Over the years I’ve launched a few products. Rarely have I moved from idea to implementation in less than 90 days. I tend to allow things to find their own flow. The Shepherd’s Guide initially took over 6 months to get done. In publishing terms that’s not so bad. In terms of the way that Scott Duffy thinks about product launches it’s quite slow. In the new phase of business growth we’re expecting to start to generate more products and launch them in a more rapid timeframe and that’s why when my friend Heather Newman suggested that I read Launch!, I decided I needed to pick it up and see what I could do to launch products faster.
The Role of Perseverance
Despite the title and the hype, there’s equally as much coverage in Launch! about persevering as there is about being quick to market. There are plenty of stories about people who managed to “hang in there” through some truly tough times. One particularly compelling quote is “Most entrepreneurs don’t realize how close they are to breaking through just before they decide to quit.” Jim Collins in Good to Great talks about what he calls the Stockdale Paradox “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” In other words, you’ve got to be willing to change your course when you know you’re going to run aground but be willing to hold your course to try to find the new world.
Over the years I’ve considered whether I should continue Thor Projects. I’ve wondered if it’s what I should be doing. Financially the organization has always done fine. However, there have been many times when I’ve wondered if we were accomplishing our mission. There was a long time when I didn’t even know what the mission was.
On the SharePoint Shepherd side, I can tell you that the first year of the Shepherd’s Guide sales were interesting but not at all impressive. They weren’t even enough to do a second book. However, that all changed when I got a chance to run an email marketing campaign. In one day I got the same number of inquiries that I had received in the entire preceding year. Now the Shepherd’s Guide is a big part of the organization. I won’t retire off of its income but it certainly helps. I don’t know what would have happened if I had pulled the plug on it.
At the same time, I created a set of SharePoint training DVDs which haven’t sold enough to recover the investment in them. They still may but as of right now my assumption is that they won’t and as a result I’m not investing more time and energy in the idea of DVD sales. Could it be that this is the next great revenue stream that I’ve untapped? It’s possible but I doubt it. It’s an idea that I had to pull the plug on – and decide not to persevere so that I could move on to trying something else. (Here’s a hint. There are cool things coming from www.Kin2Kid.com )
However, I’ve not given up on the Video Studio or the belief that video is a powerful way to educate. I continue to make investments to improve it and make it better. I’ve started developing training for a number of sites including Pluralsight and Lynda.com. I had to realize the distribution vehicle and purchasing model were wrong with selling DVDs but fundamentally the idea that video content is a good thing hasn’t been abandoned.
Close Cousin Practice
The close cousin of perseverance is practice. I mentioned in my review of Primal Leadership about Walt Disney’s failures and how he learned something from it. How he did something small and used it as practice for the next bigger, grander project that he wanted to do. Sometimes perseverance is about more than just surviving. Sometimes it’s about learning, adjusting and adapting. There’s a hidden expectancy that we have if we’re working on something. We expect that we have to succeed or we’re a failure. We personalize the event into who we are instead of treating it for what it is, just something to try again.
I believe strongly that allowing yourself room to practice without the need to accept guilt or shame about not being successful is core to being successful in the long term. (See Daring Greatly for more about the impact of guilt and shame.) Malcom Gladwell speaks about the impact of practice in Outliers. He speaks about the number of hours of practice that experts get – intentional practice which leads to greatness. Howard Gartner expresses the same thing in Extraordinary Minds – how the great minds that he studied were deliberate with their practice.
It’s much easier to be persistent when you believe that you’re just practicing. You’re not ready for ultimate success yet. You’re not waiting on it. You’re just learning and developing yourself to become a better person and to become ready for ultimate success. (See Carol Dweck’s book Mindset for how you can change you and your skills.)
Long Term View
A student approaches a monk at a respected monastery and asks him how long he must study to become a master. The monk responds “ten years”. The student responds “That is too long. I have to be done in five.” The monk responds “In that case it will take 20 years.” Launch! describes the best short cut as a long term view. That is that you’re successful when you’re willing to take a point of view that you want to build skills over the long term.
We’ve all heard the parable of the tortoise and the hare where the tortoise wins because of his steady progress towards the finish line. I mentioned James MacDonald in my review of Seeing David in the Stone. James once mentioned that many people want his success but they don’t want the hard work that it took to reach his success. That’s the long term view. He did work that wasn’t glamorous or even profitable to build his skills and fulfill his purpose. The short term view is I want it now. The long term view is the view of building to success.
I mentioned in my review of The Time Paradox that my view is decidedly long. I am always looking for the answer which is the best long term answer. That’s a core part of how I’m wired – and a way that Launch! recommends that you view things.
