Continuous Improvement

Focus on the Process Like Coach K

March Madness is kicking off today, so let’s bring some college basketball into today’s discussion.

Coach K and Duke Basketball

Everyone has heard of Duke Basketball, Coach K, and/or Mike Krzyzewski (pronounced Shih-chef-skee.) Coach K is arguably the best basketball coach in history, building Duke into the most consistently successful program over the last 35 years. But that almost was not the case…

Awards and Honors

  • 5 Olympic Gold Medals (3 as head coach, 2 as asst coach)

  • 5-time NCAA National Champions

  • 12 NCAA Final Fours

  • 15 ACC Conference Tournament Championships

  • Most NCAA Tournament wins (94)

  • First male head coach to win 1,000 NCAA Division 1 games.

  • First head coach to win 1,000 NCAA Division 1 games with the same team.

  • All-time winningest coach in college basketball history at any level, men’s or women’s, with 1,123 career wins (and counting.)

In the beginning - Slow Results

No one expected greatness when Duke hired a 33-year old kid to be their head coach in 1980, considering he had won less than half his games over the prior two seasons as the head coach for Army.

Duke went 6-8 (in conference play) in his first year as head coach, and was invited to play in the 2nd-tier NIT tournament at the end of the year.

In his 2nd season (1982), Duke went 4-10 in conference, and some of the alumni didn’t think he was the right man for the job.

Season 3 was even worse, with a 3-11 conference record, and the calls for Coach K’s firing were getting louder and more frequent.

The Process Is What Matters

Those inside the program and the university, however, saw the whole story.

Coach K had an unwavering belief that doing things right, consistently over time, would lead to positive results. He was committed to details, and to teamwork, and to individual growth. He preached, and practiced, 5 simple principles:

  • Be passionate.

  • Be prepared.

  • Be organized.

  • Be unselfish.

  • Be yourself.

Those around the program could see changes coming. The kids were playing hard and enjoying the game and each other. There had been several “almost wins”, where the ball just didn’t quite bounce the right way.

The process was moving the program in the right direction, but the results had yet to follow suit.

Results Will Follow

The results finally caught up in year 4, with a 7-7 record in conference play, 24-10 overall, and their first bid into the NCAA March Madness Tournament. And they haven’t stopped since…

1984 Tournament Bid
1985 Tournament Bid
1986 NCAA Finals - runner up
1987 Sweet 16
1988 Final Four
1989 Final Four
1990 NCAA Finals - runner up
1991 NCAA Champion

Most schools’ fanbases would give anything for an 8-year run of results like Duke had in the late 80’s - forget about the fact that this was just the beginning and the next 25 years have been more of the same!

You Control the Process (not the results)

Build the processes that are going to make you successful, and then follow them!

Whether that means joining new groups to meet new people, making cold calls to FSBOs, going over-the-top with customer service, writing each day, or staying in touch with all your contacts with a monthly e-newsletter. Find the right process for YOU, and then follow it religiously.

Don’t worry about the short-term results, or about any individual deal/prospect. Some people are going to list with another agent. Others are going to decide not to sell at all. That’s ok - you can’t control their actions any more than Coach K can control whether or not an opposing player makes a free throw.

Set up good processes, then give your best effort. Every day.

The results will follow.

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- Chris Butterworth

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Ps: Honestly, if you’ve been thinking about writing a monthly e-Newsletter as way to stay in touch with your contacts, please give 8DollarFarming a look. I have the processes in place to deliver a high-quality, full-featured, turn-key newsletter for you, at a very affordable price.

Pps: Before you start calling me a shill for Duke, I am NOT a Duke fan. (My allegiance runs Arizona Wildcat red & blue.) But I admire and respect Coach K as a coach, and a person, and wish there were more people like him in big-time sports.

 

3 Steps to Greatness

There are a million articles out there about resolutions, goals, and becoming a better you, so I'm not going to waste your time with a 12-step manifesto on the subject.

I am, however, going to highlight 3 very simple principles that everyone with long-term success shares:

1.) The Process creates the Results

You can't magically create a dozen new clients out of thin air. But you can create a process of making sales calls every day. And those sales calls will create clients throughout the year.

You also can't run a marathon, do 250 push-ups, or lose 30 lbs today. But you can make jogging (or doing some push-ups, or eating a little better) part of your daily routine.

The process is what you can actually affect; it's what you have control over - day after day - for the rest of your life.

2.) Small to Big

You don't have to think about giant numbers, like making 20 sales calls per day, or running 5 miles at a time.

