Treat Your Business Partnership Like a Marriage

Business partnerships fail frequently. But we can learn from how people in good marriages manage their relationships to improve the odds.

Starting a business is no small endeavor, especially if you’re doing it alone. That’s which why many entrepreneurs choose to partner up. Having a partner helps make starting a business seem less risky because it gives you two or more brains instead of one as you go along your journey. The same goes for joint ventures and other forms of business partnerships. And there have been some fantastic business partner success stories over the years like Pitney & Bowes, Hewlett & Packard and even Ben & Jerry. blue-contact-us


But along with the successes come plenty of partnership horror stories. In fact, there are many parallels between going into business with someone and getting married. Even the statistics aren’t even as good as the success rate of marriage, where just about half of all of the relationships fail over time.

What that means is that when it comes to forging a business partnership, there are some lessons you can apply from the world of marriage to help improve your chances for success. Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Be Thoughtful About Who You Partner With.

Have you ever met anyone who got married after just meeting someone? That kind of thing only happens in the movies. Why? Because we all want to spend time dating someone and getting to know them before we get engaged to them. You should have the same attitude when it comes to choosing a business partner. Don’t jump into anything too quickly. Take your time to vet the other person and make sure you have the kind of chemistry that will last through the good times – and especially the bad ones – before you make the commitment in time and treasure to start a business together.

  1. Plan For The Break-up.

Nobody likes to think their relationship will fail, but the statistics are sobering: more than half of all partnerships, end in divorce. That means that right from the start, when you and your business partner are crafting a partnership agreement, you need to be planning on how you will end your relationship on good terms. Think of it like a pre-nuptial agreement for your business. That means detailing out how you will value the business when one partner wants out and how the buy-out will be structured.

If you don’t have this agreement in place and you hit an impasse in your relationship, you will find that things will get ugly – and fast. That’s because the incentives are all wrong. The partner who wants to leave the business wants to keep as much as he can while the partner who is staying wants to pay out only enough that it won’t impact the business. If you don’t have a way to structure that deal until emotions are high, you not only risk further damaging your relationship, you might also put the entire health of the business at risk as well.

I know of one example where two partners in a management-consulting firm went through a buy-out where they didn’t have an agreement in place when they started the business. The end result was that the partner who stayed with the business was forced to pay a premium to buy out his partner – which left his business with a massive debt burden for the next six years. That could have been avoided with better planning at the start.

While it might seem strange to plan for your partnership breakup from day one, you’ll be happy you did it later on.

  1. Work At It.

People’s objectives and goals in life change over time. That’s as true in marriage as it is in business. That means it’s inevitable that at some point, your partner’s goals will begin to differ from yours. The key to overcoming those changes if you don’t want to end your partnership is to constantly work on your communication and on setting clear expectations for each other.

I met the principals at a financial services firm where the two partners faced this very dynamic. One partner was solely focused on growing the firm while the other partner was comfortable with the level of wealth they had already achieved. While one partner was playing to win, the other was playing not to lose. It took extended discussions and concessions to find a way to move forward that keep them both happy.

They key is that they discuss those differences and learn to compromise on solutions that work equally well for both of them moving forward – or they could face the prospect of a partnership divorce.

  1. If All Else Fails, Get A Counselor.

If you and a partner reach a point where your interests and objectives are diverging fast, it can become very challenging to work out those differences by yourselves. That’s when it can really make sense to bring in someone to help facilitate your conversations similar to how a marriage counselor might work. In the case of a business partnership, you could turn to a mentor, a board member, or even a third party facilitator who could sit down and listen to the issues objectively. While those discussions might result in a decision to break up the partnership, a counselor could help you reach that point much more amicably and with less emotion than you could on your own.

The key point is that if you’re thinking about starting a business with a partner, head into that relationship with your eyes open because while you might be mitigating risk on one end, you’re also increasing it on another.


Apple’s Boring Mission Statement and What We Can Learn From It

Thousands of hours have been wasted talking about mission statements that are, quite frankly, boring. The best mission statements, are both inspirational and to the point.

Mission statements are critically important to your organization because they drive alignment in your organization toward the vision of what you want to get done. That’s why it should be the inspiration that your organization rallies around. Unfortunately, many thousands of hours have been wasted talking about mission statements that are, quite frankly, BORING! talk to us

The best mission statements, on the other hand, are both inspirational and to the point.

