Can a system work for a business?

Absolutely! Intentions, goals and systems work well for business. In fact, they provide a scaling power that builds culture for young upstarts as much as a change in culture at established companies. It powers a company’s values with objectivity. Finally, it gives leadership and founders the ability to know that their teams are making the same decisions they would make even when they are not in the room with them.

But, it requires work, commitment and communication just like with your personal journey but more because you are not influencing yourself, but others on your teams. I wrote a post about using a system for businesses on another site. Here’s the link.

  • Simplicity almost always beats complexity so try to simplify your thinking – just don’t oversimplify it.
  • Focus on what matters most (to your vision for your business) and do fewer things better – effectiveness over efficiency. Simplify.
  • Respond and innovate faster driven by purpose around these few things that matter – agility over productivity. Simplify.
  • Use data, not anecdote to make decisions. It’s within your reach, even when it’s not perfect. Simplify.
  • A system based on fact and focus will help your team make good decisions when you’re miles away (build culture and drive systematic change). Simplify it for them.

Coincidentally, this idea of focus gains importance every time there is talk of recession. The good news is that we generally come out having learned something and those internalized learnings help us grow smarter when the next boom cycle comes.

What was most helpful for you in this post? Let me know in the comments. Share it with your friends and acquaintances that are trying to figure out how to manage through uncertainty in their business.

Take care and be safe!

Can 80/20 be a good system? Part 3

Welcome to Part 3. Let’s take a deeper look at the 80/20 system with an example. We’ll use the same goal from Part 2 but dig in deeper.

So, let’s recap the goal and make it more specific and time bound: “Compete in a 5K race in 3 months”

Step 1: The Scientist –

Let’s start by collecting some data.

I spend 70% of my time in weight training or cardio

Remember 80% is just a basic anchor for measurement. It could be 70 or 90. Now let’s look at another related data point.

I do close to 90% of my running in just 2 days (about 30% of available time) – not exactly 80/20 but that’s okay

Finally, some other facts: I usually workout at a gym and feel like doing weights and breaking it up with swimming, cardio and another activity is good for me. The “other activity” gives me the chance to hang out with friends (which is the real motivation). Next, I prefer running outdoors to indoors especially when the weather is warm (hot is okay, cold is not okay). I got into the running habit after an injury and it stuck because I enjoyed the feeling of running outdoors (fresh air, sights, animals etc.). Finally, I prefer running alone but longer runs are exhausting when I’m by myself.

Step 2: The Futurist

So what should my future workout pattern look like? I did some research into competitive times, training plans etc. and came up with the following. Generally, to be competitive in a 5K, I need to be under the 30 minute mark. My goal is not to set a 5K record and it isn’t just to complete a 5K. My goal is to be competitive (remember SMART + ICE)


I need to spend 80% of my time running
  • Run 5 out of 7 days
  • Rest 2 days and do different types of runs (speed run, long run, recovery run) on the other days
  • Don’t run a speed run and a long run back to back
  • Run more than 30 minutes (at some point) for a long run, to build endurance for race day

Step 3: The Engineer

Let’s reverse engineer from future me back to current. By doing this, I’ll begin to narrow down which days to dedicate to which type of runs. For example: Monday and Thursday for Speed Runs, Tuesday and Friday for Recovery Runs, Wednesday, Saturday for Long Runs and Wednesday and Sunday for Rest.

You can already tell that I will also be faced with choices. The easy stuff is switching days around for certain types of workout like weights and swimming. But some of the harder stuff also becomes clear. For example, as I only have (or believe I have) 30 minutes available each day to work out, I will need to give up some activities (long term habits) or find additional time without risking physical exhaustion. In this case, I can choose to give up “other sport” but having understood why I partake in it (that is to hang out with friends), I can plan to meet them after any of my workouts at the gym or alternate between other workouts and playing sports with them every week.

There is another important consideration though and that is my preference to run alone. The issue is that I end up running out of steam on longer runs. Also, with the colder months approaching, I will need to run indoors. So, in conclusion, to focus on my 80s,

I need to give up some activities and also build endurance and motivate myself to run for longer than I’m used to both indoors and outdoors

Finally, as a result of this reverse engineering, I have also identified some simple metrics. Initially (say for a week or two), it will only be about how many days I start the plan even if I don’t run the full distance (getting warmed up to a new habit). Then it will be about how many runs I actually run from start to finish and finally it will be about pace. So you see, I can be in full control and focused on the main elements of the goal – consistent running and building endurance.

Step 4: Be like Mario

The key thing for this step is to start and be aware of my running. So first, I break down my goal into smaller targets. Since I have been running, my target is to keep running on the days I was already doing cardio and on the other planned running days, I aim to run for 10-30% (so 500m to 1.5K) of the 5K distance and walk the rest depending on the run and how I’m feeling. Basically, I’m getting my body used to the running without taxing it.

