strategy

The Happy High Achievers

Are you happy in your job? The data says you’re probably not. I can also speak from experience. For most of my life, I operated under a false assumption that the more successful I became, the more happiness I’d feel. But what I found was just the opposite. At one point in my early thirties, I had the experience of attaining everything I had once dreamed of. But instead of feeling elated and happy, I felt burdened, stressed, and beaten down by constant and competing demands. In my experience in the Young President’s Association, a worldwide group of successful CEOs, I found that very few were actually genuinely happy as well.

Why is this? Why doesn’t greater success seem to lead to greater happiness? There’s an interesting study on success and happiness by Dr. Vance Caesar of the Caesar Group that sheds some light on this phenomenon. In an ongoing study of high achievers (the top 2-3 percent of individuals in a given field) across all walks of life, Dr. Caesar discovered this: Only 1 out of 10 high achievers (.2 to .3 percent of the total pool) rate themselves as authentically happy. Imagine that: If you gather ten thousand top achievers from all walks of life—the rich, the famous, the talented—only a handful will actually consider themselves happy.

What’s the difference between a happy high achiever and the rest? In his research, Dr. Caesar identifies eight attributes that dictate both success and happiness. Most of these are fairly easy to recognize and intuitively make sense. They include a driving sense of purpose, a compelling vision, and the intrinsic feeling that your work is meaningful. Other attributes include beliefs and behaviors that create inner peace, a regular process involving […]

By |2021-05-18T04:56:16-07:00March 11th, 2012|

Where Are Your Energy Drains?

According to the laws of physics, your success is determined by how you manage energy – and there’s a universal success formula to prove it. Quite simply: success is a function of integration over entropy. Your goal is always to have high integration and low entropy. In “How to Choose the Right Strategy“, I explained how to create high integration in your company. What gets too little attention in business, however, is the havoc that high entropy plays on a system. It truly is the ultimate killer. Or as physicists Sir Arthur Eddington aptly put it in the early 20th century, “The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.”

So if there’s anything you should be doing in your business that you’re probably not focused enough on, it’s cultivating an awareness of entropy and a commitment to reducing it. Personally, I didn’t appreciate the significance of entropy in my own business until I ran into it. Hard.

In 1998, at the age of 28, I co-founded an affiliate marketing company in Minnesota and moved it to Santa Barbara, California. By 2001, the company was soaring like a rocket, generating incredible growth rates (much easier to do for a small company than a […]

By |2021-05-18T05:49:57-07:00February 27th, 2012|

The Misaligned Organization and What to Do About It

In 1993 I was a college student in St. Paul, Minnesota. I drove a twenty-year-old canary yellow Toyota Corolla with bald tires, a broken heater, and a misaligned chassis. Because my spending priorities then were the necessities of college life (pizza, beer, girls, and rent), I never invested in making the car safe to drive.

Navigating that car on the icy roads of thirty-below Minnesota winters required a certain ability to go with the flow. But eventually, my refusal to to replace the tires and align the chassis caught up with me. Driving late one winter night … it’s easy to guess what happened. Wipe out. Crash. Car totaled.

Thankfully, no one was hurt.

I share this story because it’s easy to tell when a car is misaligned. The car squeaks, there’s friction and a loss of power, and it’s difficult to steer where you want to go. Similarly, if you know what to look for, it’s easy to tell when your business is misaligned. If you act early on, you can avoid a crash and even improve performance fast.

What It Means to Have an Aligned Organization

Well after I had sold that old Toyota, I received some more equally important lessons on the value of organizational alignment. In my late twenties to mid-thirties, I personally led two companies into compound annual growth rates (CAGR) exceeding 5,0000% per year. From startup to $4M and $12M in two and four years respectively. While this may be chump change to some entrepreneurs, these periods of rapid growth were priceless learning for me. They also provide a valuable lesson that’s applicable to companies of all sizes and at all lifecycle stages. […]

By |2021-05-18T05:21:42-07:00February 10th, 2012|

Mastering Team-Based Decision Making

Every business has mass, which is a measure of its resistance to change. The challenge in getting an organization to change direction is the fact that its mass isn’t neatly self-contained. Rather, it’s scattered throughout its people, systems, structures, and processes – and the collective inertia causes resistance to change. In order to get the organization to execute on its strategy, you’ve got to get the mass contained and headed in one direction.