Consider the example of Apple. When Steve Jobs started the now iconic company, his mission statement was: “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.” Wow; that’s something I would get out of bed in the morning for.

But as much as Apple has contributed to the advance of technology, the company has come under increasing criticism that it has lost its way since Jobs passed away in 2011.

One of the changes the company has made in the years since is to change that original mission statement, which now reads like this: “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.”


Which mission statement do you prefer? While the newer version is very specific about what the company does, it certainly fails to meet the criteria I suggested earlier: it’s not inspiring and it’s certainly not brief and to the point.

Now compare Apple’s latest mission statement with some other major companies. For many years, Pepsi’s mission statement was: “Beat Coke.” That’s certainly simple and while it doesn’t get into the tactics of how they will fulfill that mission, it gives everyone in the organization a clear vision of what they need to accomplish.

Another great example comes from Medtronic, the medical device manufacturer, whose mission statement is: “To extend human life.” That’s an exciting mission and certainly something that is inspirational for anyone who works inside the business producing products like pacemakers and defibrillators.

But you don’t have to be a major corporation to have a great mission statement. I worked with a business that competed in the exciting field of humidity measurement. It’s not a big market, maybe $500 million in total, but this company established its mission as: “Global domination of the humidity measurement industry.” Not only is that clear and inspirational, it gives everyone plenty of scope for the business to aim at over the next several years.

What happens in situations like what we see with Apple is that you are trying to please everyone. You worry about offending someone, or leaving someone out. But by trying to be inclusive and non-offensive, you lose that focus and inspirational tone you need for your mission statement to be meaningful. That then leads you down the path of a favorite quote of mine from the movie RoboCop where executive Dick Jones says, “Good business is where you find it.” It basically means, “We will do anything for anybody, if we can make money”. That’s not too inspirational.

In other words, you chase every opportunity you can–which can be the worst thing for your organization to do. As I have written about before, your organization is actually defined by what you say no to.

Worse than trying to please everyone are mission statements designed by committees. Mission statements are also like strategy in that they are best done in smaller groups–preferably one using the seven plus or minus two rule. When you give the job of crafting your mission statement to a committee, you end up with boring, multi-syllabic paragraphs that say a lot about nothing, much like the one from Apple.

So take another look your company’s mission statement. If you start yawning when you read it, it’s time to make a change by making it shorter, tighter and more inspirational. Grab a small team – be bold, say no to lots of things and inspire your team!

1 Best Question

The 1 Best Question to Use in an Interview

There is a single question that you can use to assess whether candidates understand the job and if they are A or C players.

The secret to hiring your next great employee might come down to how someone answers a single question. And you won’t be asking what kind of tree the person would be or about her Myers-Briggs profile. It all comes down to measuring performance. Let me to us

The authors of the book Who suggest you can immediately begin to distinguish A players from B and C players, beginning with your initial phone screen. You do so by telling a candidate exactly how you will be measuring his or her performance in the job you’re hiring for.

How candidates react will tell you plenty about them. C players, for example, probably won’t be able to hang up the phone fast enough, since they don’t want any part of being measured. A players, on the other hand, will take your bait and get excited for the chance to excel. They might even up the ante by asking you what’s in it for them if they really crush it and exceed your expectations.

It turns out there’s an even better question you can ask candidates to help assess if they are true A players once you have them in for an interview. I learned about this magic question from Joel Trammell, the CEO of software company Khorus, who I wrote about in my book Great CEOs Are Lazy.

Joel believes that CEOs can’t delegate hiring decisions to someone else like HR. He perfected his hiring method by interviewing every single one of the hundreds of employees in his company.

Doing those interviews, Joel found that there was a single question that helped him assess whether a candidate understood the job being applied for and what he or she needed to do to excel in it.

“If I was to hire you, how would I know if you were doing a good job?”

This is a great question because it forces the candidate to put herself into the job and be thoughtful about how she might be measured by you, her boss. The answer you get will tell you a lot about the candidate’s maturity and comfort level with having her performance measured.

If you ask a C player this question, for instance, you might get some stammering followed by some noncritical metrics such as he will show up for work on time and not take extended lunch hours.

A players, on the other hand, will give you exactly what you’re looking for. Let’s say you are hiring a software engineer. When you ask an A player the magic question, he might respond by saying you will know whether he is doing a good job by using three metrics: the total volume of software code he produces on a weekly or monthly basis; the quality of the code based on a limited number of bugs; and his on-time delivery rate in which he hits the targets he said he would.

