I’ve just finished reading The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek and I’ve got to say it’s had a big impact on my thinking.

Most of the accepted wisdom around business is based on finite thinking. The pie is a fixed size and there will be winners and losers. Thinking that emphasises ‘first’, ‘biggest’ and ‘best’.

Instead, Sinek suggests we should think about business as an infinite game, with no winners and losers. Where it’s about the drive to be ‘better’ rather than ‘best’.

Our intention at Breathe has always been to make the pie bigger – develop the best software possible at a price that every business can afford. Regardless of size.

The part of the book that really got my attention was when Sinek started talking about his personal ”just cause’:

“To build a world where the vast majority of people wake up inspired, feel safe at work and return home fulfilled at the end of the day”.

Wow! It sounds so obvious and yet so powerful. It resonates perfectly with our purpose at Breathe where we’ve set out to inspire the businesses to build happy, healthy and productive workplaces by nurturing a people first culture.

If we play the game of business with a win:win mindset then ‘them and us’, (bosses and workers) thinking has no place. Workplaces will naturally become happier, healthier and more productive. And finally, people will feel safe at work and return home fulfilled at the end of each day.

Are you a creator or a consumer?

Whenever our country, community or business faces a challenge we, as individuals, have the power to decide whether we’re going to join the search for solutions or become part of the problem. This is the difference between creators and consumers.

To some degree everyone creates and everyone consumes, but it’s down to each of us to decide which way we generally lean. It doesn’t have to be a binary decision and we certainly don’t need take sides for ever. But sometimes our experience makes us want to engage and at other times we’re best off leaving it to others. I cant contribute to the search for a Covid 19 vaccine but I have definitely chosen to use my skills to help find business and economic solutions to the current crisis.

Creators are people who believe they have the power to create the kind of solutions they want. Note: A creator is not necessarily creative, it only means they have the desire to take on the challenge.

Consumers are people who lean towards the view that they have little power to create the solutions they want or need. Instead they must select from options already on offer, wait for others to help them or accept that nothing can be done.

Sweeping generalisations have their limits and certainly neither approach is wrong. Where things become difficult is when someone is permanently stuck as one or the other. But in general I tend to think that life is more rewarding as a creator.

Creators have a growth mindset and consumers a fixed mindset. Creators tend to not think in terms of something being done the “right” way; instead they start with the premise that there are an infinite number of options to get the job done.

So, do you have the mindset of a Creator or a Consumer? Is your life constrained by what ‘they’ say or do you blame ‘them’ for your situation? I accept that things happen over which we have no control but life is generally better when we do what ever we can to put our future in the hands of ‘I’ or ‘me’.

A new kind of meeting

Leading a small business through a crisis requires a very different kind of leadership. It’s much more hands on and intentional. Ben Horowitz describes it as being a ‘war time CEO’, as opposed to a ‘peace time CEO’, in his book ‘The hard thing about hard things’.

Very early on we started to form an action plan based around a simple Green, Amber, Red status. This plan guides our actions, measures progress and informs / reassures all our stakeholders.

It was obvious that we were already beyond Green and heading towards Amber so we started to take appropriate steps. It wasn’t going to be business as usual but with appropriate action our business would be safe. My heart goes out to the businesses that needed to instantly go into survival mode or worse, shut down.

Being a war time CEO means constantly analysing what’s happening, reviewing every action and making fast decisions. Its a time to be agile and flexible, taking input from many different sources.

Going through this process at Breathe, we discovered very early on that our leadership team meetings needed to change in two important ways:

  1. They need to be weekly rather than monthly; and
  2. The agenda needed to change to being more intentional.

We took our standard agenda and modified it as follows:

1. Check in – each person scores 1-10 on how they are feeling at that moment about business and personal. Score below 6 and we talk about it. This is standard to all our meetings.

2. Acknowledgements and living values – again this is sandard to all our meetings. The intention is to highlight the great things that we’ve noticed around the business.

3. Team Pulse – this is a new agenda item. Every attendee has 5 minutes to report how their team is feeling and how effectively it is operating with specific reference to the crisis. The goal is to surface any friction.

4. Actions from last meeting – nothing special or new about this agenda item.

5. Business update – We’ve modified this to be punchier and more granular than normal. It’s a short, sharp intake of KPIs. Actions are agreed and recorded.

6. Financials – this section is where we review actual vs the revised Amber forecast. Every leadership meeting should have a financials section but this is just a bit more focussed. Actions are agreed and recorded.

7. AOB – we don’t like AOB that is raised on the day. If there is something to discuss then it should added to the agenda in advance to allow thinking time and avoid hijacking the meeting. We need to get better at this!

8. Wrap up. This section has three parts:

  • Actions – We use this time to make sure everyone is clear about each agreed action. The new thing here is that we have added another person to attend the meetings whose sole job is to capture actions.
  • WWW – what went well in the meeting
  • EBI – even better if. How could the meeting have been better.

None of this is rocket science but we’ve found it to be a good format for where the business is at present. I don’t doubt that it will change again as we try new things and learn what works.

A time for curiosity

The 24hr media machine is drowning us in a flood of content that is near impossible to ignore. All the top ‘news’ stories are about the Corona Virus pandemic but it’s hard to unearth the facts that enable us to take control of our own thinking.

To keep our heads above water demands a level of curiosity that starts with understanding:

  • what we already know;
  • what we don’t know;
  • and crucially, what we think we know, but don’t.

Then comes a quest for data (facts) to fill the gaps – don’t be taken in by editorial comment which is someone’s opinion. Add to that a curiosity about what others have discovered and consider why they might have different views to us. If we take all of this data and process it into information we are well on the way to gaining knowledge.

The more we cultivate curiosity, the more knowledgeable we become and the better we are able to handle our fears of the unknown.

