"As Henry Ford said, 'Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.'"
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Note that while Traction is written for the more classic “entrepreneur”, the lessons and insights culled from the book and discussed below are equally applicable to all business leaders, regardless of organizational structure, size or age.
You’re always working in your business, but how often are you working on it?
Written as a guide book for entrepreneurial leaders of small to mid-sized businesses, Traction offers the plan, tools and success stories to help you disengage from the day to day of your business to take a “bird’s eye view”. While what you see from up there may not be pretty, the Entrepreneur’s Operating System (or, EOS, as author Gino Wickman refers to it) offers a clean, simple approach to tidying up your business practices and making your operation more profitable.
Gino’s system is built around the importance of working on your business; taking regular “time-outs” from the day-to-day to clarify and prioritize objectives, review systems and identify issues. Time set aside to think. Nothing in Gino’s system is particularly earth shattering (as he himself admits), but then again, we typically “need to be reminded more often than taught”, as Patrick Lencioni has said. EOS appears to be an effective, complete way of thinking about small business, and I’m personally eager to put some of the concepts into play.
The Big Idea
Less is More
"Henry David Thoreau: 'Simplify, simplify.' Ralph Waldo Emerson: 'One 'simplify' would have sufficed.'"
As business leaders, it’s easy to overcomplicate things. To over commit. We want to launch the new product, hire the new person and implement the new system. Today. We want to build in contingencies for everything, and (particularly if we’re the visionary in the company) we want to share all of our ideas, all at once. We want to do it all, right now.
Welcome to the classic “enthusiasm trap” of the entrepreneurial leader. Trying to operate at 120% capacity at all times leads to staff frustration, communication breakdown and personal burnout. Wickman, through his work with over 100 clients in 800 sessions, has proven that when it comes to moving your business forward, less truly is more.
Can I have your number?
"The ability to create accountability and discipline, and then execute is the area of greatest weakness in most organizations."
One of the reasons Wickman pushes for simplification and clarity is that they reduce any chance of ambiguity; of people shirking responsibility under the justifiable, “I didn’t know it was that important” excuse. Simplification, by definition, reduces the number of priorities, clarifying for everyone in the organization the most important deliverables for which they are responsible.
Wickman suggests taking it one step forward, giving everyone “a number” as a part of their job description. 10 sales calls a week. 98% up time on the line. 8/10 customer satisfaction. Etc. When you give people (and yourself) numbers, you make it infinitely easier to determine if the job is being done to a satisfactory level. You make it easier to identify challenges, unrealistic expectations and capacity shortages. You can—in black and white—see how well you’re tracking to your goals. And, perhaps most importantly, you’re prioritizing the activities of a role or project. (Depending on your role, you may have 1-3 “numbers”, but watch for anything higher than that… as a whole organization/unit, you really shouldn’t be tracking more than 10-15, total.)
What are the most important numbers for your organization/department/role? Who owns them and how are you tracking them? Having a regular check in period (weekly/monthly/quarterly) is as important for accountability as having the numbers in the first place.
Too much of a good thing
"More is lost by indecision than by wrong decisions."
The focus of Traction is taking time out to think about your business; to plan and prioritize, so that the whole team is on the same page and moving in the right direction. It’s about stepping back from the day to day. And yet, as Wickman is quick to point out, planning is not the same as procrastinating. Once you have a clear set of objectives and a shared vision, take action. Try something. While it’s extremely unlikely that taking a single wrong action will sink your company, not taking any action almost surely will.
Block out time in your schedule for planning and reflection and protect that time ferociously. Then use the rest of your days to move the ball. Try things. Experiment and track. Revise and try again. And, above all else, have fun along the way.
Wickman included a short story at the end of Traction about “The Road to Hana”. The Road to Hana is a tourist attraction in Maui; an attraction that consists of a long winding road, shouldered by breathtaking views of all that Hawaii has to offer. Then the road ends in a small, non-descript town (Hana). The expression, “it’s about the journey, not the destination” was seemingly created to explain The Road to Hana… and the road to entrepreneurial greatness. Enjoy the ride.