Five Key Success Principles You Haven’t Heard Of
September 13, 2017
There are many business books which set the stage for making important points with quotes by famous people like Jack Welch or Steve Jobs. I like to read about and collect maxims and quotes from people who accomplish ambitious goals.
Of all the nuggets of wisdom I have collected, I find there are a handful that I think about often and many of them come from less-known people I have met personally.
For some of my favorites, I’ve named a principle or law after the person that inspired my thinking. Here are five principles I’ve I learned first-hand from individuals I’ve worked for, taken a class from, or heard speak:
- Lasher’s Law
- Lana’s Uncertainty Attenuation Principle
- The Circa Six Formula
- The Fulford Rule
- Manner’s Question One
Lasher’s Law – Preparation is the Unseen Success Factor
“It’s all in the continuous hard work and preparation. For some reason, few understand this dimension of success.” – Dr. Harry J. Lasher (to his MBA students)
I have heard many similar statements, but I like the way Dr. Lash, as he let his MBA students call him, worded it. Dr. Lash was talking specifically about leadership and accomplishment, and his words ring true today.
This one is similar to Thomas Jefferson’s quote, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."
Hard work and preparation precede big deals and opportunities. Earl Nightingale said, “Don’t stand in front of an empty stove and ask for heat.” Nature doesn’t work like that! Pile the wood in first. It’s easy to think about the moment a goal is realized, without thinking about the preparation that went into creating that successful moment.
Do any of these expressions about preparation seem like precursors to success?
- Days preparing for the presentation delivered in 15 minutes
- Years earning the degree that communicates a level of education in two seconds
- Years of practice to score the winning points
- Decades building a reputation and relationship that closes an important deal in a single meeting
Even the gifted don’t get to the very top of their fields with their gifts alone, it’s with continuous hard work and preparation, and Lash summed it up perfectly.
But shouldn’t we be working smarter, not harder? Working smarter is the crux of the remainder of this post.
Lana’s Uncertainty Attenuation Principle
“As a leader, you can never be 100 percent wrong if you do what’s right for the customer.” -Lana Southwick
As a leader, you will often have to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty. The rules can never cover every situation and sometimes there are real tradeoffs and consequences.
Decisions with no consequences are easy. Decisions with known tradeoffs and compromises are tough. But decisions that must be made under uncertain conditions are among the most challenging. Lana’s advice is truth we can cling to. No one can make a rule that applies 100 percent of the time. And while sometimes, in hindsight, the customer-friendliest decision isn’t the best, erring on the side of the customer is never entirely wrong for business – it’s a way to gain some certainty in an uncertain world.
The Circa 6 Formula, .c6 = 80%
Derived from the Pareto Principle applied to a lecture from the late Jim Rohn
Most people have heard of the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule, which states that 80 of the results come from 20 percent of the effort. For example:
- 20% of customers generate 80% of the revenue
- 80% of the time in a project is spent on 20% of the tasks
- 80% of one’s commute is spent on 20% of the route
Rohn’s observation was that in every business, relationship, project, or goal, “there are about ‘six big things’ that determine most of the results.” It might be five, it might be seven, but about half a dozen very import factors determine most of success.
This piece isn’t about what the big six are for any particular area like personal finance or for projects, but as a way of illustration, in regards to personal finance, a few of the big six ideas might be:
- Paying off and staying out of debt
- Saving 10% of what one earns
- Diversifying investments across different assets classes
For a successful project, a few of the big six might be:
- Having a visible and engaged project sponsor
- Proactive stakeholder communication
- Strong commitment and motivation of the project team
Putting the concepts of the Pareto Principle and the Big 6 together, we get the Circa 6 Formula. In most important endeavors, there are 100+ variables that influence the outcome, but about six very important variables determine 80 percent of the outcome.
Now here are the questions the Circa 6 Formula leads us to ask:
- For your goals, projects, relationships, and most important endeavors, do you know what the big six are?
- Are you focusing on them in the right proportion or getting distracted by low return factors?
The Fulford Rule
“Make the easy stuff easy.”– Lee Fulford
I once reported to a manager who quipped that we have to “make the easy stuff easy,” or what I came to call the “Fulford Rule.”
In a world where things get off track, over-complicated, or done because we’ve been doing it that way and haven’t asked if it still makes sense, the Fulford rule is a simple but immensely powerful concept. We all do it. We go to a meeting to decide X, and spend 50 percent of the time talking about unrelated issues.
In my field, Agile development is the rage. But some Agile practitioners spend 90 percent of their time on process discussion (the first principle in the Agile manifesto is, “people and interactions over processes”). We send back-and-forth email chains to decide something best done face-to-face, or in a two minute phone call.
Fulford’s rule is a corollary of the KISS principle. It’s also another way to say that there are only so many time, money, and resources – don’t waste them on things that provide low value. Make the easy stuff easy is a clever way to reminding ourselves to stay on track and not overcomplicate what should be straight forward.
In discussing this post with Fulford, he wanted me mention that this rule also reminds us to invest in the easy to complete activities that go away when completed. Doing so saves time in the long run and frees up time for more important activities.
Manner’s Question One
“Can you demonstrate that you understand what your customer wants?”-Dr. George Manners
Dr. Manners was one of my professors in my MBA program at Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. Manners once relayed a powerful question he used in his consulting practice. As the story goes, when Manners was hired by a CEO to work with his management team, Manners would not let the team discuss other topics until they could answer Question One, using very specific definitions of the words in the question.
Manner’s had several other questions, worded just so, but answering Question One sometimes took weeks of soul searching and revamping the leadership culture.
Let’s unpack and examine the very specific words in Question One.
Can you demonstrate that you understand what your customer wants?
Demonstrate: Speak with Data
- Don’t rely on experience, hearsay, or assumptions from smart people. Go find out. I’m re-reading “The Lean Start Up” by Eric Ries, in which he explains how companies can be innovative like startups and dramatically increase their chance of building products the customer wants by managing the process and testing assumptions about the business using the scientific method.
- The heart of this process is using validated learning, or what Manners might call, “speaking with data” and being able to demonstrate your understanding.
Understand – Empathize with Your Customer
- Be able to perceive and comprehend the customer’s perspective.
- Appreciate the customer’s pain points, benefit creators, and the job customers are trying to do.
- What is your research telling you?
Customer: Know Your Customer
- The one that makes the buying decision.
- What if you’re blessed with users that don’t make the buying decision? Then you must get to the very heart of what makes users influence your customer.
Wants: People Buy What they Want
- Even if you are clever enough to figure out what your customers need before they realize it themselves, you had better figure out if they will want it and be able to validate it.
- For more related to this topic, check out my post: 7 Ways Agile Teams Should Adopt the Mindset of a Lean Startup Entrepreneur.
You could read 100 books on business, accomplishments, product development and project success, and rarely collect better takeaways than to continuously prepare and work hard, err on the side of the customer, identify and focus on the most important drivers of results, and demonstrate a detailed knowledge of understanding of what your customers want. Last but not least, you are going to get off track, and when you do, don’t forget to keep the easy stuff easy.
What are your favorite takeaways from your bosses, coaches, professors, and teachers? Tweet me @MrTapley.
Shawn Tapley is a project manager at Travelport, an Agile practitioner. He has been involved in the research and development of numerous new products and features, working closely with the product team, and has facilitated joint application design (JAD) sessions and product ideation workshops.