This would be a great answer because each of the metrics is measurable and quantifiable. You know if you had a group of engineers who were all willing to be measured on those metrics, you’d have a high-performing team.

Similarly, if you were hiring a salesperson, you might want to hear her answer the magic question by saying that you could tell she was doing a good job if she was exceeding her quota and selling profitable business, and her customer satisfaction rating was off the charts.

A key point here is that while you might know what you want to hear from a candidate, leave some wiggle room to be surprised and to learn something new about the position from an A player–someone who might think of a metric you’ve never considered.

The beauty of asking the magic question is also that, after the candidate gives you his answer, you pause for a second and say: “Let me write these down because, if I hire you, this is exactly how I will measure you after you start your new job.”

In other words, you can use the answer to the magic question as a great onboarding tool in which you have eliminated any chance that your new hire will be surprised about what is expected of him after he starts his new job.

How magical is that?

Strategy Short and Sweet

Want to Win? Keep Your Strategy Short and Sweet

When it comes to communicating about your strategy with your organization, and ensuring you don’t out think it, the phrase to remember is: keep it short and is we help you grow

Everyone who runs a successful business believes that they have the best people working for them. And that’s no accident since we invest so much time and effort in screening and interviewing people to ensure they are smart, capable, and a culture-fit all in one.

But the truth is that no matter how hard you work on attracting and hiring the best of the best, the collective intelligence of your organization is still just about average, especially if you have a larger operation. Maybe your organization is the exception and you are really, really good at hiring–but that only means the total team might be 5% to 10% smarter than everyone else. It all comes back to averages. It’s just a mathematical reality.

At the same time, one of the aspects that set great leaders apart from the pack is that they tend to have special skills–particularly the ability to see over the next hill and make connections and correlations that the rest of us can’t. Much of that ability comes from experience, knowledge, and the ability to do complex thinking. These are the people who can see into the future, if you will, since they are the ones who are great at mapping out the kinds of strategies that put companies on the fast track. They can anticipate how doing A plus B, contingent on C, equals Z.

Guess what happens, though, when great leaders like this try to explain their complex strategies to the average worker? They get looked at quite literally as if they were from another planet. Sure, most people might understand A and B, but how the heck did you get all the way to Z?

To put that another way, great leaders need to learn to not out think their organizations.

What this means at a practical level is that when it comes time for you as a leader to explain your company’s strategy, you need to pare it down. Yes, you can talk turkey with your senior leadership team. But when it comes to company-wide communication, make things short and sweet enough to give your team the information they need to act without overwhelming them. Boil it down to a maximum of three elements since that’s the maximum amount of information most of us can process. Not seven, not five–three is the magic number. Then take those elements and repeat, repeat, repeat as a way to drive them throughout your organization.

Consider the classic example of legendary CEO Jack Welch’s reign at GE. At the time, GE was a massively complex organization worth more than $100 billion with its fingers in all kinds of industries like light bulbs, locomotives, jet engines and finance. You can imagine the kind of complexity that went into managing the strategy for that kind of multi-pronged business.

But if you worked at GE at that time and heard Welch speak, he would have focused over and over again on just three things: globalize the business, drive service and recurring revenues, and improve quality throughout the company by embracing the discipline of six sigma.

Of course, Welch could peel the onion or dive deep whenever he needed to. But it was by repeating those three basic elements that he knew he could get everyone in his organization, no matter how average they were, aligned without fearing of talking over their heads.

I actually had a similar experience with a boss, Paul Snyder, earlier in my career. Paul was the CEO of High Voltage Engineering and, while we weren’t on the scale of GE, we were a multi-faceted and growing business with thousands of employees. But I remember even to this day the three things Paul repeated over and over again about our strategy: make the numbers, grow the business and invest in the people. Guess what we talked about every time we got together?

Boom: easy enough for anyone to remember, including me–for many years! That’s the real value in not out thinking your organization. So when it comes to communicating with your strategy with your organization, and ensuring you don’t out think it, the phrase to remember is: keep it short and sweet.

secret ratio

The Secret Ratio Great Leaders Use to Evaluate Talent

Great leaders focus in on what we can call the “Talk/Do” ratio. Put simply, they measure how much their employees talk and communicate compared to how much work they actually get done.

