There are probably a handful of things you’ve already done today in your business that you did only because you’ve been telling your people that this is what, when and how we’re going to do these things, everyday, because that’s what we do at ‘Planned Structured Inc’.
If it ain’t broke, it needs fixing
You’re probably aware that you’re not getting much if anything out of that ‘scheduled weekly meeting’ or the company ‘document approval process’, but it’s not easy to break a habit and sticking with the way you’ve always done - it is the safer option. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and all will continue to be ‘fine’.
As we’ve applied more and more lean startup principles to our own product software development at triggerapp.com I’ve started to recognise the problem with the ‘nothing broke’ syndrome. It’s costly to continue to assume that because nothing bad is happening, nothing needs changing. At Trigger we sat content for a while with a steady but slow growth in our subscriber base, and everything was fine. It was only when we tested some radical changes and saw the results that I was reminded that constant innovation is the only thing that will keep your business or product as close to it’s potential as possible - anything else leaves margin on the table.
Habits kill innovation
I love being a small business because we are nimble enough to make relatively large changes in the way we do things without cost. I love change and feel rejuvenated when we make decisions like ‘no more Microsoft Word’. The result of that decision was 70 hours spent building a Github version controlled markdown document system with a formatted PDF generator that even Ruth, our non-techy strategist, could use. Despite all agreeing that we should probably have just used Google Docs, I wouldn’t trade my or the developer’s learnings along the way for anything (particularly the liberation from Microsoft Office) and we’ll probably productise or open source a version of our system soon.
Yesterday I watched the TED video by Google’s Matt Cutts ‘Try something new for 30 days’. I dislike self help products and services in all forms, and i’m not a quitter. Embarrasingly, today I quit alcohol for 30 days and similar to my reasons for starting tweeting ( articulated here ) I’m going to see if I can keep my habit broken so that I can apply my learnings to our business - I figure that if I can quit drinking for 30 days and maintain sanity, no habit quit in the business is going to kill us.
Innovation cannot happen within the constraint of habits, so quit them. Having experience in something is becoming irrelevant and is probably something you should consider removing from your CV or portfolio. Experience in doing the same thing worries me these days.
Test some assumptions
- Can we produce more billable hours by starting later and finishing at the same time?
- Does everyone really need to work from the office all the time?
- Do we need a landline phone, and why the heck do we have a fax number?
- What if we stopped tracking time and only discussed results?
- Are the 30 page ‘specification’ documents worth the paper they’re written on?
- Do we need paper in the office? (outside the bathroom I mean)
Try something new
If you are small, you have no excuse not to be lean. Use this advantage while you can and try something new in your business for 30 days - it’s not often we’ve gone back and it feels as good as a holiday.