Everything will always have a mistake so if you accept human fallibility you don’t try to optimize for never making mistakes, you try to optimize for correcting the mistakes as quickly as possible.
Reward people, find faults with processes
Yesterday’s World Cup quarterfinal between Scotland and Australia was one of the most exciting matches of Rugby I’ve ever seen.
With less than 10 mins to go, Australia were ahead by 5 points and happily wasting time on the ball to kill off the game. The tartan squad, however, never gave up. Miraculously, with just over 5 mins to go, Bennett scored a try for Scotland, and suddenly the tables turned. Australia, one of the favourites for the tournament, were less than 5 mins from being knocked out by a team who’d lost all 5 of their matches in the 6 nations earlier in the year.
With stakes high, and end close, the game got rough and errors flowed from both sides. After a bit of toing and froing, the game ended up with a Scotland lineout with less than 2 mins to go. It was in the Scotland half, but they had advantage of throwing in the ball. All they needed to do was to pass the ball around safely, and then kick it out for a lineout in the Aussie half. But they bungled the lineout. Big time!
Somewhere in the confusing action after that sorry lineout, the referee awarded Australia a penalty for a foul that wasn’t. Australia converted the penalty in the last-minute of the match, knocking Scotland out by 1 point.
That crucial, deciding penalty was wrongly awarded. For such a critical decision, in such a confusing space, the referee should’ve1 gone to the TV referee (TMO) for confirmation. Yet, he made a decision in the moment, and ended up kicking Scotland out of the World Cup.
That’s all you’ll hear if you read the British Media, or any Rugby websites and forums:
Scotland cheated out of the World Cup because of a mis-awarded penalty
The referee, Craig Joubert, may be the most hated person in Scotland this week2.
Sadly, this popular outrage just hides the real cause:
Scotland lost because they bungled an easy, advantage play, while leading, with just 2 mins to go 3
Sport and business follow each other closely in many ways, and this event isn’t very different.
Just like in this game, when diagnosing problems in business, the first reasons pointed out are usually excuses, not causes. And just like in this game, these excuses are the most strongly backed reasons by the insiders, the people most closely involved – emotionally, financially, or in another way.
It takes experience, or sometimes an outsider, to look beyond the immediate excuses and issues, to disengage from emotion, and figure out the root causes. Even if we have neither the experience nor a trained outsider, there are frameworks that can help – my favourite being the immensely powerful, yet super simple 5 Whys 4.
These approaches work just as well whether you’re trying to figure out
- how Scotland managed to grab defeat from jaws of victory, or
- why flight delays go up in winter (no, it’s not the fog in Delhi or snow at Heathrow), or
- why product deliveries are always late despite design specs being submitted on time (it’s not always the manufacturer/engineers).
Apart from just the obvious problem with identifying and targeting wrong causes, there’s a bigger issue at stake here – company culture.
When actions are taken on just the first or second level excuses/issues, this leads to a culture of covering the obvious bugs. It sends out a message to the employees influencing their behaviour in ways that, over time, escalate into bigger issues – Silo-ing, CYA-first decision making, technical/bureaucratic debt, and faster employee turnover, amongst others.
On the other hand, a deeper root-cause search, though more time & energy consuming, helps develop a sounder culture – both in engineering & bureaucracy, as well in terms of trust and coordination across the organisation.
Unless we’re in the content production business where ignoring root causes in favour of the most popular causes makes more financial sense, it’s critically important to put into practice the habit of looking beyond the first excuses.
Just because a thing can be noticed, or compared, or fretted over doesn’t mean it’s important, or even relevant.
Accompaniment to another of Seth’s quotes:
If you measure it, it will improve
I strongly recommend everyone read the full post.
A big reason behind why I removed most of in-app analytics from my Chrome projects.
You’re better off trying something and having it not work and learning from that than not doing anything at all.
– Mark Zuckerberg
Records are set to be broken, medals are forever.
– Linford Christie
I placed my lunch order at Kokoro:
Small chicken katsu with rice, please.
The fella after me ordered:
Small chicken katsu curry rice.
There’s a small difference between his order and mine – it’s not just the ‘please’ or the ‘curry’.
He was speaking the lingo of a regular – each word of his order meant something specific – dish (Chicken katso), size (small), base (rice), and optionals (curry). Mine was close, but my server had to separately ask me if I wanted curry on top (yes).
His order statement wasn’t just about efficiency, it was also about signalling – that he was a loyal customer, one who spoke their lingo.
Next door to Kokoro is my favourite coffee shop in town, Harris + Hoole. They’re a chain, owned by Tesco, but with a very independent, neighbourhood coffee shop vibe. You place your coffee order any way you want1 and they happily make it for you. You can even walk over to the Baristas and chat about your coffee, any special mods, day’s weather, or anything else that suits your fancy.
Contrast this one of the most successful marketing & loyalty schemes ever – the institutionalised coffee ordering terminology at Starbucks. It communicates loyalty, gives the customer a feeling of being on the ‘in’, is flexible to let the customer tweak and be unique, all the while being extremely efficient at communicating the order to the Barista. By opening up their internal coffee lingo to the customers, Starbucks created a word-of-mouth marketing & loyalty program that money couldn’t buy.
And they insist on getting customers to learn it2 – by repeating your order in the correct manner when you don’t order it in the lingo. So that when you get it right after that 5th coffee, you’ll feel the quiet joy of accomplishment, of finally belonging to the clique. Welcome to Starbucks elite!
Does anyone know of companies / brands outside retail who have created marketing assets out of their insider lingo? Any startups who’ve created, or tried to create customer loyalty by creating a niche clique?
Shipping beats perfection.
– Salman Khan, probably.
How many white males does it take to lead and support a tech cluster?
Based on 2 recent power lists – as many as you can get in!
Both the lists are packed with white males, with little to no representation from many minority-gender groups. I’m not criticising the lists here, but taking them as a reflection of the state of our tech ecosystem. We have far to go…
Business Insider’s list of coolest 50 people in UK tech [Source]
- 39 of the 52(!) people on the list are white males.
- There are ZERO, by my quick calculation, black men or women on the list.
- There are just 8 women, in total.
- Only 2 non-white women, Eileen Burbidge and Bindi Karia, grace the list.
There are few people – male or female – more highly deserving of their spot on the list, but I’m surprised that there are *just* 2!
Fresh Business Thinking Power 100 [Source]
- 79, out of 100, people on the list are white males.
- Only 2 non-white women – Shalini Khemka and Bindi Karia – grace the list.
- 2 black males – Chuka Umunna and Samuel Kasumu – make the list this time. No black/origin females, sadly.
- Only 9 out of 100 people on the list are non-white.
Considering this list is more about thinkers and influencers – it has David Cameron at #1 – than about do-ers, the lack of diversity surprises me even more. I’m sure there are lots of non-white women and men leading, encouraging, and influencing fresh business thought in the UK tech and business communities.
I may be wrong. In which case, there simply need to be more. A lot more. In my humble opinion.