A quote to live by

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Hunter S Thompson

Found this quote in ‘Runner’ by Lizzy Hawker – hope I have the courage to live this out!

What’s your Ideal Performance State?

I was introduced to the idea of managing my Ideal Performance State by Celynn Morin at a workshop she ran for my Vistage group. The next few paragraphs from an HBR article make so much sense:

‘The demands on executives to sustain high performance day in and day out, year in and year out, dwarf the challenges faced by any athlete we have ever trained. The average professional athlete, for example, spends most of his time practicing and only a small percentage—several hours a day, at most—actually competing.’

‘The typical executive, by contrast, devotes almost no time to training and must perform on demand ten, 12, 14 hours a day or more. Athletes enjoy several months of off-season, while most executives are fortunate to get three or four weeks of vacation a year.’

‘The career of the average professional athlete spans seven years; the average executive can expect to work 40 to 50 years.’

HBR Jan 2001. The Making of a Corporate Athlete

Take a look at the HBR article, find out more about Celynn’s work and let me know what you think.

What is innovation?

There are two schools of thought about innovation. One says that innovation is the exploration for big, ground breaking new ideas – transformational innovation. The other school disagrees, saying that innovation also includes incremental steps that improve and exploit – efficiency innovation. They argue that innovation is simply defined as doing something different that creates value:

‘It isn’t just the purview of engineers and scientists, nor is it limited to new-product development. Processes can be innovated. Marketing approaches can too. Something different can be a big breakthrough, but it can also be an everyday improvement that makes the complicated a bit simpler or the expensive more affordable.’

HBR – Breaking down the barriers to innovation

I’m firmly in the second school in that I see a constant stream of efficiency innovation happening at Breathe. Work that improves the day to day lives of our team and our customers.

However, where I think leaders fall down is that prioritising efficiency innovation is easy, whereas it’s hard to allocate time to transformational innovation. The catch is that there is only so much efficiency you can wring out of a process before that process needs reinventing.

Transformational innovation involves uncertainty, disproportional investment in time and money, and can be a scary place to go. But, it is essential work for the leader of a growing business who must invest time and headspace into the kind of innovation that will keep the growth going.

I’m challenging myself in 2020 to commit 40% of my time to exploration!

The case for NPS

I had an interesting conversation recently about how useful Net Promoter Score (NPS) is to a small business. The CEO I was speaking to had reluctantly run an NPS survey at the request of a third party. The score wasn’t brilliant so he and his team were feeling the need to find reasons and justifications.

But that’s missing the point – NPS is all about measuring improvement. They’ve taken the biggest step by setting a benchmark to improve on. If you don’t know where you are, how can you decide where to go? And if you don’t keep score how will you know when you’ve got there?

Yes, it’s great to have a high NPS but the real benefit comes when a score is low. We’ve been measuring NPS at Breathe for a number of years and it’s enabled us to focus on customer delight leading to a good score (in Oct 19 our NPS score was 40). In fact we’ve just made NPS one of our two top level KPIs and I’d encourage every CEO to start measuring.

Growth mindset in UK politics

Note: this post is not about politics. It’s me trying to view world events through the lens of a growth mindset. I’m not going to mention ideologies, policies or ethics, that’s for other blogs to agonies over.

In the run up to the general election the three main parties (by votes cast) approached their campaigns in very different ways:

The Conservatives learnt from previous campaigns (Brexit referendum, US elections etc) and focussed on one simple, clear message that successfully tapped into how voters were feeling. They didnt bother with indepth policies. Instead, the same simple message was pounded out at every opportunity “Get Brexit done”. They listened, analysed and ultimately won by understanding the mood of the electorate.

Labour took a different approach. They had a bigger agenda “It’s time for real change”. They got off to a good start by listening to the electorate who were tired of austerity but then got carried away with an ideological agenda. An agenda that aimed to achieve their leaders dream. A dream that seemed out of reach to the person on the street. They lost focus on the immediate concerns of the electorate – Brexit. Worse, the leadership confused the electorate by giving them too many choices around Brexit with a message of “You choose”.

The Liberal Democrats took a huge gamble in a fit of excitement and some would say naivety. This was to be their big break, so they bet big. They arguably bet the farm by deciding to go all in on with a slogan over “Stop Brexit. Build a brighter future”. They were blinded by the huge number of remain voters who felt disenfranchised. What they missed was the mood in the country to just get it over with! Also for many people, “Stop Brexit” would mean prolonging the argument leading to a far from bright future.

Last, and most importent, the three parties have very different paths going forward – the Conservatives have it all to prove, Labour haven’t come to grips with the fact that they lost it rather than the Conservatives winning it. Worst of all are the Lib Dems whose leader had to resign on the spot. All that learning gone to waste – where’s the growth mindset in that!

Built on values

We’re building a culture at Breathe around three values that define who we are and guide how we behave. But values are only worth having if you’re willing to be held to account so I want this post to publicly encourage everyone one in #teamBreathe to hold me to account as I won’t always get it right.

To be part of Breathe means striving to live up to these values:

People First – I treat everyone with respect and always walk a mile in their shoes.

Growth Mindset – I take responsibility for my personal and professional journey by seeking to continuously learn and improve.

Can do – I take a pro-active approach to my work by demonstrating energy and enthusiasm in everything I do.

These values help us take difficult decisions and guide the way we interact with our colleagues, customers and suppliers. Their strength comes from the fact that they require thought to apply and are not easy to live by. We are the first to admit that we don’t always get it right but, true to a growth mindset, we try to learn from our mistakes and do better next time.

Our hope is for Breathe to become a showcase for how we think businesses should be run and to inspire others to follow and do the same. The feedback we’re getting and the awards we’re winning suggest we’re heading in the right direction.