Go back where you came from

The best times in my career, the times when I have done my best work, have all been work done in one kind of way.

The worst times in my career, when I’ve struggled and stressed, have all been another kind.

I get into my flow when I’m forced to apply a punk methodology to my day to day: ‘oh, I can’t do it this way? Well, now I’m definitely going to do it this way!’

That’s where I started and when I get off course, it usually shows negatively in my work and my outlook on my career.

Other people thrive in other conditions.

Go back where you came from!


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The road to poor growth is filled with good intentions

Recently, on a community I’m part of, I saw a request for a logo to be designed. The guy asking has just started to see a little traction with the product he’s building and his partners felt it was time to update their brand.

They set a very small budget (understandably) and asked for people to pitch for the work.

Although totally admirable – visuals do matter to a certain extent – this is the wrong approach to growing something because it focuses on the wrong thing.

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Running businesses has taught me that being the underdog is a privileged position.  You can do things that established brands can’t do. With a bigger reputation, there’s a greater chance of losing face.

With barely any reputation, you can do whatever you like and you can do it on a shoestring.

But that doesn’t mean you should do anything you like.

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There are two things that work for media and SaaS businesses that want to see genuine growth:

  1. Sell more product
  2. Give the product to more people in order to facilitate your alternative business model

Everything else is vanity.

Here’s some of the things that I have done when I should have been doing 1 and 2:

  • Tried to explore additional business models too early
  • Built unfocused communities to underpin slow sales
  • Gone long distances to demo to unqualified leads
  • Rebranded
  • Created a lot of unfocused content
  • Rebranded again
  • Put in place good governance systems *
  • Tried to build a twitter following
  • Looked for costs to cut to extend runway
  • Trialed alternative software for internal use

All of those actions are well intentioned but the timing is misguided. Focus on the basics of running a business – sales or increased usage are really the only things that will grow your business. 

* This is always a useful thing to do but there’s a season to do it in. That season is once your traction is significant enough to require it.


Photo by David Kristofer on Unsplash

This is your permission to be a work in progress

You are standing in front of a person and you are answering a question that you don’t really have a solid answer to. And you realise this. And you are still answering their question. 

You do not know what you are talking about. 

Worse. 

You do not understand who you are and where you are at. 

Here is your permission to be a work in progress. 

You must have been waiting for this permission because there’s really no reason to just go on responding to a person’s question when you have no clue what you’re talking about outside of fear of judgement. 

Flip the situation: do you believe that the person standing in front of you has the perfect response for every question you have about their work or their life? 

It’s easy to give in to the temptation to try to purvey perfection. But when we do this to each other, it’s not just ourselves we’re harming. We’re setting our social expectations so high that we’re just causing stress for others. 

Let’s all give each other permission to be works in progress. The end result will, in all probability, be breathtaking – but we’ll need to put in the hours to get there.


Photo by Krists Luhaers on Unsplash

Nudity, poetry and truth

Three quotes that my brain strung together in under 10s upon reading the first for the first time just a moment ago.

Only when the tide goes out do you discover who is swimming naked.

Warren Buffett in this article (via @swiss-miss)

Then there’s this one from my great love of Bob Dylan

A poet is a kind of naked person. Some people call me a poet.

And then finally this beauty which goes unattributed but which I saw in the film The Big Short.

Truth is like poetry. And most people hate poetry.


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Co-operative strategy

An idea shared is more powerful than one that’s hidden. A technology standard outperforms a proprietary one. A community is stronger than divided individuals ever could be.

– Seth Godin

A common belief in business, life, creativity, existence is that in order to thrive, you must escape scarcity. What that looks like in practice is:

  • Hoard access to ideas in order to be seen as inspirational
  • Find markets that no-one else has appreciated
  • Pull the ladder up behind me when I get a promotion
  • Etc. Etc. *YAWN*

In game theory, when you follow non-coöperative strategies, by definition you create a winner and a loser.

If there is only one piece of cake, the winner is the person who gets it. The loser is the person who goes hungry.

If I want to open a pizza shop, I could open it on a block with no other pizza shops. I might occasionally entice in a customer with whose stomach rumbled as she was passing by.

Alternatively, I could open on a block with multiple pizza stalls and benefit from all of the customers who already know they want pizza.

This is a co-operative strategy. Who makes more money selling pizza? The people who just want to sell a lot of individual slices? Or the people who want to sell the whole pie?

Your answer to this question can tell you a lot about your relationships, your business, your life.


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Something else

I can’t count the number of times that I have told people who are looking to accomplish something: “There are two ways you can go through life. Filling in the application form, or something else.”

Applications forms are a race to the bottom. You can get really good at filling them out. You can submit a bunch of them and you might not ever hear anything. Plus, you’re at the mercy of the person assessing a big stack of almost identical applications.

Or you can choose something else.

You can choose to create your own path. You can choose to start your own thing. You can achieve the same goal through a different route.

In marketplaces where everyone sells for the same price, it’s not possible to sell the same product for a higher price.

With a little creativity and a healthy appetite for risk, you can accomplish a lot.

I’m a ‘something else’ kind of person. The application form bores me. I’d rather struggle in the short term and win in the long term than take an quick, boring route to a lot of struggling.

It’s unchartered territory, but it’s exhilarating to go off the beaten track.


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The way to love

Recently, I read a copy of The Way to Love: Meditations on Life by Anthony de Mello. He was a Jesuit priest from India. His writing was beautiful and clear. This book was full of wonderful insight and at times I felt as though he was speaking directly to me.

Recall the kind of feeling you have when someone praises you, when you are approved, accepted, applauded. And contrast that with the kind of feeling that arises within you when you look at the sunset or the sunrise or Nature in general, or when you read a book or watch a movie that you thoroughly enjoy. Get the taste of this feeling and contrast it with the first, namely, the one that was generated within you when you were praised. Understand that the first type of feeling comes from self-glorification, self-promotion. It is a worldly feeling. The second comes from self-fulfilment, a soul feeling.

Each meditation – they are about 3-6 minutes reading time, mostly – takes a verse from the Bible, that you’ll probably have already heard even if you’ve no interest in the Bible. Then he unpacks it in a way that seems so applicable to the life that we lead now.

I would say that some of his ideas are clearly based in Eastern philosophy but why should that matter? If you are looking at the Bible from a purely Western perspective, you miss so much of the nuance of what Jesus speaks about in particular. I think that Christians in the West would benefit from understanding Middle Eastern and Asian thought a little more.

For example, his focus on the concept of attachment is very similar to a lot of Buddhist thought in particular.

Don’t stop till you have grasped this truth: The only reason why you too are not reacting calmly and happily is your computer [In this context, de Mello refers to his brain as a computer] that is stubbornly insisting that reality be reshaped to conform to its programming. Observe all of this from the outside so to speak and see the marvellous change that comes about in you.

I can certainly recognise my own attitude to my own output in this section:

You must cultivate activities that you love. You must discover work that you do, not for its utility, but for itself. Think of something that you love to do for itself, whether it succeeds or not, whether you are praised for it or not, whether you are loved and rewarded for it or not, whether people know about it and are grateful to you for it or not. How many activities can you count in your life that you engage in simply because they delight you and grip your soul? Find them out, cultivate them, for they are your passport to freedom and to love.

Anyway, it’s a great book. I highly recommend it. Enjoy it.

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