Two Steps To Success

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How well are you planning for success?

It was the late nineties when I took on a marketing position at Airborne Entertainment. The company’s vision was to deliver big content on little screens. Yes, nearly a decade ago when all mobile carriers cared about was how many minutes their consumers were using to make phone calls, the notion of content delivered to a mobile device was nascent (to put things into perspective, there was no text messaging or ringtones at the time). This company had a simple goal: to take big brands and own the rights to develop their mobile content. We tend to forget how quickly things change, but back then there were no mobile Web browsers and each carrier had their own set pages of links for mobile content. You couldn’t just Google something on your mobile device or call up a Web page. My boss (and one of the owners of the operation) was Andy Nulman (currently back at his old gig running the famed Just For Laughs comedy brand). On my first day, he handed me a copy of famed business Guru, Tom Peters, book The Project 50. Having never spent any time reading non-fiction, that book sent me on ride that currently has me devouring 1-2 business books per week. Through hundreds of business books, seminars, audio books and more, there are two techniques to growing, nurturing and fostering business that I have uncovered on this reading journey that continuously add a deeper level of perspective to challenging business issues.

1. Create a matrix for everything.

Take a blank sheet of paper, draw one vertical line down the middle and then draw and line across it horizontally in the middle. Choose the area that is challenging you. As an example, let’s say it is talent. Now choose the two most important qualities you look for in talent. For the sake of this exercise, let’s call them creativity and effort. Put effort at the far right end of the horizontal line and put creativity at the top of the vertical line. Now, start plotting each and every one of your team members (including yourself). The top players should land in the uppermost corner of the top-right. How does your team look? If everyone is in the top right corner, does your bottom line agree with your assessment? For fun, I’ll often find myself looking at businesses or leaders I have come to respect, and I will plot them on this chart as well as a way to benchmark not only the people on my team, but how they compare to one to those we wish could be on our team. The beautiful fun of the matrix modeling is that you can do it for nearly every part of you business. From comparing your business to your competitors to a scorecard for new business opportunity to benchmarking your company’s website against others. All you need to do is define the two most important factors for success, and then have the integrity to plot everything with brutal honesty.

2. Work from the end backwards.

Back to Airborne Entertainment. Nulman didn’t just help me realize the value in reading and educating myself about business, he also helped me better understand how to define success. He would often talk about knowing what the dream of the business. He would do this grand vision and then talk about "walking it backwards." From day one, Nulman (and his business partner, Garner Bornstein) had a vision of selling Airborne Entertainment for over 100 million dollars. It wasn’t a get-rich-quick scheme (they were not looking for a quick score) and it certainly wasn’t the exit strategy. It was a big, hairy audacious goal. In knowing what outcome they wanted, they built the pillars of the business around what it would take to sell a mobile entertainment company for that size. At that point in time, most of the fervor over mobile content was happening in Asia. Ultimately, Airborne Entertainment was sold to Asian company for more than 100 million dollars. The correlation to the vision and the outcome came from each and every arduous step that this company took to set the stage for the result. While the company and the people were taking steps forward every day, Nulman and Bornstein were ensuring that these steps were in sync with how they were walking the business backwards towards the bigger dream. Most companies have a vision for their products and/or services, but few of them have a clearly defined outcome with a working and organic list of what is being done – each and every day – to check enough items off of that master list as it walks itself backwards.

It takes a notebook.

Whether you are using a classic Moleskine notebook and writing by hand or working with note-taking apps like Evernote or Noteshelf on a laptop or iPad, get obsessive about creating as many of these matrix models and waking it backwards notes as possible. All too often, business leaders forget the forest because they’re stuck staring at the trees. The hard work of elevating the tasks up to this higher vision can be daunting. There is no doubt that it takes a lot more work that creating these grids and lists, but you will be surprised by what kind of magic you will create for your business once you begin to become obsessive over taking notes, that are much more important than today’s to-do list or the stuff you are worried that you might forget.      

Now, it’s your turn: are there two simple strategies or tactics that you deploy to have a grander vision for your business success?

The above post is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure.

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