It's better to start small. Very small. Tiny.

How many sales calls are you making today? Zero? Then let's start with 1. The action of dialing the phone and making that 1 call is huge, even though 1 is a small number.

One isn't a lot by itself. But the process of making 1 per day quickly becomes 5 per week, and eventually compounds into 250 for the year. (and 250 is A LOT more than 0!)

After a while, when the process has become a normal part of your routine, you can consider increasing the numbers - maybe you make 2 calls on odd-numbered days and 1 call on the even-numbered days. If you get comfortable with this and you still want to increase your business, you can move up to 2 calls everyday, and so on.

It's no different for push-ups (try doing 10, or even 5, to start with), running (start out with a mile, or even 1 minute), and eating habits (try adding 1 carrot to your plate at lunch, or even just throwing away the last sip of your sugary soda instead of finishing the can.) You can level-up later once you get comfortable with the new process.

Start small, and grow to big over the long-term.

3.) Be Consistent

Repeating that itsy-bitsy little action over and over again is the difference between winning and losing at your goals.

Consistency is what converts that new action into a habit, where it just becomes part of who you are and what you do. It’s also what allows those numbers (and successes) to accumulate and add up to bigger numbers.

Doing 100 push-ups today, but then not doing any more over the next 6 months, has the same long-term benefit as doing nothing at all. I’d rather have done a mere 10 push-ups a day during those same 6 months.

Conclusion

  • Consider the action (or process) - and not the end goal.

  • Make the action so small that it seems ludicrous, like it's too easy. It's so easy that it's a joke. (It's also so easy that you can, and will, succeed.)

  • Be consistent - do that little tiny action over and over (and over) again. (and again, and again.)

  • Grow the action (slowly) over time.

It doesn’t need to be a “Resolution”, as much as just doing something small to get a little bit better. And then doing it again.

Here’s to a successful 2019.

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- Chris Butterworth

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Writing and delivering a monthly e-Newsletter is not something that’s easy to start small, as it requires writing and sending the entire newsletter, each and every month. If keeping in touch with your friends and family is part of your business plan for 2019, I’d love to help. Check out 8DollarFarming and give me a shout!

 

What mountains will YOU climb in 2018?

 

2018.

What mountains will YOU climb this year?

You've got one full year. 4 quarters. 12 months. 365 days. And if you can do a little bit at a time, 3 times per day, you've got more than 1,000 blocks of time to work with.

Imagine what we can do with 1,000 attempts at improvement, at moving forward. Let's make the most of it!

- Chris Butterworth

11 Years of blogging - What have I learned?

I wrote my first blog post 11 years ago today. That is a lifetime ago in tech years! And I've gone on to write 1,413 more posts since then.

What have I done right?
What have I done wrong?
What can we learn from 11 years of writing?

image credit - flickr william warby

 

I'm going to grade myself in the areas that I talk about as being the most important for long term success:

1.) Consistency - long-term success is built on being there, day after day, for years.

PASS. I've done very well in this regard. I've written one post every 2.84 days on average. In reality there have been months where I've posted every day and others where I skipped an entire month. But overall I've produced a reasonable amount of content, quarter after quarter, for 11 years.

2.) Constancy of Purpose - more than just 'being there', everyone who has spent time with you should know what you're all about.

PASS. I've done well here, too. Across all topics, my message for 11 years has been something along the lines of "treat people right", "build gradually", "continuous improvement", "small changes over time become big changes", etc.

I'll give myself a passing grade on the first two.

3.) Laser Focus - similar to but different from Constancy of Purpose; success comes from driving the energy of your purpose forward with single-minded intensity.

FAIL, miserably. I have scattered my 1400+ posts across 10 different blogs covering 6 different topics. Even my primary real estate blog went through 4 different locations, 3 different url addresses, and 3 different platforms.


While I'm proud of what I have accomplished over the years, and my writing has generated income, I can only imagine what my audience-reach would be if I had spent 11 years fully engaged and laser focused on a single topic. After having written 1414 posts in the same topic and location, I would probably have a significant voice in that field.

Oh well, I can't change the past. Another day's improvement starts now. So does the next 11 years.

I hope you're giving your own business the consistency, constancy of purpose, and laser focus it deserves...

- Chris Butterworth

 

Fixing Bottlenecks

Have you ever seen the start of a Motocross race? 15, 20, even 25 riders are lined up side-by-side at the starting line. When the gates open, they take off at full speed - giving everything they've got, to be in front of the pack at the first corner. This is because the corner forces the pack into a 2-wide or 3-wide column, and the process of funneling into that column causes major slowing down and even crashes.