I also begin to keep a running log with some simple information: how did I feel before the run, how did I feel after the run, where did I run, when did I run. Some of this information can be captured by a running app.

Learn, Improve, Grow: The Virtuoso

And now, we’re ready to Learn, Improve, Grow

Learn: I decide to download a running plan which seemed a good fit with my goals and initial expectations from Step 4 (not exact, but close). Next, I start a habit of reading my log the night before to evaluate what adjustments I need to make today. For example: remember my “exhaustion” on longer runs. Well, I began to realize that it was not physical but mental – concretely, it was anxiety to finish the run amplified by running alone.

Improve: I address that anxiety by downloading an app with guided runs and by finding new places close to home thus increasing my interest and commitment to my goal. Being closer to home also gets me some extra time to warm up instead of going to gym, reducing some friction in starting a run and giving me that extra time I would need for a long run. On bad days, I adjust the plan – rest, recover, read, walk, to keep the motivation going.

Grow: As I hit the initial targets, I check in every week on how I’m feeling. I feel better every time I start and I celebrate more often during the run – the 20% and 80% mark as well as the 50% and 100% mark. I also begin to notice that I have more emotional energy, I am calmer and more relaxed now that I’m spending time on something I am beginning to enjoy more and more. When I hit a bad patch (or on cold days), I take the run to the treadmill (armed with my guided run).

So as you can see, using this system, not only kept me firmly in control of my goal but it also gave me a way to find and focus on what’s important to achieve my goal.

Why don’t you give it a try. Let me know in the comments what was most helpful for you. And yes, subscribe for more information and tools on how to use this technique on your specific goals.

Making strategic personal choices – think different

When you hear the phrase “strategic choices”, it’s natural to think it’s related to a business and not a personal situation. However, you and I make strategic personal choices too! For example: “Should I get that degree or stick with my current job”. Sometimes it’s a variant of this question where the latter choice is a new, exciting job. What a tough choice! Have you encountered such a choice or are you facing a similar choice?

First, off, let’s understand that strategic choices are worthy of our attention and focus because of the impact they can have on our longer-term future. At the same time, it’s important to not be paralyzed by a strategic choice though I know this is easier said than done. Finally, let’s be grateful when we are faced with choice because many others don’t get such choices. Ready to begin? There are three steps and one follow up:

An open mind

Look at the whole problem with an open mind. Too often, we are constrained by our own experience, our emotional state at that moment or the experience of others (our context) believing that this is an either-or choice, and it may as well not be. So, step out of the thinking mind, dispel judgment for a minute and ask yourself –

What if I could do both of these things?

A positive lens without attachment

Next, let your creativity begin to flow as you write down all the benefits specifically, how each choice will serve your broader intentions. Even if they make you a better person or make the world better by 1%, don’t disregard it. This is you achieving the full potential of both choices and checking if they are truly worthy by asking?

How much will I regret it if I don’t get these things?

A growth mindset to question why

Now, you can explore the constraints that prevent from achieving this full potential. This approach helps us to lead with our motivation instead of “yes, but”. It sets a high bar for a constraint to overcome and make it worth your while to ask?

Why do I have these constraints?

There is an old trick called 5 Whys from the Lean approach that can helpful here to understand the true cause of these constraints. Again, don’t overthink, but do think so you can then figure out 2 things.

1. Can I unravel them i.e., is it a limitation within my control?

2. If I truly can’t break the constraint, what can I do to bring over some of the positives from one choice in to other so I can make the most of making one choice?

Great work! Now, take a break. What you’re doing now is giving yourself the space to try to look at the problem from a different emotional context. There is plenty of evidence that our emotional and physical states have a huge impact on our judgment (You can read all about in Daniel Kahneman’s wonderful book “Noise”). So, go meditate, go for a swim or a run, spend time with a loved one etc. Then, take another look at your mind doodle seeking any new patterns. It’s amazing how a re-think in a different emotional state can open up new possibilities and answers.

The follow up and finale

Terrific work! We’re ready to test and learn. Now, you can reach out to a few people who you believe will listen to you and offer you their objective analysis. Walk them through your thinking – your full potential, what you believe are the reasons behind your constraints but don’t share your solution yet. The primary benefit of doing this is that people tend to be better at objective assessments when they are not involved in the outcome and often bring a positive mindset to reinforce a positive future. Thus, you get, for free (!), an extra set of brains to ponder your problem with you. Did someone say wisdom of the crowd?

Thoughts? You might apply a similar approach to your products and business too. Do you have similar questions about your career or a similar strategic choice about your business. Feel free to reach out to me. Send me a comment, hit like and subscribe to stay in touch!