralisation of financial decision making provides an opportunity to create a competitive advantage based on releasing the energy and initiative of capable and committed people who have the ideas needed to innovate.

How to Start Collaborative Funding

There are many ways to do collaborative funding, but here I’ll talk mainly about the participatory proposal process. Keep in mind, organisational culture will affect how this works in your company, so take time to think about your current culture and how this practice will integrate with it. With that said, let’s look at how to start the process.

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Discovery & Setup

Considering your reason for adopting collaborative funding and how to facilitate the process is essential to avoid issues further down the road. I think there are four key areas to consider:

Scope: Consider what the goal of the funding will be and make this explicit. People will need to understand this to put forward reasonable proposals and allocate money in the best way. The scope will also inform who should contribute money, how much they should contribute and how often. 

Governance Model: In your process, who will get voting power over which funds will influence how the funds will be allocated? You need to think about how the funds will be distributed amongst the group, and if you give different people, different amounts, what is this distribution based upon? There are generally three models used, which are explained here.

Process: Before you begin funding projects, you need a way to keep track of money, proposals and progress. Ensure everyone involved in the process understands how it will work and where they can see the funded projects. Transparency is key to success as it will take time to build trust in the process. I would recommend looking at tools like Cobudget to bring this transparency and make it easier to facilitate collaboration.

Onboarding: Do not underestimate the importance of a clear invitation to participate in the process. Money can be a sensitive issue for people, so make sure people feel safe and are not intimidated. Consider the behaviours you want to encourage and those you want to avoid and try to design an onboarding experience with those in mind. It’s also a good idea to document this onboarding process as you will need to onboard new team members in the future. There is an excellent example used by Perspectivity here.

Proposals & Funding

Now you’re setup, and people are on board all you need are proposals to fund. The quality of proposals will play a large part in the success or failure of the collaborative funding initiative, so don’t leave the process of proposal generation to individuals.

The best way to get high-quality proposals is through people working together in multiple iterations to refine an idea. There are a variety of tactics and methods you can use to generate direction for proposals. It’s also helpful to have proposals follow a similar structure to make it easy for people to read and compare them. A good proposal should include:

Why: What problem does the proposal aim to address?
What: How will you solve the problem?
Who: Who has the problem, and who will solve it?
Budget: How much will it cost?
Timeline: When will you deliver outcomes?

Once proposals are submitted, ensure you communicate them well to funders. Creating engagement with the proposal is as much part of the work as creating it in the first place.

Feedback Loops

Once you have proposals successfully funded the hard work starts. Funders and the wider organisation must receive feedback as the work takes place to build trust and provide visibility of how people are spending the money. A few ways you can give this feedback are:

  • Send regular email updates to funders.
  • Hold regular open showcase sessions.
  • Have a central progress sheet to track all funded proposals.

When reporting progress, ensure it is balanced and represents both the successes and the challenges, the more transparent you are, the stronger the culture around collaborative funding will be.

Collaborative funding is still a relatively new concept for many companies, but with the right governance, it can be beneficial, especially for funding innovation activities. Companies such as  Outlandish and Basecamp have enabled more significant innovation by reducing barriers to internal funding. I would be interested to hear from others who have done the same or have decided to adopt collaborative funding after reading this post. 

Anticipating a Breakthrough

That’s what we spend most of our time doing — anticipating the breakthrough speech that will change everything or making a new connection that will open the right door for us.

I used to spend a lot of time waiting for a breakthrough, but I realise now; breakthrough moments rarely happen.

Products, services and individuals succeed one person at a time. Growth can happen quickly, but even then, it’s still in small increments just condensed in time.

We should stop anticipating sudden breakthroughs, even though they’re appealing, and start planning for incremental growth. Our best chance of achieving our goals will be consistently taking one small step after another.