Having aligned vision and values, as well as an aligned organizational structure, is the first step. If you have misalignment in these areas, then no matter what, you’re not going to get very far. At the same time, alignment in vision, values, and structure alone won’t cause the business to move. They just help to hold the mass together and keep internal friction low. Making the organization come alive and move quickly in a chosen direction requires that two things be done well: making and implementing decisions. In fact, the secret to organizational momentum lies in continually making good decisions and implementing them quickly.

The Most Important Process in Your Business

Every business relies on multiple processes (sales, customer service, finance, product development, marketing, etc.). These can be highly visible or nearly invisible, organic, haphazard, detailed, flexible, constant, or changing and either a boon or a burden. When a process is performing well, it allows the work to get done better and faster. When it’s not, you feel like you’re swimming upstream.

While your business has many different processes – some working well and others maybe a total clusterf#@*k – it’s the process of decision making and implementation that’s most critical to your success. Why? Because at the most fundamental level, a business […]

By |2021-05-18T05:23:17-07:00January 24th, 2012|

Organizational Physics Business Acceleration Coaching

Q4 of 2011 was a big period for me. I successfully restructured 3 fast-growing companies while personally coaching 17 entrepreneurs and business leaders. Wow! I’m grateful for the opportunities and to participate in some awesome results. What kind of results? Here’s a snapshot:

  • A company with flat sales the past two years was struggling with accelerating growth. The company co-founders were feeling burned out. We reset the strategy, restructured the organization so the founders could escape low-value tasks, repositioned the story to appeal to investors, and accelerated the product development process. The result? The company raised over $500K in financing, launched a new killer app, and already has a full sales pipeline for 2012.
  • A 5-year-old company had been losing money since its inception. It had a strong culture but was suffering from customer turnover and too many competing priorities, with no way to manage them effectively. We implemented a new go-to-market strategy, restructured the company for clearer ownership, and streamlined the decision-making and product development processes. The result? The company reached cash flow profitability for the first time and is poised to grow from $3M to $7M in 2012.
  • After Google changed its AdSense algorithm, a 7-year-old international internet company lost 90% of its revenue overnight. Ouch. At the same time, the founder was feeling ready to move on and pursue the next new thing. What did we do? We quickly sold off the business for over six figures, netting a nice profit. Then we launched an entirely new business that the founder is truly passionate about.

My goal this quarter is to reach a new audience of entrepreneurs and business leaders. I have a few slots open. There’s no better time than right now to align and activate for the coming year around proven principles that drive results. If 2012 […]

By |2019-08-11T10:54:42-07:00January 18th, 2012|

The 5 Classic Mistakes in Organizational Structure: Or, How to Design Your Organization the Right Way

Is your organization designed to be a rocket or a parachute? If I were to ask you a random and seemingly strange question, “Why does a rocket behave the way it does and how is it different from a parachute that behaves the way it does?” You’d probably say something like, “Well, duh, they’re designed differently. One is designed to go fast and far and the other is designed to cause drag and slow an objection in motion. Because they’re designed differently, they behave differently.” And you’d be correct. How something is designed controls how it behaves. (If you doubt this, just try attaching an engine directly to a parachute and see what happens).

But if I were to ask you a similar question about your business, “Why does your business behave the way it does and how can you make it behave differently?” would you answer “design?” Very few people — even management experts — would. But the fact is that how your organization is designed determines how it performs. If you want to improve organizational performance, you’ll need to change the organizational design. And the heart of organizational design is its structure.

