Archive

Tag Archives: inefficiencies

When my powerhouse (mother, wife, MD) friend Jaya Chakrabarti asked me at the beginning of this year, via this blog ,for my top ten tips for creative entrepreneurs , some readers were a little surprised by Tip No. 5: “Stop multitasking; it’s the devil’s work”.

We are so used to being bombarded with advice from productivity gurus, downloading tools that transform our desktop or inbox into a task management hothouse or sitting through do-more webinars delivered by toned-down sociopaths disguised in Brooks Brothers suits that we are now brainwashed into thinking that the more things we can seemingly do at once, or within a ten minute window, the more squarely we are set on the road to success. Not so.

Sure, there’s a place for multitasking. The kitchen, for example. Two-thirds of the time I single-handedly run a household consisting of myself and my teenage sons, so I have adaptively developed new behaviours – I can unload a full dishwasher in exactly the time it takes for a teabag to brew, for example. Or cook risotto whilst hanging a wash on a drying rack in the next room. You get the picture.

What works in the utility room, though, doesn’t play so well in the office or studio.

The optimum mental mode for stirring a pan of flavoured rice is not so different from that which is most conducive to bagging the recycling or erecting an ironing  board. That kind of multitasking, often evoked as a defining characteristic of women – sometimes by women themselves when  pointing out the essentially unevolved nature of the male psyche – is a highly useful skill to learn, one that could potentially save a few marriages.

I suspect it is the unconscious transfer of this piece of contemporary folk wisdom into the work sphere that has led to quite a bit of manic and hopelessly ineffective behaviour by the leaders and senior managers of growing businesses.

There’s a simple exercise I’ve done with several clients – corporate and entrepreneurial – over the years. The account I offer here is a generic composite, but if you do recognise yourself in it, then I suggest another exercise – building a well-known phrase or saying around the words ‘fit’ and ‘cap’.

All I do is get the person in question, the director or MD, to write down, literally minute by minute every single thing they do, for two or three successive days. A wonk-y colleague once extrapolated this to a more scientific extreme, identifying some 160 tasks going on daily in a particular team and mapping them against a timeline for each team member. Not only did this reveal damaging levels of multitasking but it also showed that almost everyone was working on tasks that were three levels below their role and experience, most of the time. Very useful intelligence, which we subsequently used to nail down job descriptions to improve work satisfaction and productivity.

Nothing I encountered in corporate entities prepared me for the entrepreneurial sector, though.

Here, multitasking can be virtually sectionable. