Whenever a new technology or innovation emerges, whenever the world changes in some significant and fundamental way, new opportunities are created for “adjacent” ideas and innovations. What was once impossible, suddenly becomes possible.
The Adjacent Possible is “the next possible thing”
Every time the world changes in some fundamental way, every time a new technology is invented, every time our behaviours change, a series of new adjacent technologies and opportunities become possible.
The invention of the Personal Computer made the Internet possible. The internet made e-Commerce possible. e-Commerce made Amazon possible. And so on…
Looking at this in reverse: Amazon cannot exist without e-Commerce; e-Commerce cannot exist without the internet; and the internet cannot exist without computers.
Whenever the world changes or a new technology emerges, brainstorm to uncover the new “adjacent possibles” and explore the resulting opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused major changes to our society, economy, and behaviours:
The acceleration and adoption of online commerce;
Expanded delivery and fulfillment networks;
“Work-from-Anywhere” distributed workforces;
Mass adoption of video-conferencing;
…and many more.
What has been enabled by these changes? What is possible now that was not possible before?
Thinking about these questions will uncover new “adjacent possibles” that were not possible just a short time ago. These new “adjacent possibles” are the sources of new opportunities and possibilities.
From Impossible to Adjacent Possible
Take an impossible idea and ask what “adjacent” technologies are needed to make this idea possible. If these adjacent technologies are also impossible, then ask yourself what “adjacent-to-the-adjacent” technologies are needed, and so on until you arrive at a “possible” technology. You now have a path towards your impossible idea.
Reflect and Diminish is a technique to deescalate situations where emotions run hot, and where decision making ability is compromised.
Use Empathy to de-escalate hot situations
Reflect and Diminish is a technique to deescalate situations where emotions run hot, and where decision making ability is compromised. Letting emotions drive decisions is a mistake, but this does not mean leaders should be devoid of emotions.
In situations where someone is overly emotional, it is important to both empathize with the person but to also reduce the emotion to a more controlled level so that you can focus on solving the problem at hand.
Reflect and Diminish: Reflect the emotions you are seeing but diminish them to a more controlled level.
When a teammate comes in fuming and screaming about the failure of the supply department to deliver materials on time, instead of telling them to calm down, raise your voice a little to reflect the anger, but diminish the emotion so it isn’t as strong as theirs.
It might end up sounding something like, “You’ve got to be kidding! How late are they with the delivery?”
With that statement, and the emotions reflected, you are now on your teammate’s side. “Two days!” your team mate replies, still mad, but with less venom.
Now you can settle down a little bit more. “Two days is way too long. We need to fix that permanently. But we also need to do something to fix the predicament that you’re in. How can I help you make that happen?”
Within this brief exchange, the situation has settled down, and you and your teammate can start to solve the actual problem at hand.
This technique works with just about any emotion. If someone is sad, reflect but diminish that sadness. If someone is envious, mirror a bit of envy before responding. Even when someone thinks a comment or situation is funny and you don’t, telling them to tighten it up and be serious is going to make them think you don’t have a sense of humour. Instead, smile and maybe chuckle, and then explain why you both need to take things a little more seriously. Because your teammate sees you have a sense of humour, and because you connect with them, they are much more likely to listen to you.
This technique works up and down the chain of command. Don’t isolate yourself emotionally from your team members. Instead foster shared emotions – reflect their emotions but diminish them so they de-escalate, and so you can focus on solving the problem at hand.
Train your teams by putting junior people in charge so they become more experienced and knowledgeable.
The best way to transfer knowledge and to build experience in a new team member is to put them in a leadership position. Put them in a position where they must make decisions and where they can make mistakes.
Ideally they are put in charge of a project that is outside of their comfort zone (but not excessively so). It should be challenging, but they should still ultimately succeed. You should continue to be there for support and instruction when necessary.
Putting junior people in charge makes them better. It makes them understand what is going on way above their pay grades. It makes them understand how their jobs impact higher level business goals, and is one of the best ways to develop team members.
“The ONE THING” is about taking the shortest path to achieving extraordinary results. It is not just about getting stuff done and being more productive: It’s about having meaningful days; being motivated and happy; working on important things that make a difference and that have a real impact.
Finding the Shortest Path to a Big Goal
1. Identify your long term goal
This process is about achieving a long term goal as quickly as possible. But you need to have a goal in mind.
2. Identify your one year goal
Ask yourself: “What is the ONE THING I can do THIS YEAR such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary in achieving my long term goal?” That ONE THING is your goal for the year.
3. Identify your goal for THIS MONTH
“What is the ONE THING I can do THIS MONTH such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary in achieving my one year goal?” That ONE THING is your goal for the month.
4. Identify your goal for THIS WEEK
“What is the ONE THING I can do THIS WEEK such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary in achieving my one month goal?” That ONE THING is your goal for the week.
5. Identify your goal for this TODAY
“What is the ONE THING I can do TODAY such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary in achieving my one week goal?” That ONE THING is your goal for today.
6. Work on TODAY’s goal for the first 4 hours of your day
Spend the FIRST HALF of your day working on your ONE THING. No interruptions, no distractions, no emails, no phone calls, no meetings. Just laser focused work on your most important task. Your morning is spent on your most important thing. The afternoon is left for emails, phone calls, and meetings. By working on your ONE THING first, you are sure it will get done. Things left for later have a chance of not getting done.
This process is not just about getting stuff done and being more productive: It’s about having meaningful days; being motivated and happy; working on important things that have a real impact and that truly make a difference.
Since I’ve started to use this process I’m more engaged at work, more motivated, less stressed out, and happier. I get to devote uninterrupted time to important meaningful projects that will have a huge impact. If I “run out of time” during my day, it’s the unimportant things that get dropped.
The Productive vs The Unproductive Day
Do you ever feel like you’ve been SUPER busy all day, yet didn’t get anything accomplished? Those are the days where you DID NOT work on your one most important thing.
The difference between a PRODUCTIVE day and an UNPRODUCTIVE day is how much time you spend on your ONE THING. If you work on your ONE THING first, your day is already productive and rewarding by the time lunch rolls around. It doesn’t matter what happens the rest of your day.
The Myth of Multitasking
It is a myth that you get more done by doing many things at the same time. If you want huge success, you need to be very narrowly focused. If you try to do two things at once you won’t do either well. Chasing too many rabbits leads to catching none.
Multitasking is a form of self distraction. When switching between two tasks, there is always a reorientation phase, and that’s wasted time.
The 80 / 20 rule
Not all things matter equally. Not all tasks are created equal. You need to focus on those that matter most and that produce the biggest results: If 20% of you activities result in 80% of your results, then you should be spending more of your time on those activities.
The Importance of Only ONE Thing
There can only be one most important thing. Many things may be important, but only one can be the most important. Not a few things… Not two things… ONE THING!
What is my ONE THING?
If today you (or your company) don’t know what your ONE THING is, then your ONE THING is to figure that out.
Family, Friends, and Life Outside of Work
Following this process means spending a large amount of time focused on a single often “work” related goal. That usually means less time for your family, friends, and other priorities. It is very important to ensure you are spending quality time with your family and friends during your evenings, weekends, and vacations.
Following this process tends to cause some chaos. Since you have less time to do “maintenance” work, you will tend to experience a messy desk, a messy email inbox, etc… Either clean it up in the afternoon, or live with it. Those are the costs of narrow focus and great results.
In your non-work life
The “One Thing process” can also be used at a smaller scale in your non-work life: What is the ONE thing you can do for your family that will have the most positive effect? What is the ONE thing you could do for your spouse that would make your relationship better? What is the ONE thing you could do for your parents or friends? What is the ONE thing you could change to improve your health? What is the ONE thing from a personal standpoint that would bring you the most happiness? Etc…
In your company
Your company should use this process to be laser focused on it’s most important, most impactful goal. And at a smaller scale, each department and each employee should have their long term goals with work backs to what their ONE THING for today is. If you have weekly status meetings, they should be used to help identify everyone’s ONE THING. Employee performance reviews should be about their ONE THING. Etc…
When an employee leaves, proactively help them find their next job. The faster they find a new job the less likely they are to get into a desperate situation and to do something that is against your best interest.
Firing someone sucks. Every situation is different, stressful, and unpleasant. For many small businesses, a decision to lay someone off often comes after weeks or months of deliberation, and after looking at all possible alternatives.
Even if you give a good severance package and a letter of reference, it’s sometimes not enough. I believe that a business’ responsibility to the employee isn’t done until they find their next job or career. When an employee leaves, the business should proactively help the ex-employee find their next job.
Here are some specific business reasons why it might be a good idea to go above and beyond to help an ex-employee land on their feet:
Build goodwill for future opportunities: Your past employees will have a more positive attitude towards you and your business if they feel that you genuinely did your best to help them. They are less likely to hold a grudge and more likely to help you in the future when an opportunity presents itself.
Strengthen relationships with current employees: Current employees will look to how you treat your past employees as an indication of how they will be treated when they leave.
Reduced risk of harm to the business: The faster a past employee finds a new job, the less likely they are to get into a desperate financial situation, and the less likely they are to do something for financial gain that is against your best interest, or that violates an NDA or non-compete.
If you are a business owner and are laying someone off, consider going the extra mile to help that employee find their next job — I think it will have long term benefits for your business.
Stewardship Delegation often requires training and development of the people that you are delegating to. This ensures that they are competent enough to rise to the level of trust required to delegate.
The Five key elements of Stewardship Delegation
1. Desired Results & Timelines
Clearly specify the results that are expected and their timeline. Focus on RESULTS and not the methods.
Have the person communicate back to you the final results they will be delivering and when they will be delivering them.
2. Guidelines and Restrictions
Identify any guidelines and major restriction within which the person should operate. These should be as few as possible, but DO identify any paths to failure.
3. Available Resources
Identify all resources available to help in achieving the results: List any human, financial, technical, and organizational resources.
4. Evaluation and Performance Standards
Setup the performance standards that will be used in evaluating the results and the specific times when evaluation will take place. The individual is responsible for the evaluation and for ensuring it takes place.
5. Consequences of Success or Failure
Specify what will happen – both good and bad — as a result of the evaluation. (Financial rewards, psychic rewards, different job assignments, etc…)
A few years ago we offered our employees the option to work 20% less in exchange for a 10% pay-cut. The results and reactions surprised us.
A few years ago Fresh Air Educators performed an HR experiment: We offered all our full time salaried employees the option to pick between 2 work schedules:
Status quo: 5 days @ 7.5hrs at current pay
4-day work week: 4 days @ 7.5hrs – Every Friday off Work 20% less but take a 10% pay cut
For me, this seemed like a no-brainer:
Very Little Change to Take-Home Pay
The 10% of salary that was being given up would have been taxed at highest tax rate if it was earned (in Canada). So the net “take-home” amount was probably closer to 95% of what the employee was making previously.
Better Hourly Pay
Employees would now be getting 90% of their salary for only 80% of the work, so the pre-tax hourly wage was higher.
Happier, more rested, more productive
The 4 day work week gives employees a long weekend every weekend. That’s 52 extra days off a year.
Obvious Employee Perk
Offering a 4 day work-week is an obvious perk which should make it easier to hire top talent, and should lead to less employee turnover.
Cost Savings for the Business
The 10% salary savings for the business goes directly towards profits.
Very Little Productivity Loss
Working 20% less DOES NOT mean 20% less productivity. The 80/20 rule kicks in: The most important things still get done while the 20% dropped will be the least important things (which probably only account for 5% of weekly productivity). By only working 80% of the time, you will still reap 95% of value.
Negatives: No Work Gets Done on Friday
The only negatives seemed to be that no work would get done on Friday. This was an issue for departments such as Customer Service, but most of those employees were hourly and already working non-standard work hours.
Employee Reactions to the Proposal
I was extremely surprised that we had almost zero adoption of the 4-day work week. A few employees tried it for a few months during the summer, but everyone eventually switched back to the 5 day work week.
Ultimately it seemed that:
Many of our employees were living paycheck to paycheck, and the reduced income simply wasn’t feasible for them.
Some employees were suspicious that this was some long-term scheme to permanently reduce their salaries
Some employees thought that they would be forced to make up the 20% of missing time for free.
So in the end, I am sad to say that this experiment was a failure, and we cancelled the program 12 months after starting it due to non-adoption. (However, I still believe in it, and I think I will try to implement this from the get-go in my next startup)
Some random takeaways from the Business of Software conference in 2012: Product vs Customer Focus; Cognitive Resources and Willpower; A/B Testing; Profit Sharing; and the Question Sales Pitch
Don’t Focus on your Product; Focus on your Customers Instead
Don’t focus on making your product awesome, instead focus on making your customers awesome. This may seem like a small semantic difference, but what triggers the word-of-mouth snowball is when your customers can impress their friends because of something you enabled. To encourage your customers to spread your product via word-of-mouth, your product should make your customers “badass”.
Try this: Write a fictional product review WITHOUT mentioning your product or company. Write it solely with a focus on what your product allowed your customer to accomplish
The Power of Simplicity
…and the Scarcity of Cognitive Resources
Cognitive resources are scarce and easily depleted. If you present multiple choices to your users early on, they eventually run out of cognitive resources at a later time. Simplify the things that are not important and save the complexity for critical tasks.
Example:A complex registration process can impact the ability of your user to successfully accomplish tasks later on in your workflow (such as payment).
Your willpower resources share the same part of the brain as your cognitive resources. By depleting cognitive resources, you are also depleting willpower resources. This theoretically means that if you are selling vices or guilty pleasures, there may be an evil strategy where you purposely deplete your customer’s cognitive resources via complexity in order to weaken their willpower and sell them a guilty pleasure.
The Evils of Gamification
Gamification works only in very narrow verticals and in general will not produce sustainable or desired results. Gamification triggers similar brain functions to those experienced during slot machine use and is not something that promotes long-term loyalty in your customers.
Start with a Theory and Test it
When running an A/B Test, ALWAYS start with a theory and then use the A/B test to prove or disprove the theory. Don’t run random A/B tests hoping to stumble upon a magical winning combination.
Don’t trust your A/B Testing Toll to determine statistical significance. Use this formula instead:
Define N as the total # of conversions in A + B
Define D as the difference in # conversions between A and B divided in half
The test result is statistically significant if D squared is bigger than N.
Here is the profit sharing strategy that is implemented at Balsamiq.com (circa 2012)
All employees have a base salary that is better than market value
10% of all profits are shared with employees
25% (of the 10%) is divided equally among all employees
75% (of the 10%) is divided based on seniority (with the more senior employees receiving more)
Additionally, 2% of all profits are divided equally among employees for them to donate to the charity of their choice
If there are more interactions than this, then you are not spending enough time either understanding the problem or finding the perfect solution for the problem.
Sitting down is Killing You
Sitting down for more than 3 hrs a day decreases your lifespan on average by at least 2 years. Try to stand up and move around for a few minutes at least once every hour, or consider getting a standing desk.
The Question Sales Pitch
If there is a question you can your customers, and you know the answer they will come up with, and it’s a favorable answer, then asking this question is a much more compelling sales pitch than just leading with the answer.
The tow truck business is a $5 Billion dollar annual market. However finding a tow truck (if you are not a member of AAA or CAA) is usually a very painful experience.