How do you go about evaluating the talent in your organization? There are obviously many different performance metrics you can look at. But sometimes an employee’s verbal skill and presence can cause you to overlook their real impact. talk to us

That’s why when it comes to evaluating the

talent in their organizations, great leaders focus in on what we can call the “talk/do” ratio. Put simply, they measure how much their employees talk and communicate compared to how much work they actually get done.


When you go through the process of categorizing your team in this way, you’ll find that most of your people will fall into one of three buckets. Not unlike how Goldilocks evaluated her porridge options, you’ll see that you’ll have some that are “Too Hot,” others who will be “Too Cold,” while the best will be “Just Right.” The real value of using this metric is to then use it as a coaching opportunity to get as many of your team into the “Just Right” bucket as possible. Let me explain what I mean.

“Too Hot” or Talk/Do Ratio Too High

We all know the people who talk all day long–and yet get very little done. Their verbal skills are usually impressive and it is hard to penetrate what is really happening without real effort. These are your “Too Hot” people; the ones who blow too much smoke. There is an old English phrase that applies here that goes: “At the end of the day, when all is said and done, more is said than done.” It applies to this group.

They are also the folks who can have a negative ripple impact on the rest of the organization because they eat up other people’s time in meetings and impromptu chitchat. As a result, everyone gets less done. These are people I also define as amplifiers. The coaching opportunity here, obviously, is to let these folks know that they quite simply need to spend less time talking–and more time getting things done. Try not to lose focus on their accomplishments due to their verbal skills.

“Too Cold” or Talk/Do Ratio Too Low

What leader doesn’t love the employee who keeps their mouth closed and their head down so that they get enormous amounts of work done? Sounds like a dream, right? While it’s great to have such productive people, it can actually be a detriment to the rest of the organization if they aren’t talking enough about what they’re doing–and when they’re going to do it by–to get everyone on the same page. We see this a lot with highly technical and introspective talent, like programmers, who would prefer to be left to themselves to work. The coaching opportunity here is to help these folks understand how engaging with others in the organization can make their work even more effective and engage the team.

“Just Right” or Talk/Do Ratio Correct

Finally, you have the people who have learned to strike the perfect balance between talking and doing–your “Just Right” bucket–their Talk/Do ratio is right on point. These are the folks who communicate without sucking people into too many conversations or meetings while also producing the right amount of output. The more people like this you have on your team, you’ll be amazed at how the level of cohesion and productivity begins to skyrocket. The only coaching lesson they need is to be encouraged to keep up the good work.

Realize that each organization has their own ratio and the right ratio for a high performer within that organization needs to match the business. Some require high communication to be successful and others expect people to put their heads down and work. When you are thinking about the Talk/Do ratio – you need to include the context of the culture.

So when it comes to evaluating the talent in your organization, consider using the Talk/Do Ratio to ask whether someone is Too Hot, Too Cold, or Just Right. Your organization will profit as a result.

If you want to learn more about other characteristics other great leaders share, check out my new book, Great CEOs Are Lazy, which is available for sale on Amazon now.


The Error of Uniform Time Allocation

Book cover for linked in

This article is excerpted from the book Great CEOs Are Lazy (Inc. Original Imprint, 2016)

A lot of the mediocre and hardworking CEOs we have run into over the years are exceptionally good at what we call “peanut buttering.” When it comes to allocating their time to the various tasks and stakeholders in their businesses—their boards, their supply chains, their investors, their communities, etc.—these CEOs do their best to spread their time as evenly as possible across all of them. The concern, of course, is to make sure everyone feels like they’re getting the CEO’s attention. In this effort, the CEO will work very hard, sometimes as much as eighty or more hours a week. The bad news is that this is the surest way possible to dilute the CEO’s impact on any one issue. Unfortunately, this concept of tending to every stakeholder is taught at many major business schools, which only perpetuates the error. This is done, in part, because CEOs aren’t certain what actions will drive the business forward; consequently, they work on all fronts, hoping one will yield us now

Lazy CEOs, on the other hand, play favorites with their time. Rather than allocating a uniform amount of time to everyone and everything, they give usually between 30 and 50 percent of their time specifically to the task of removing the constraint(s) in the business. Remember this: It’s only the work done at the point of the kink in the hose—the constraint—that will truly make a difference in your business. Whatever time is left gets distributed to the other stakeholders—some of whom may get zero CEO attention then, or perhaps forever. In an ideal world, smart CEOs would build a strong organization of individuals who would handle all of the work that is not at the point of constraint. That way, the only work our Lazy CEO would do would be to remove each constraint as it arose.

netflix brilliant jerks

Why Netflix Doesn’t Tolerate Brilliant Jerks

What do you do when someone who is unquestionably brilliant is also a jerk?

