Get the team together

I was having an amazing coffee with Nathan Sampimon and Ross Hill the other day, talking about life, business and (often) the new book rework by the guys at 37signals. But one topic that kept resonating in our caffeine laced discussion was one of getting the team together. I’d like to discuss this idea a little more here today


For me, the idea of getting the team together (think – we’re getting the band back together!) is something quite powerful. Pulling the team together is normally done in light of creating something meaningful and making good stuff happen. Nath does it with Inspire9, Nigel did it to win a national HPV event and even Tom Peters (the ‘uber’ management guru) suggests finding a ‘freaky friend’ to have coffee with before unleashing your new idea on the world. Pull your team together and begin working on it, secretly, until you’re ready to release something to the world.

So how do you pull the team together? Chances are, you already know who you want in your team. They’re probably #samehumans. Have coffee with them. Discuss the merits of the idea (and the scope!) and talk about all the things you WON’T do.

It’s easy to pull together the team when you have fireworks to offer: cash, equity, funding etc etc.But most people don’t have any real ammunition in their belts. Nor, I’m guessing, do you just yet. And that’s ok. You don’t need it.

So talk about the simplest thing that you will do together. Talk about how that will take you to the minimum viable product of what you want to achieve, and then figure out who else (if anyone else) you need to on the team to help make that happen. Don’t let the team grow to big – you don’t want to deal with that just yet. 3-4 is plenty and 2 is probably best. Agree on what you’re going to do, and then do it.  And, as Sivers says, keep it secret.

Chances are, pulling the team together will help make something amazing happen, even if you’re not quite sure of what that is just yet. Don’t fret – just start with a coffee and see how it pans out.

Outliers, 10,000 hours and the Generation 'Z'

I have just finished the new Malcolm Gladwell book, Outliers and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fantastic, but instead of give you a standard review I thought I would elaborate and theorise around a question of my own which hit me somewhere through the last third of the book.

“If it takes 10,000 hours to ever get really good at something, and teenagers today cannot focus for more than 5 minutes on one task, where will we be in 10 years time?

In the book, Gladwell discusses a clip of film depicting how a women named Renee went about solving a math problem. Renee, a nurse, has not done any maths since her days at school many years ago. In the clip, she struggles with a basic algebraic problem. It takes her a full 22 minutes, and a heap of iterations, to solve it. What does this mean? Renee is slow? She is terrible at maths? No. Not even the right question, according to Gladwell.

How can solving a maths problem in 22 minutes be a good thing? 

It simply highlights that Renee, for any number of reasons (which Gladwell elaborates on in the book), has the ability to work at a problem until it is solved.Gladwell goes on to interview a teacher who claims the average 8th grader would probably have a stab for a maximum of 5 minutes before asking him to show him to solve the problem.

The contention of Gladwells book, to me, was that success is dependant on a whole host of unique, often inherited, factors which each combine to create an environment where success is able to happen. There is no overnight success story – every successful person, event or idea is actually the result of a whole host of previous, even generational, occurrences and massive amounts of good ol’ fashioned hard work.

Small attention spans and success – the future?

So, if we take Gladwells contention to it’s most extreme point, we see a world where the youth of today (in the Western world, primarily) are potentially being disadvantaged by their own addictions to ‘noise.’ Many kids now don’t have attention span beyond 2 minutes, let alone 22. Watching my brother do homework earlier this year for his Year 12 exams really brought it home. He would sit himself in front of the computer, with MSN, MySpace and music on as well as a game of World of Warcraft on in the background. He gets his results on Monday.

The point I’m trying to make is, in a world where we really need 20 minutes to solve a basic problem and 10,000 hours to master a given subject, our new ability to multitask on 20 different items could create a real problem. Mark Sayers thinks many kids will face a ‘quarter-life crisis’ as they struggle to make meaning of their hyper-consumer lives. Anxiety looks set to become the new depression as the mental illness young people will ‘have to have’. (Excuse the Keating pun).

Mindfulness and ‘batching’ – the new TQM and Six Sigma?