Racers lined up side by side, waiting to race towards the bottleneck at the first corner. (image credit - flickr micolo j)

 

We have bottlenecks in our business as well.

Are you great with networking, but no so great with paperwork? It doesn't matter how many deals you start; you only get paid for the transactions that close. You will make more money once you fix that paperwork bottleneck.

Do you have lots of ideas to write about, but you never have time to actually write? Find 30 minutes a day to put your hands on the keyboard and write, and you'll start publishing a lot more frequently.

Can you pick up new business cards everywhere you go, but you're not so good at adding their email address into your contact management system? Guess what? You've got a bottleneck. Your business will improve when you start systematically reaching out to everyone you've met.


I've improved and expanded dozens of bottlenecks over the years. Here are a couple examples:

Too much to write. I used to come up with dozens of blog posts and newsletter topics each day - my mind converted everything I saw, read, or talked about into the framework of "this is how I would share this with my audience", and then I would start building an outline in my mind. But I couldn't possibly publish that much content.

  • I've tried staying up late to publish a post every day.
  • I've tried using various voice-to-text apps while driving.
  • I added a bluetooth keyboard to my bag, so I can type full-speed from just about anywhere.
  • Once I put myself on cruise control and stopped chasing infinity, my writing life got 10 times easier.

I need a photo, stat! There was a time when I spent way too long searching for a suitable image to add to my posts before publishing them. As if writing, researching, and formatting everything wasn't enough, I would then need to scour the internet for a picture that captured the essence of the topic, while also abiding by copyright laws. This took far too much time.

  • I found a few sources of pictures that use the Creative Commons copyright license, which made searching faster.
  • I started taking my own pictures while out and about, to use whenever possible.
  • Now I spend some of my downtime-screentime-relaxingtime curating a collection of good pictures to be used at a moment's notice.

Bottlenecks and Continuous Improvement

There isn't usually a best-forever solution to a bottleneck. Sometimes when you fix one bottleneck, another one becomes obvious in a different part of your workflow. Or you might need to make different modifications over time, as your skills and technology improve.

Finding a Bottleneck is half the battle

There are times when I don't know exactly what my holdup is, but I know the process feels clunky. In these cases it helps to write the steps out, or even to say them out loud, and the bottleneck will usually reveal itself. If that doesn't work, I'll try to explain my process to my wife, and she'll take 3 seconds to say, "That's stupid. Why don't you just do xyz instead?" And she's always right!

Every once in awhile, though, I won't even realize I have a bottleneck, but a friend or client will comment on something I'm doing, and it forces me to take a step back and reexamine my workflow for a better way of doing things.

Additional reading: The Goal: a process of continuous improvement by Eliyahu Goldratt. This book was assigned reading in 3 different classes in grad school (and I was a believer after the first read!)

- Chris Butterworth

1% Improvement

Time is the ultimate magnifying glass.

Whatever changes you make - whether good or bad, productive or unproductive, healthy or unhealthy - will reveal their results over time.

image credit - flickr Glancarlo Gallo

 

Imagine getting 1% better at something.

Let's say you struggle to keep your attention focused on writing your monthly newsletter for more than 10 minutes. If you could do 1% better, you would get all the way to 10 minutes as 6 seconds. Big deal, right? But go ahead and try it - add an extra 6 seconds to your timer when you sit down to write today.

Or if you prefer to count words - maybe you could increase your daily writing goal from 200 words to 202 words. Virtually nothing, I know.

Well, if you continue to improve 1%, over and over again, it doesn't take long before these little changes get magnified into big changes.

2 more words per day? 10 days later and you've increased from 200 to 220 words, per day. And by the end of the month you'll be writing 60 more words every day - that adds up to a lot of extra writing! At some point you'll get to make a choice of continuing to improve this area, or to look for the next weakness in your workflow and start fixing that, one percent at a time.

Keep improving a little bit at a time, and over a hundred years or so we can go from building a 22-hp Buick Model 10 to creating a 600-hp Lamborghini supercar!

 

In the investing world, they consider compound interest to be the eighth wonder of the world. In other parts of our lives we refer to the process of continuous improvement - if you can continually make improvements to your workflow, even small improvements, the end result will be a better workflow.

* More Reading: The Goal - a process of ongoing improvement, by Eliyahu Goldratt. This book packs a powerful concept into an easy and entertaining read.

- Chris Butterworth