Form Follows Function — The 3 Elements of Organizational Structure & Design

A good design supports its purpose. There’s a saying in architecture and design that “form follows function.” Put another way, the design of something should support its purpose. For example, take a minute and observe the environment you’re sitting in (the room, building, vehicle, etc.) as well as the objects in it (the computer, phone, chair, books, coffee mug, and so on). Notice how everything serves a particular purpose. The purpose of a chair is to support a sitting human […]

By |2021-05-18T05:25:49-07:00January 9th, 2012|

The Physics of Fast Execution

If you want to execute fast, gather the mass. Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine that you’re standing in the middle of a racquetball court surrounded by four walls. At your feet is a soccerball. First, notice how the soccerball just tends to sit there. That’s called inertia. In order to get the ball to do something, you have to apply a force to it. In this case, you give it a kick and the ball rolls along the floor, bounces off the wall, and careens in another direction before coming to rest again. Next, you walk and retrieve the ball and bring it back to the center of the court, place it on the floor, and this time, you give it a really hard kick. What happens? The ball rolls even faster across the floor, bounces off the wall with more power, and travels further in a new direction than the first kick. In essence, you just experienced all three of Newton’s laws of motion.

Newton’s three laws of motion will shed light on the speed and direction of your organization. If you want to move your organization forward quickly in a chosen direction, you should understand these laws and how they apply to business execution. Put another way, if you want to be successful, work with – not against – the physics.

The First Law of Motion

Newton’s first law of motion is about inertia. Inertia is a recognition that an object will tend to do what it’s been doing, unless acted upon by an imbalanced or outside force. In our thought experiment, that’s why the ball tends to stay at rest in the middle of the floor until you do something, like give it a kick. Inertia works in both […]

By |2023-02-20T10:23:37-08:00December 13th, 2011|

Getting from PSIU … to Really Good Management

If you’ve been following along in the management guide, you know that there are four fundamental forces (PSIU) that shape individual and organizational behavior. You also know that these forces compete for available system energy and that if even one of the forces is absent, the organization will perish. I’ve also mentioned that, if you want your organization to do something new – such as change direction or accelerate performance – you must engage the appropriate force. But how does all this translate into practical steps? And how can you use it to be a better manager of people and situations?

1) Know the Forces at Play

Knowing the forces at play within an individual or an organization delivers fast insight into what otherwise appears as complex or random behavior. For example, if you set up a team with all Producers, then that team is going to demonstrate some predictable behavior and outcomes. It’s going to move very quickly, produce a large volume of work, and blow past its milestones in record time. However, the work is going to have errors (it will be an inch deep and a mile wide), it will totally miss out on the implications and the coordination with other departments, and it will lack creative problem solving. A team of all Unifiers would have very different but equally predictable outcomes.

There’s another important benefit to knowing the forces at play. It’s this: it allows you to see and accept things for what they are, with less judgement. You should not underestimate the power of this. On the one hand, judgment is the capacity to assess situations or circumstances astutely and to draw sound conclusions. Obviously, good judgment is a critical skill for a manager. On […]

By |2021-05-18T05:27:17-07:00December 5th, 2011|

The Key to High Performing Teams

Growing up, I had a good friend whose dad was very successful. They lived in a gorgeous home on Lake Minnetonka and I was lucky to spend time a lot of time there, hanging out and enjoying their largesse. Among the things I vividly recall about their home was a refrigerator magnet that read, “Behind every successful man is a wise woman.” I remember that magnet because it made my fourteen-year-old self wonder, “Hmmm, is Mrs. B trying to tell the world that she’s equally responsible for all this magnificence?” and “Is it really true that all successful men have a supportive woman behind them?” or “Maybe it’s her way of putting her husband in his place…” I didn’t have the answers then. But looking back, I can see that this message (dated and cliche-ridden as it is) is worth pondering and has implications for marriages and businesses alike.

The Secret to a Successful Marriage

Marriage or partnership is an exemplary opportunity to match and leverage complementary PSIU forces. No one can be predominantly change-driving, change-responding, focused on the parts, and focused on the whole all at the same time. For much of human history, sexual and gender differentiation resulted in men playing the part of PsIu while women played the part of pSiU. That is, men were responsible for bread-winning (P) and strategy or career advancement (I) while women were responsible for organizing domestic life (S) and taking care of children and family (U). In short, the left side of the PSIU chart shows the classic “feminine” functions and the right side the “masculine” ones.

