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 explain.talk 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 sweet.contact 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 results.contact 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 works.contact 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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Simple Is Hard Pic

Simple Is Hard: Design Secrets of Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs

According to many iconic leaders, simple is hard, but it’s also an incredible advantage. So if you make time to make things simple, your customers will thank you.

The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal once penned a letter to a friend in which, at the end, he wrote: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

This quote is quite famous and, like many well-known quotes, often gets attributed to other luminaries such as Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill. But what Pascal meant when he wrote those words was that he had simply scribbled down what he was thinking as he wrote rather than spend the time to plan and process his ideas before he picked up his quill and ink bottle.

Pascal of course couldn’t edit as easily as we can with the help of our word processing software, so he meandered and digressed as he scratched the words into his piece of parchment, which resulted in a longer and denser letter than he might have liked to have sent.

But this exact same thing happens all the time when it comes to designing our business processes and systems. When we don’t do the necessary work up front to create a design that is simple and elegant, we end up building products and services that are complex and cluttered. Put another way: Simple is hard.

Simple is hard.

This is actually something that great business leaders understand quite well. Think about how Jeff Bezos helped design the way Amazon.com works–especially if you are an Amazon Prime member. Every time you return to purchase something, everything –your address book, credit card information, shipping preferences–is all ready to go with literally one click of a button. It’s incredibly simple to use and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when Amazon introduced one-click shopping, the company’s revenues skyrocketed.

But what might go unappreciated is how much work Bezos and his team put into making that design so simple. They very likely invested thousands of hours in user testing to streamline the process that we now benefit from. Again, simple is hard.

Consider also any Apple product you’ve ever handled. Not only are they gorgeous to look at, they’re incredibly intuitive to use, so much so that Apple famously doesn’t even ship user manuals. Apple products are so simple to use, even children can literally pick them up and operate them.

But if you know anything about Steve Jobs, you know that he was fanatical about design and he spent countless hours obsessing over even the most minute design detail as a way to simplify it and make it easy to use. Repeat after me: Simple is hard.

Simple is a competitive advantage.

Now think about the processes and systems in your business. How much time are you spending up front to make them simple and intuitive for your customers to use? Have you fallen into the trap of relying on a user manual as thick as your forearm while making the assumption that your customers will just figure it out?

It’s worth thinking about, especially if your competitors are offering an easier-to-use alternative. If you had to reenter all of your billing and shipping information every time you placed an online order, versus just clicking a button, where would you spend your money?

Or what kind of device would you rather buy: one that you can pick up and start using right out of the box, or one that makes you fall asleep trying to pick your way through a user manual? Customers like simple. And simple wins in the marketplace.

Simple is hard, but it’s also an incredible competitive advantage. So make the time up front to think hard and write a shorter letter; your customers will thank you.

75 % of the information is all you need to make a decision

75 Percent of the Information Is All You Need to Make a Decision

You need information to take the risk out of decisions, but getting too much information has a real cost. Most normal business decisions can be made with 75 percent of the available information, focused on the right issues.

I have written before about people who have high information needs. You might call them “infomaniacs.” These are folks, or even organizational cultures, that prioritize making decisions using data, metrics, and plenty of analysis.

And don’t get me wrong, that’s often a good thing in the right situation. What you don’t want to do, however, is take that need for information to an extreme. That’s especially true when it comes to making normal business decisions.

You always want to have enough information to make the best possible decision you can. But how much is enough? And, just as importantly, how much is too much?

If you have 50 percent of the information you need, for instance, that’s probably not enough to make a sound decision. You’ll be guessing, which can make your decision quite risky. If it’s a choice that doesn’t have much impact, like where to have lunch, then 50 percent of the data is plenty.

But waiting until you have 99 percent of the information is also risky–and expensive in many ways. Accumulating that depth and breadth of data before you make your decision often:

A.) Costs a lot of money to acquire, and

B.) Takes a lot of time to gather.

Some people call this “analysis paralysis”

These are significant drawbacks, especially if you’re trying to run an agile organization that moves nimbly to stay ahead of the competition. The longer you wait to make a decision, the riskier it becomes, since you may be missing opportunities–allowing your competition to catch up or even pass you.

That’s why I’ve found that the solution is usually to make the decision when you have 75 percent of what you need to pull the trigger.

As an example, let’s consider that a potential customer is asking you to extend them a significant line of credit as part of signing on with your company. They are asking for enough money that it is significantly risky for your organization if the deal goes sour. So how much information do you need to make your decision?

To get 75 percent of what you need, you might need to establish that they are a reputable company with a solid history of being in business. You might also ask for a snapshot of their financials to help make sure they are solvent.

To get to 100 percent of the information, you might need to ask for their tax returns over the past two years and their profit and loss statements (P&Ls), while also setting up interviews with their CFO and their auditor and so on. If you do all that, you’ll have everything you need to know about this company and will make a clear and fully informed decision. But you will probably miss your chance to turn them into a customer.

Why? Because by pushing for 100 percent of the information, you may have opened up a window for one of your competitors to offer this company what they want without the hassle of providing all the information that you’re asking for.

Your company could also earn the dreaded label of “hard to do business with,” which can be difficult to overcome in a fast-moving market.

The point is that you have to balance the risk level and potential payoff of whatever decision you’re pondering with your need for enough information to make that decision. Is this something above or below the waterline, in that it could truly put your company in jeopardy? If you’re building a new oil refinery, for example, that might warrant taking the extra time and money to make sure you get everything you need to know.

The book Blink reveals that great decision makers aren’t those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of “thin-slicing”–filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.

But for most business decisions, I’ve found that 75 percent of the data, focused on the right issues, is, as Goldilocks might say, just about right.