We all work with someone who is unquestionably brilliant. You know the type: the person who consistently comes up with great insights and ideas and who can cut to the quick far faster than anyone else in the organization. It’s hard not to step back and admire how the person’s brain us now

At the same time, such people can begin to think their gifts place them above everyone else in the organization. They tend to hog all the airtime at meetings by intimidating and maybe even ridiculing those who might have the audacity to offer their own take on a situation–thus suppressing collaboration and participation throughout the rest of the organization. They also follow their own rules and are evenabusive to the rest of the staff. They aren’t nice people to be around. In other words, these people are jerks–which creates real issues within your organization.

But since they are brilliant, what should you, as the leader of the organization, do about it?

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has been very clear about what his organization does with its brilliant jerks: It gets rid of them. As he has said in the past about them: “Some companies tolerate them. For us, the cost to effective teamwork is too high.”

What Hastings came to realize is that regardless of how smart or even how productive such employees might be, they can actually begin to rip an organization apart from the inside if they don’t buy into the organization’s values and embrace working collaboratively.

In my upcoming book, Great CEOs Are Lazy, I call these folks “cultural terrorists” because of how destructive they can be to an organization. Certainly, your first option should potentially be to use coaching as a way to polish a brilliant jerk’s prickly edges. Obviously, you can’t make anyone a nicer person, but perhaps you can make the person aware of how damaging her behavior is to peers and see if she is willing to make changes accordingly.

If these folks are unable to change their behavior, however, then they leave you no choice but to exit them from the organization. By doing so, you’re making a powerful statement to the rest of your team about how important your culture is–what is tolerated and what is not. The longer you let them remain, the more damage they cause inside your culture and to your own reputation as a leader. People will lose trust in your abilities, which can undermine all the hard work you’ve done to build a strong team in the first place.

When you exit a cultural terrorist, it should be known within the organization that the person is no longer with you because of her behavior, not due to her performance on the job. This will set a tone about the kind of culture you want to build and the kinds of behaviors you’ll accept–and the kinds you won’t.

There are organizations where brilliant jerks are welcomed and where they thrive. For example, I know of several prominent consulting firms where individual contributions are valued more than teamwork. And that’s OK if that’s the kind of organization you’re trying to build.

But if you’re like Netflix and believe there is greater collaborative power through teamwork, then you need to act now when it comes to dealing with your brilliant jerks. You can’t afford to wait until after the damage has been done.


mission drift

How to Avoid Mission Drift and Stay True To Your Purpose

Mission drift is an irresistible force. You need to build in measures to help you avoid suffering from this crisis of identity. If you don’t, you might end up running a company that is very different than the one you intended to build. contact is we help you grow

As every company gets older and matures, especially around its tenth anniversary and after, it can be become difficult to remember the reasons why it was founded in the first place. When you look to those organizations that have been around 30 to 50 years and older, it can be really hard to believe you’re talking about the same place.

For example, did you know that Harvard University’s founding purpose was to “prepare ministers of upright character”?

It would be tough to argue that Harvard still operates by that same purpose today even though it’s in the exact same place it was founded back in 1636. So what happened?

In short, mission drift.

This is something that threatens every organization out there and, unless you put some safeguards and preventative measures in place, you could find yourself running an organization you don’t even recognize anymore.

What makes this challenging is that mission drift isn’t something that happens all at once. Think of it more as being nibbled to death by ducks. It happens one little decision at a time, where you go astray by just a bit. Maybe it’s a decision about chasing revenue from a customer that doesn’t really fit with your mission. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at the time. But, when you add that decision up with all the others like it, you can’t believe how you got where you ended up.

Take another example, this time from the retail sector. Entrepreneur Dov Charney founded his company American Apparel back in 1997 because he was tired of seeing American manufacturing shop being shipped overseas. He started his company to create jobs by starting making clothes in the U.S. again.

But over time, the business experienced mission drift. Eventually, rather than focusing on creating American jobs, the company became known for its sexually charged ads. For his part, Charney became known as the Hugh Hefner of retail as the business continued to shift away from its original mission. More recently, the company declared bankruptcy, which should serve as a sobering reminder of what can happen when you lose touch with the values you began your business with.