I’ve riffed on Mindfullness before – but Outliers goes one step beyond simply saying we need to have discipline in our thoughts and actions. It goes to say that success is only born from incredibly hard work and intuitively aligned opportunities.

But how will this success be born in a generation (including myself here) who don’t really focus on any one thing for more than 3-5 minutes? Do we need to introduce an idea of Six Sigma quality into our thinking patterns? I’ll follow this up with another post when the thought has had a bit more time to stew, but for now here is my current train of thinking.

Six Sigma = Eliminate Defects*

Mindfulness = Eliminate Distractions**

* where a defect is anything that leads to customer dissatisfaction

**Where a distraction is anything which takes a persons individual focus away from solving a problem in the pursuit of mastery of a subject.


Do yourself a favour and buy the book. It’s a great read, and Gladwell has now truly mastered the art of capturing, synthesising and telling a ripping story that teachers and captures our world. Modern day Aesop? Huge call, but i’ll go with it. Enjoy!


Talent and playing to your strenghts

Malcolm Gladwell launches a new book soon, Outliers, which I can’t wait to read. It’s topic, quite broadly, is talent and the new world of work. I’m not sure which way he is going to swing with the book, but he always ensures a gripping read and a different view point that stun most of his reading audience, this blogger included!

But tonight I was reading his latest article for The New Yorker and seem to have stumbled onto his new contention – that talent sometimes takes time to incubate and that the greatest artists/writers and creative people of all time tend to either be young geniuses or old masters. He notes in his article, however, that the young guns get much more celebrity and kudos because they are young than those who become masters late in life. In his New Yorker article, he compares artists Picasso and Cezanne, who came to creative mastery at polar opposite stages in life.

Buddy Love

We here in Australia also share this preponderance to celebrate youth more than they often deserve – from the AFL Draft and the mystery and news paper inches filled with wondering about who will pick up the latest talent, to the fresh celebrity of a new graduate employee who holds a certain ‘something’ that makes them more important or valuable than the older stage-rs.

Col Duthie posted last week at the Ergo Blog about how HR departments often try to ‘fix’ people within their companies by attending to their weaknesses with training programs and development course, when they should really be trying to leverage people for their strengths. I agree with this kind of thinking, but the Gladwell article has served to make me pause before blindly calling halt to working on my weaknesses. What is the best type of talent strategy to leverage your company towards a more innovative organisation?

Is it to find the best talent, perhaps the best marketer, creative or even administrative assistant and deal with the variants on performance such personality types experience? Or should HR functions search for people on the path towards their ultimate mastery, and thus pick people up who are still learning and can be funneled into ‘learning and development’ programs?

Perhaps more broadly, is it better for people to create the right environment and pursue their dreams of being ‘the’ person in their field? This is the kind of thinking I am most enamoured with lately. Pat Allan (whilst he will claim he is far from there) is doing it with gusto. Tim Ferris has made a living from giving himself space to ‘be’ and created a huge bread-crumb trail for people to follow with his 4-Hour Work week. Julian Cole seems to be carving out a great niche in something he loves, Sandra Arico is making amazing waves in the world of consulting whilst Ross Hill has become ‘the’ Ross Hill recently with the continued baby steps of Yabble. My question – how do you create that environment? Gladwells book should provide yet more fodder for the brain, but right now do you prefer the young-genius route or the old-master route…and which path are you on?

Guus Hiddink, total football and innovative teams

Well, Guss Hiddink has done it again. Can you believe it? This man (read, marvel) has yet again taken an underdog team,  hopelessly under-achieving on the world stage, turned it around through a solid foundation of expectations and playing methods and then successfully cajoled them into high-performance mode to be 2 wins away from lifting the Euro08 Cup. The man is amazing, and anyone who remembers of the Socceroo’s 2006 World Cup campaign, as well as the success of the South Koreans in 2002 will know just how incredible this mans achievements are. But what makes him such a good coach?

How could you not love this man?

Surely, it can’t be his tactics. There are many great coaches about, all have their own bag of tricks but sooner or later those tricks get found out. Guus has been leading underdogs towards immense success for the best part of 15-20 years now…all in highly varied cultures (Netherlands, South Korea, Australia, now Russia). The answer, as I believe it, is a methodology of coaching known simply as ‘Total Football.’

