Why You Should Say Yes (and Carry a Gun)

shoebillAlmost all of us do too little. It might not feel that way. But that’s because we do too much of the wrong things: the Constant Reasons to Avoid Productivity. Almost all of us do too little of the stuff that matters.

We do too few projects, marketing campaigns and strategic stuff. We grasp too few opportunities. We say we have too much on our plate.

We say “NO” to opportunity…

But the real issue is the aforementioned too much C.R.A.P and the subject of this post – the underperforming project that you don’t kill because that looks like failure. Or you are an unalloyed optimist. Or you are in love with it. It’s your baby. Your pet.

But the secret to doing more of the good stuff (obviously after elimination of all C.R.A.P) is to kill the weaklings early. You know what the minimum acceptable success looks like in your project/product etc. For the runts who don’t cut the mustard – kill them. To not do so is to risk the survival of the others.

Take a lesson from Mother Nature…

Be brutal. She is.

You see the nice civilised business person Mr Busy does five projects a year. Two are smashes and make £10 each. One makes £2, one loses £2 and the cutest (it’s always the cutest) loses £10. That’s £10 + £10 + £2 – £2 – £10 = £10 in total for the year across all five projects.

Meanwhile Mother Nature slips on her business suit and gets to work. She says “Yes” a lot and does ten projects in the year. (That’s why you see grass growing out of a crack in the concrete – no opportunity missed). She is no better predictor of business success than Mr Busy and in fact because she does more projects than Mr Busy the extra ones are of a lower quality so her profit performance for these ones is poorer.

She returns the same as Mr Busy for five of the projects and nets £10 as he does.

But her other five are not so good. For them she gets £8 + £8 + £1 – £3 – £12 = £2.

A total of £12 across all ten projects.  

So Mother Nature has done twice as much (valuable) work and she’s £2 up on Mr Busy. OK not bad, a 20% profit increase is not to be sniffed at.

But that’s not what happens is it..?


Mother Nature, considers the behaviours she has so carefully inculcated into one of her previous projects – the African shoebill. This bird is more…how can I put it? More focused. She has two babies, sorry projects. Number 1 is the future. Number 2 is a backup. If all goes well with number 1, number 2 will be neglected (offered no resources or time) and will die. If something befalls number 1, number 2 will get a chance. But there will be only one. I told you she was focused.

So Mother Nature doesn’t let her big losses (-£10 and -£12) become big losses. She stops feeding them. The project that would have consumed £10 is killed at a spend of £5 and the one destined to consume £12 is killed at a spend of £6.

That’s a saving of £11 so Mother Nature’s total is the previous £12 + the newly saved £11= £23 which is a 130% profit increase over Mr Busy.

Mother Nature gets the corner office, the big car, the admiration of her peers and Mr Busy for breakfast.

Mother Nature says “Yes” a lot, grasps her opportunities but kills the weaklings early and therefore cheaply. She cuts off resources as soon as things start going wrong.  

But, but, but Mark, we need to be patient…

No. Mother Nature may well kill a good but slow-to-develop project too soon. But she will never know and she doesn’t care because her approach, in the round, gives a much better result. It may not give the absolute best result possible in any single year but that cannot be delivered consistently because in trying to do so she will rack up more £10 and £12 losses. She doesn’t ride her losers hoping they will become winners.  

There’s a lot of stuff in nature that seems wasteful or sub-optimal. But evolution is no fool.

Like my most successful clients – ditch the C.R.A.P., say “Yes” more often to opportunity and when it goes wrong reach for your gun.

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