If you are broken down in the middle of an intersection your number one priority is to find someone who can come rescue you quickly. Unfortunately doing a search on Google will only find you the closest Tow truck office and not the actual tow truck. This usually means that you need to call a few tow truck operators before you find someone with an available truck that can come get you in less than an hour.
Price is usually a secondary concern and you are not in a great position to negotiate anyway. Not surprisingly most tow trucks have a 100% close rate on incoming calls for help (if they have an available truck).
The solution to these problems is to use an “Uber for Tow Trucks” app. Here are the currently available options:
RapidTow – Canada only (currently only available in Toronto but expanding nationwide). Subscription based model that requires 48 hours for account activation. Forces you to plan ahead for the unexpected.
Tow Trucks are a $5Billion market
…and uber-like towing apps benefit all the players involved:
The consumer looking for a tow gets a tow truck in the shortest time possible and sees the fares/rates before they commit to the tow truck.
The Tow Truck has shorter tows as most of their tow calls are nearby. More tows per day means more revenue in their pocket.
The environment is happy because shorter tows means less environmental impact.
AAA or CAA (in canada) – Although both Urgent.ly and Honk seem to want to disrupt these automobile associations more than partner with them. AAA and CAA could also be strong competitors if they ever get their stuff together.
Apple Maps and Google Maps – Either of these two partnerships would be huge. Integrating directly into Google or Apple maps would open up access to millions of smartphone users without the customer ever needing to install the app (since it would be integrated into the Maps software installed on your phone). I suspect that Google is holding off partnering with anyone until Uber enters the towing space.
Uber – Probably more of an opportunity to be acquired by Uber once they decide to enter the towing space, but it’s hard to resist getting access to their existing customer base. Uber is also a killer competitor if and when they enter this space.
Right now it seems to be a 2 horse race between Urgent.ly and Honk. However there are some big questions looming on the horizon:
Will Uber enter the towing space? I believe it is just a matter of time before they do.
Will Google Maps / Apple Maps integrate with any of the providers? I believe Google Maps is going to wait until Uber enters the space (since they already integrate with Uber for ride sharing).
Back in early 2014 my car broke down and I was faced with a task that I had actually never attempted before: Call a tow truck. At first I was confused and not sure how to proceed.
Who do I call?
How do I get them here the fastest?
How do I know they are reputable?
I eventually went the Google Maps route and found the nearest locations (this was the nearest tow truck OFFICE and not the nearest tow truck). After being bounced around a bit, I was finally referred to a towing company that was available, and 20 minutes later they showed up.
Turns out that this tow truck operator converts 100% of incoming calls into sales. When you are stuck in the middle of an intersection you don’t care about price, you just want a tow ASAP. (There is also an opportunity here to setup click to call AdWords campaigns for tow truck operators)
Everything you do in life can be classified by its urgency and by its importance. We often spend our lives focused on the Urgent things instead of the Important things. It is important to learn to distinguish between the two.
Important and Urgent
Crises and Emergencies
Important but Not Urgent
Prevention, Planning, and Improvement
Not Important but Urgent
Interruptions and Busy Work
Not Important and Not Urgent
We often spend our lives focused on the Urgent things instead of the Important things. In business as in life it is extremely important to ask yourself: “Am I doing this because it is truly important or am I doing this because it is simply urgent?”
Important and urgent things, such as crises and emergencies, should not be ignored. However, the more time you can spend on the non-urgent but important things (prevention, planning, improvement) the less crises and emergencies you will experience..
Below is a more detailed explanation of each quadrant along with some examples:
Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent
Fire fighting mode: Crises, real hard deadlines for important project, health & family emergencies, etc…
Quadrant 1 is the urgent important quadrant: Things that you should definitely NOT ignore. However, spending too much time in fire fighting mode will lead to stress and burn out. You will be caught in a never-ending cycle of crisis management.