Total Football was created by the Dutch, who used the system to devastating effect in European club and international matches through-out the 1970’s and 80’s, teams in which Guus was involved. Essentially, Total Football is a way of playing that allows for each player on the pitch to cover for another player where-ever he moves. Essentially, all the players in the squad ensure the tactical roles on the pitch are always filled. The success of the system depends greatly on the technical attributes of each player on the team, and especially on their fitness. Each player on the team must be able to fill each tactical role that may be called for in a game.

 ‘Simple football is the most beautiful. But playing simple football is the hardest thing.”

– Johan Cruyff

I think there is a lot to learn from this particular area of the sporting world, especially where innovation comes into play. Recently, I have been in many a conversation about the validity of starting or running innovation unit’s in larger companies.  There are many issues that ALWAYS seem to come up when innovation units are discussed, many of which are things like ‘Resource Allocation’ and ‘Implementation.’ To me, there is never a shortage of ideas around any company (and especially not around World Vision). But, there is always a shortage of ‘resource’ to make things happen and essentially lead the implementation of an Innovation Units best ideas. Props here to Deloitte’s Innovation , championed by Peter Williams. They’re amazing at this – best in Australia I’ve heard/seen/read of.

This is where the Guss Hiddink/Dutch philosophy of ‘Total Football’ meets the business paradigm of Innovation. To me, just as in a game of football, there will be times when a super-talented, super-freaky employee will need to launch into a new venture or project to achieve outcomes beneficial to the entire team (opps, organisation/company). There will also be times when those players will need to be covered whilst they progress up the field to score. And, at different times, these employees will need to swap roles, to bring to bear the best talent available for any particular project at any particular time.

And so come the innovation units. These units, which seem to be popping up everywhere, should contain the Guus Hiddinks of the world. The people who can train in people the techniques, abilities and ‘fitness’ to be able to take advantage of any given opportunity when it arises. You don’t see a football player take a back step when a gap opens up in an opponents defence because it’s not his place to run into it, do you? So why do we continue to believe that business is best done by people in extremely specific, role centred jobs? This just makes them harder to release forward when the time calls for it. To me, the ability to create a flexible, proactive team that can support and change quickly to match any given opportunity but still defend their own goals is one that is extremely powerful and successful. 

My prediction – Gus Hiddink moves into Corporate Coaching at $$$$ an hour to teach corps Total Business. Will you be fit enough?

Do you know how to play the game?

I’ve been ruminating about this post for quite a while and it is being finally ‘penned’ because of the quote I ran into yesterday.

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” – Wayne Gretzky

I couldn’t help but think about the world of entrepreneurship and innovation, where often a shot not taken is an opportunity missed. Unfortunately, in life (and by extension, in business), when to take the shot is not always apparent. Gretzky relied on a gut feel and hours and hours of practice to know, instinctively, when was the right time to take his shot. I ask, are you practicing and ready to step up and take your turn to shoot? Will you know when this time is?

One of the more successful musicians of the last few years has been Justin Timberlake. Now, I love JT – he can wear a man-vest like no-other-man-can but that is not the reason for his success. To me, his success is attributable to his ability to practice his game rigorously and then take his shot when it was time. Not only this, but take his game to another level through amazing collaborations. In an MTV interview I saw recently with JT and Timbaland, there was one other quote which really stood out to me.

  This, is money

“You see this…this, is money” – Timbaland, MTV Interview.

These guys are an amazing example of a collabroative approach. But, also, they know their game so well that it’s merely a matter of doing ‘their thing’ to create amazing results (ahem – ‘money’). Have a read of this Rolling Stone article for more on how the two came together to create songs for the Futuresex/Lovesounds album. It’s not easy, but Gretzky never said shooting was either. For them, their partnership and the way they go about taking their shot again and again produces immense success. For me, I’m learning how to play the game of innovation and entrepreneurship. I don’t know my game perfectly yet, but I’m working everyday on getting better. And I’m practicing by taking as many shots as I can.