Barry Swartz in the Paradox of Choice talks about Maximizers and Satisficers. Maximizers have to have the best and the perfect. The cost for this is being perpetually late and more importantly perpetually unhappy. They’re focused on the trivial and meaningless and as a result they end up getting nothing done and frustrating themselves. So on the one hand we should take a long term view. We should look at each thing we do as both practice and a stepping stone for the next great thing that we’re going to do. On the other hand we need to make a decision about when enough is enough.
With the Shepherd’s Guide we have this struggle. We can always keep adding in new tasks. We can tweak the existing content. We can make it better. However, if we continue to do this we’ll never ship it. We’ll never make any revenue and as a result we’ll not be able to continue business.
The trick as Swartz discusses is that we all have a bit of the maximizer and a bit of the satisficer in us. We need to make sure that the areas of our lives that we’re being maximizers in is the right part. The part that ultimately will lead us to fulfillment and will support us in the way that we want to be supported. We need to choose when to choose.
Part of the key to managing perfectionism (or being a maximizer) is in targeting it into the areas that matter. Duffy recalls a conversation with the CEO of an organization that was doing well but there was chipped paint and torn carpet in their offices. When asked the CEO responded that it wasn’t important – and in truth it wasn’t important. It didn’t stop people from getting their job done and done well.
Tom Peters in his classic book In Search of Excellence discusses some of the things that drive entrepreneurs to create products that are compelling. Whether its Frank Perdue talking about the three feathers that are hard to get rid of when removing the feathers from a chicken or an obsession with clean washrooms driving attendance at a baseball stadium. There is an attention to detail and a frustration with the status quo that is the life blood of some successful entrepreneurs. Truett Cathy – the creator of Chick-Fil-A – has a passion for helping people. That passion created a restaurant that people wanted to be a part of and that ultimately created Chick-Fil-A.
In my book review of Demand, I spoke of Hassle maps and how some small hassles have a disproportionate impact on success. There are some small things that get in the way of success. Whether it’s a web site that is easy to use or a phone number that people can remember, there are little barriers that can be removed to reveal powerful results.
One of the aspects of The Titleless Leader that I missed in my review was a comment that most effective leaders aren’t well rounded. They’re acutely aware of their talents and use them to their advantage. This is based on Gallup’s research and findings that leaders who tried to be effective in every domain often become the least effective leaders.
Bruce Lee said “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practices one kick 10,000 times”. Football talent scout Stephen Austin says that the difference between the average and the best players in the world is just three plays. “Three moments when the superstar does something just a little different than everyone else.” We don’t have to conquer the world. We don’t have to become the best at everything we do. We only need to get a little different at three plays to become superstars in our fields.
A word of caution, however, we can’t suck at anything either. We’ve got to be able to adapt and play the position that we’re in not one that we would like to be in. So while we only need to be great at three plays – we have to be able to at least execute every play in the playbook.
Scott Duffy chides the CEOs he meets for not having a vision as to where their company will be in three years. I struggle with this not just because I don’t have a clear vision of where my businesses will be in three years but because of my awareness that we’re pulled along by market forces that necessarily drift us from where we started. Bob Pozen admits in Extreme Productivity that despite his drive and his belief that he knew where he was headed, he often ended up in a different spot because of life and market forces. In my experience this is the most accurate view.
The successful business folks I know admit that their success was due to a good deal of hard work and preparation – but also a great deal of luck. I was speaking with a friend the other day about retirement when he admitted that he was a structured saver creating a retirement program that was respectable but the real change in his life was an opportunity to buy a company being divested from a larger organization. His plans changed because of changes that were far outside of his control – and at the time of his desire.
So while Scott Duffy in Launch! believes every CEO should have a firm vision of where the organization should go, I believe that every CEO should have a clear understanding of the direction they want to go – their compass. I believe that having a clear vision requires a clear map and I don’t think that anyone who is exploring new territories in business can possibly have a clear map. Even if they did at the pace in which our world works I can’t imagine that the map would be useful for very long.
Money and Exiting
It’s fitting that Launch! ends with a section on financing and how to exit the business once it’s successful. However, for me neither topic is particularly interesting. I believe in self-funding as much as possible. I’m also years away from any desire to walk away from the business. As a result I’m not really able to fully process what is said here. However, there is coverage for those who need it.
All-in-All, Launch! can help you motivate yourself to make your product launches happen faster… at least it appears that it can. You can watch me launch new products – or you can read the book and try for yourself.