So how do you avoid mission drift and keep your organization on the right path? Here are a few tips:

Your Board Tip one is to enlist a board that is fully in line with the organization’s mission. Make sure they buy into your purpose and then charge then helping make sure they say something if they think a decision is out of alignment with your values.

Your Executive Team The second tip is to hire executives and leaders who also buy into the mission, purpose and values of the organization. Then exit the people who don’t–regardless of how great a performer they are. While that might be a painful decision to make to your bottom line in the near term, it will pay off big time over the long run.

Embed Mission into Your Culture You can also use stories and symbols as ways to embed your mission and purpose into your organization DNA in such a way that everyone in the organization can make their own course corrections on a daily basis.

Similarly, everyone in the company should use the mission and purpose of the company as their North Star of sorts as they make their decisions. Everyone needs to be encouraged to act on the notion that if something requires him or her to act against those values, they quite simply shouldn’t do it.

Measure the Mission And finally, constantly measure how true you are acting when it comes to your mission. You need only look to the great retailer Nordstrom for inspiration in how to do this. Every day, Nordstrom posts a list of the top ten salespeople in the company: everyone knows who the rainmakers are. But just as importantly, the company also publishes the letters from customers who are saluting those employees who stood out in supporting the company’s mission, which is is to “provide outstanding service every day, one customer at a time.” Seeing those letters every day is a way to measure how well Nordstrom is tracking to its mission.

One day, for instance, the company posted the letter from a customer who couldn’t believe how, after she called a store to see if they had found a diamond that gotten loose from the customer’s engagement ring, the staff at the store scoured every inch of floor looking for it. More incredibly, they also went through every dirty vacuum bag until they found it. How’s that for supporting your mission?

The key again is that as your company gets going, you need to build in measures like these to help you avoid suffering mission drift. If you don’t, you might end up running a company that is very different than the one you intended to build.



one trial learner Jan

One Trial Learner Failure Isn’t an Option

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Great CEOs accept that in order to innovate, then failure isn’t an option – it’s required and part of a healthy learning process. However, they make sure they are a “One Trial Learner.”

If you hang out with CEOs all the time like I do, you hear a lot of talk about some are worried about making mistakes. I’ve found that some CEOs spend a lot of time trying to avoid making them–then find themselves stuck in a loop of over-analysis.

Great CEOs, on the other hand, think very differently about mistakes. They have accepted that if they want to innovate by doing things better and more profitably, they will inevitably stumble at some point. They also make sure that they are a “One Trial Learner.”

What I mean by this is that great CEOs try a lot of different things–many of which don’t pan out. They make mistakes. But the goal is to use those errors as learning experiences that will help you avoid making those same mistakes again in the future. They are also careful to make sure that those mistakes are not below the water line–ones that can sink the business.

I remember one CEO sharing a great piece of insight with me when he said: “I will make a lot of mistakes, but my goal is to make none more than once.”

This is not only a great mantra for personal productivity, but also for organizational productivity. To be an innovative organization, you need to embrace the concept of being a One Trial Learner which means you as an organization need to be trying lots of things and making lots of mistakes along the way. The trick is to learn from the mistake and not make it again.

If you want to innovate, you need to be willing to make mistakes–only you shouldn’t be making the same one twice. It’s all about taking what you learned from the experience of making the mistake and integrating that into advancing your organizational thinking. This turns rapid failure into rapid learning.

Don’t Touch the Stove!

It’s like back when you were a kid and your mom told you not to touch the stove whenever it was on. But you did it anyway, right? But most likely, you did it only once because you learned from that mistake with a burnt finger. That’s what being a One Trial Learner is all about.

New Coke Died Quickly

The beverage giant Coca-Cola certainly acted like a One Trial Learner in the wake of its disastrous introduction of New Coke back in 1985. But with some hindsight we can understand why they made the decision to launch the new product, and ditch the “classic” version they had built the company around, because taste tests showed that consumers wanted a sweeter flavor comparable to what Coke’s rival, Pepsi, was offering.

Coke was trying to innovate and reinvent itself–which is actually a commendable strategy that too many firms don’t have the courage to undertake. Yet in this case, New Coke ended up becoming a gigantic mistake because the folks at Coke underestimated the brand loyalty they have developed among their customers for that original flavor. When they ditched that in favor of the new recipe, it quickly became a nightmare of epic proportions for the company.