The only way to reduce the time spent in this quadrant is to be proactive by spending more time on the important things BEFORE they become emergencies (see Quadrant 2 below).
Quadrant 1 Example Dealing with a heart attack is an Urgent and Important problem that cannot be ignored (but perhaps by living a healthier lifestyle such health emergencies can be reduced or avoided all together).
Quadrant 2: Important but not Urgent
This is where you should spend most of your time.
Quadrant 2 tasks are all about planning, prevention, capability improvement, relationship building, recognizing new opportunities, etc…
Spending time on these important things should lead to a clear vision and a balanced life, discipline, control, and fewer and fewer crisis situations.
Quadrant 2 Examples
Frequently buying flowers for your significant other “just because”
Eating healthy and exercising to avoid future health issues
Preventative maintenance on your home or car
Reading, learning, and education
Forming bonds and strengthening relationships with your friends and family
Self renewal and spending time on things that inspire and uplift you
Quadrant 3: Not Important but Urgent
Many of us spend a big portion of our time in this Quadrant confusing the Urgent things for the Important things.
Interruptions, ringing phones, most emails, etc… Spending too much time on the unimportant urgent things leads to a very short-term focus with continual crisis management. Your plans and goals will seem increasingly useless since you are unlikely to have time to devote to them. Your relationships and reputation will suffer and you will feel victimized with no control over your life.
Quadrant 3 Example
You have scheduled an important meeting with a coworker 2 weeks ahead of time. This person has very limited time and so you carve out a 30 minute window to deal with a very important matter. As you sit down and start the meeting, your phone rings.
The phone is screaming: “Pick me up! Pick me up! Pick me up!” Most people will pickup the phone and sacrifice the very important meeting for the likely not important but urgent ringing phone.
Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important
These are the time wasters in your life.
Spending too much time on non-urgent and not important things can lead to dependence on others for your basics, loss of jobs, irresponsibility, etc…
Quadrant 4 Examples
Trivial busy work
Mindless web surfing
Watching too much TV
Lots of pleasant activities
How do I use this to make my life better?
A. Identify Quadrant 2 activities.
Write down all the Quadrant 1 and 3 activities you routinely do (all the Urgent stuff)
Write down how you can prevent these things from reoccurring or from becoming emergencies in the first place: These are your new Quadrant ii activities.
B. Free up time for Quadrant 2 activities
Look at all the things in Quadrant 4 and STOP DOING THEM!
Look at all the things in Quadrant 3 and stop doing them too. This is more difficult as it involves saying NO to people.
You should now have time to spend on Quadrant 2
C. Schedule time for Quadrant 2
Schedule time to do Quadrant 2 activities. (Put them in your calendar just like a meeting).
DO THE THINGS YOU SCHEDULED!
D. Reduce Quadrant 1
The beauty with spending more time in Quadrant 2 is that it should slowly chip away at all your Quadrant 1 activities.
As you reduce your Quadrant 1 activities you have more time for Quadrant 2, creating a fly-wheel effect.
Not quite. The Question “What is important to me?” usually does not have a simple answer.
What Quadrant Am I?
Example 1: Going to a Sporting event (Hockey, Baseball, Football game, etc…)
Which quadrant does this fall into? The answer is it depends on YOUR priorities and what is important to YOU. On the surface it looks clearly like a Q4 item – a time waster. Not urgent and certainly not important.
But, it could be a Q2 event (important) if you consider the event to be an opportunity to spend quality time building relationships with your parents, children, or friends .
Example 2: Watching TV
Clearly another Q4 item: A time waster. Or is it? If watching TV is a stress reliever for you and serves as a way to wind down and chill out after a hectic day, it could very well be a Q2 activity. Just as long as you frame it correctly and consume it in the right way.
To be successful with this method you must have a very clear understanding of what is important to you, what your long term goals are, etc… For more information about how to plan your week around this framework, see my blog post on How I Plan My Week.