In the United States in the 1970s, when baby boomers shifted to a dual-income family […]

By |2021-05-18T05:30:34-07:00December 1st, 2011|

The Innovator Style


The Innovator is focused on driving change while finding new and better ways of doing things. To get an intuitive sense of the Innovator’s qualities, think of a dynamic, creative, big-picture person who has a plethora of new ideas and is usually excited by the latest one, until a new one strikes again. That’s an Innovator. If you put this person in a rowboat and say, “Row!” What will they do? Well, they’ll start to come up with new ideas! “Why don’t we put a sail on this baby? How about a glass bottom? That would be pretty cool! Come to think of it, a 250hp motor would do just the trick; I bet we can find one at the marina. Be right back.”

The Innovator has a tremendous ability to peer into the future and to anticipate how seemingly disparate trends will (or can be made to) merge together. They are highly conceptual and get easily excited about new ideas and opportunities. Because an Innovator can sense change occurring faster than other styles, they spend a lot of time trying to get others to see the same thing they do. They usually attempt to do that by explaining the idea and sharing their enthusiasm, and by trying to get others to understand and be enthusiastic too. Our best Innovator qualities are our ability to anticipate change, to be imaginative, charismatic, and inventive. Without the Innovator force, we would have no ability to adapt to changes in our environment and we would quickly become irrelevant or extinct.

The Big I

When the Innovator trait is exceedingly strong, we call it a Big I. A Big I is like a mad genius. It’s always cooking up one crazy sounding idea […]

By |2021-05-18T05:31:12-07:00November 16th, 2011|

The Producer Style


The Producer is focused on what to do now and working hard to get it done rapidly. To get an immediate sense of the Producer’s qualities, think of a fast-charging, focused, determined, high-energy person who thrives on working long and hard. That’s a Producer 1. If you put this person in a rowboat and say, “Row!” What will they do? Well, they’ll just start rowing straight ahead — and fast! They don’t need to ask questions, plan a route, understand where they should go, or even how long they’ll be gone. They just row and keep rowing until you say, “Stop!”

The Producer has a tremendous capacity to work hard to accomplish a goal and takes great pride in winning. That could be winning the new account, completing the project, achieving a goal, or beating the competition. A Producer is decisive and makes decisions based on what can be accomplished now, without waiting for all the information to be in hand. Instead, they figure it out as they go. Our best Producer qualities are our ability to act, lead the charge, overcome obstacles, urge a team to action, and be effective, assertive, and victorious. A Producer is a lot like the engine of a car. The bigger the engine, the faster the organization can go.

The Big P

When the Producer trait is exceedingly strong, we call it a Big P. A Big P is like a hammer. It sees every problem as a nail and the solution is to hit it. Hit it with hard work, more work, and faster work. The Big P comes into work very early and leaves work very late. If they have an office, it’s likely very messy with lots of projects and tasks to complete […]

By |2021-05-18T05:32:30-07:00November 11th, 2011|

The Secret to Managing Everything


The secret to understanding management is this: Complex adaptive systems (such as people and organizations) must (1) shape and respond to changes in the environment and (2) do so as whole organisms, including their parts and sub-parts. If they are unable to do so, they will cease to get new energy from the environment and will perish.

Intuitively, this makes sense. For example, imagine a family of four. If the family is to survive and flourish, it must shape the environment by getting resources such as money, food, and shelter. It must also respond to the environment, including to changes that are economic, societal, ecological, and so on. At the same time, it must pay attention to the all the parts that make up the family system – things like the act of cooking, cleaning, commuting, paying the bills, and taking the kids to school. It must take into account the different and often conflicting needs of the individual family members. It must also give focus to holistic dynamics so that the family acts like a single, unified whole – for example, making sure that there’s plenty of love, warmth, laughter, support, and nurturing for all of its members.

