Here's another chestnut to roast: "there are no short-cuts to success."
Of course there are.
Whether through intuition, experience, risk tolerance, exaggerated optimism, or an impatience with secondary details, the real road to success is littered with short-cuts.
You just have to know how to distinguish a short-cut from a dead end or a detour. Short cuts can be good, dead ends and detours seldom are.
One of the technical words for a short cut is a heuristic. A heuristic is a way of solving a problem when a methodical approach isn't practical. A rule of thumb is a heuristic.
The 10,000 hour rule still rules (I just used a shortcut to reference a complex topic). Overall, dues need to be paid. But if you insist the way to success is systematically completing one task after another in a lock-step sequence, this is one time I'm betting on the hare. Because your tortoise will never see the finish line.
Short-cuts or heuristics are important in business for at least 3 reasons:
- You cannot do everything. No one growing a business can do it all, so you have to commit to the stuff that matters and sketch in or delegate the rest.
- Perfection is a trap. One of the biggest tar pits small business owners get stuck in is insisting on the perfect completion of every step before taking the next one. You have to know when good enough is good enough.
- It's not the way our mind works. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow shows us how our analytical (slow) thinking is inherently economical, or lazy. We conserve energy for when a 'real' problem demands it, so we use snap decisions most of the time. We need to recognize when we use short-cut (fast) thinking to master its advantages and minimize its risks.
Here are 6 productivity short-cuts that get you to successful faster:
- Create first, edit afterwards. Whether you are writing out a business idea or a love letter, get it all out first. Let your emotions and intuition guide you for the entire first draft without stopping to edit. You will work more quickly and have an initial product closer to your values and original vision. Then bring System 2 (slow thinking) to bear on editing the heck out of it.
- Go lateral. If an obvious solution does not present itself to a problem, change the the space you are in. Can't solve a marketing problem? Read a comic book. Want to find new ways to motivate your managers? Learn about opera. Don't want to do the same thing expecting different results? Get into a different space altogether and get there fast.
- One bite at a time. Sometimes we get hung up on wanting to see the end before we get more than a few steps. Seeing the big picture is important, but that can get in the way of acting. If you find yourself putting off something important, start without knowing how it will end. Write the first page. Begin the conversation. Take the first bite. Sometimes beginning makes the ending clear.
- Beware the secondary. We all know we have those things we must get done, and those things we should get done. The shoulds almost always get trumped by the musts. That means important stuff gets done, but sometimes it means we don't exercise, or call that friend, or write that article. Make a list of what matters. Make sure it reflects the things you should be doing to grow in other ways.
- Pareto again. The majority of your success comes from the minority of the things you do. Be scary honest about what really works, and have the courage to duck the rest. It won't always be easy, you'll inevitably ruffle some feathers, but if you do it right, your success will be hard to argue with.
- Pass the buck. Can anyone do what you do best better than you? Probably not. But if you keep trying to sustain that standard alone, you are going to end up alone. I watch time and again as business owners delegate a responsibility only to snatch back control at the first sign of imperfection. Hire the best you can, and then let them do the best they can. People tell me that they simply can't find anyone good enough. Funny, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Lady Gaga seem to have found the team support they needed to become stupid successful. Are you more demanding than they were and are?
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