But Coke quickly rebounded by bringing back the original recipe in less than three months, then called Coke Classic, and also ditched New Coke a few years later. While every business school professor out there uses this story as a lesson of what a company shouldn’t do, Coke did learn from its mistake because it has never messed with its flagship recipe ever again. They proved to be a One Trial Learner.

Ryanair Listens and Learns

Another example of a One Trial Learner in action involved the budget European airline Ryanair. The company’s business plan is all about offering a bare bones option: to keep their fares as low as possible, customers basically have to pay for just about everything, including food, beverages, and their baggage. But the airline apparently went one step too far when it talked about introducing a plan that would require customers to actually pay to use the lavatory on the plane. While it made sense on paper–that certainly would have become another profitable revenue line on each flight–it was simply too much for its customers: they basically revolted at the very notion of paying to go to the bathroom.

To their credit, Ryanair listened to their customers and ditched the pay-to-pee idea and began looking for other ways to both shave costs and make money. And they did it quickly.

Learning Culture

The final point is to build a culture that embraces smart failure and quick learning. You cannot shoot the person that dares. Rather–they should be celebrated and the organization should seek to learn from the risk they took, and create something better. The only thing people should be castigated is taking stupid risks or worse, making the same exact mistake multiple times.

The point is that if you want to build an innovative organization capable of cutting-edge breakthroughs, you need to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them – that’s what being a One Trial Learner is all about.


Warren B

Warren Buffet’s Secrets to Stop Worrying

Warren Buffett, who has billions of reasons to be worried, uses these six steps to free himself from worry and you can too.

We all know Warren Buffett is one of the most successful investors of all time. He has literally made billions of dollars through the savvy investments he’s made over the years through his firm Berkshire Hathaway. But with all that money at risk, it makes you wonder how Mr. Buffett could ever get any sleep: most of us would be worried sick.

Think about it. Mr. Buffett, for instance, has placed massive bets on the railroad industry. But what happens if a trail carrying some toxic waste derails? What will happen to his railroad stock? Similarly, what would happen to the significant investments he’s made in banks and financial services companies if another recession were to strike? It’s enough to drive you bonkers.

And yet, Mr. Buffett is as cool as a cucumber. Despite all that money on the line, he simply isn’t consumed about worrying about it. But why?

The answer is that he’s adopted the secrets of Dale Carnegie’s sometimes-overlooked gem of a book called “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living“. While Mr. Carnegie is probably better known for his other books about public speaking and gaining influence, Mr. Buffett has learned to adopt several of Mr. Carnegie’s tips for living a worry-free life.

  1. Isolate the Problem – The first key in preventing worries from overtaking your life is to create “day-tight” departments around the different areas in your life. Just like you can seal off a damaged or leaky section in a ship to prevent it from sinking, you need to isolate the different parts of your life–your business, your relationships, or your finances–so that they don’t spill into each other. Even if you’ve had a hard day at work, for example, you need to find a way to be the best dad you can be once you get home.
  2. Understand the Problem  – If something has gone awry with some aspect in your life, don’t overreact to it before you get all the facts. It’s easy to fear the unknown, so make time to understand what’s caused the issue. The better you understand something, the less you’ll worry about it.
  3. Prepare to Accept the Worst – After you know what kind of issue you’re facing, figure out what the worst possible outcome could be resulting from it. Then make peace with it. If you can accept the worst-case scenario, then you’ve simply eliminated any reason to continue worrying about it.
  4. Make a Decision – Once you’ve accepted what the worst possible outcome of a situation could be, then you can actually start thinking about how you actually might create a better outcome. Weigh the facts you have available and make a decision about how you might do that. And rather than get stuck in some kind of worry-vortex, where you become paralyzed because you feel like you don’t have enough information, make a decision once you feel like you’ve got 75% of what you need.
  5. Act – There’s an old saw that involves five frogs sitting on a log. One frog decides to jump off. So how many frogs are left on the log? The answer is five–because deciding and acting are very different things. After you’ve made a decision on what you could do to potentially improve the situation, act on it because taking action will immediately reduce your level of worry.
  6. Let It Go – After you’ve done everything you can to deal with a worst-case scenario, then it’s time to simply accept what’s happened. There’s no use worrying about it once you can’t do anything about it. Make peace with the issue and move on to the next one.

If Warren Buffett, who has billions of reasons to be worried, can use these six steps to free himself from worry, you can too.

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