If the family isn’t able to shape or respond to the environment, or if it loses focus on the parts or the whole, it will quickly run into trouble. If the pattern continues, then the family will disintegrate. Just imagine a family that doesn’t have income, or a family that can’t perform its daily routine, or that can’t respond to new economic changes, or whose members are always fighting among themselves. Obviously, it’s not a family you’d want to be a part of. It […]

By |2021-05-18T05:34:14-07:00November 5th, 2011|

How Square Went Against Popular Strategic Advice and Won

There’s a popular view among technology startups that a smart business strategy is to build a product that’s designed for the leading industry giant to acquire. It usually sounds something like this: “We’re building the next-generation router that Cisco will need to add to its product line. Our strategy is to build the product, get them to adopt it, and ultimately have them buy us out.” Like a lot of things in life, just because this view is popular, doesn’t mean it’s right. In fact, gearing your strategy towards the leading industry giant is usually dead wrong. Here’s why and how to choose a better strategy.

The Story of Square

You may have heard of a company called Square Payments, Inc. Square is a mobile payment solution company that allows anyone to accept credit card payments using their mobile phone. In just over a year since its launch, the company had nearly $1 billion in processed payments. It has recently accepted an undisclosed investment from Visa, the leading credit card processor. The insider consensus is that, if Square continues to execute its strategy, it will revolutionize how we pay for things in the real world. It could be as disruptive to payments as iTunes was to music. How did this all happen in such a short amount of time?

The story of how Square came to life is a great one. Square was created by Jack Dorsey (Jack also happens to be the co-founder and Executive Chairman of Twitter, but that’s a different story). When you learn the story of Square, it becomes clear that Jack didn’t start out to revolutionize the payments industry. His original […]

By |2021-05-18T05:34:42-07:00November 2nd, 2011|

The Pre-Startup Checklist


Before a startup ever launches, you should have a checklist of critical items in place. These items have nothing to do with writing a business plan or forming the articles of incorporation. In line with the old saying “well begun is half done,” without these basic requirements, the venture won’t get off to a successful start. Even worse, ignoring this checklist can lead to your investing a lot of capital, time, and energy – only to find out that you’re doing the wrong thing, with the wrong team, at the wrong time.

The Real Difference Between Startup and Pre-startup

I’m going to define the core difference between startup and pre-startup using a single word: commitment. Commitment means that the entrepreneur and founding team have taken a real risk to make the business happen. They are clearly and unequivocally in. It’s Dodge City or Bust. Without commitment, the venture will remain stuck in pre-startup mode – as an idea that will never be actualized.

For example, I recently had coffee with an old colleague who wanted to talk about his new “startup.” He had written a business plan, registered a domain name, and was seeking advice on raising capital and building the technology. He was still working at his day job, where he planned to stay while building on the idea in his spare time. As we talked, I could tell that what he really wanted was someone with whom he could discuss the idea – to explore it further and get another perspective. He was still just trying it on and not yet fully committed.

You can always tell if someone is committed to a […]

By |2021-05-18T05:35:05-07:00October 31st, 2011|

The Stages of the Execution Lifecycle


Navigating your company up the execution lifecycle 1 and keeping it in optimum shape is a great challenge. This article will show you how to do it successfully.

The stages of the execution lifecycle become easier to understand with a little pattern recognition. Basically, every business must shape or respond to its environment and it must do so as a whole organization, including its parts and subparts. If it doesn’t do this, it will cease to exist. Recognizing this, we can call out four basic patterns or forces that give rise to individual and collective behavior within an organization. They are the Producing, Stabilizing, Innovating, and Unifying (PSIU) forces. Each of these expresses itself through a particular behavior pattern. The combination of these forces causes the organization to act in a certain way.

Just like the other lifecycles, the execution lifecycle exists within a dynamic between stability and development. The basic stages of the execution lifecycle are birth, early growth, growth, and maturity and, from there, things descend into decline, aging, and death. The focus within the execution lifecycle should be to have the right mix of organizational development and stability to support the stages of the product and market lifecycles. That is, the lifecycle stage of the surrounding organization should generally match the lifecycle stage of the products and markets. If it’s a startup, the surrounding organization is the entire company. If it’s a Fortune 500 company, this includes the business unit that is responsible for the success of […]

By |2021-05-18T05:37:49-07:00October 28th, 2011|
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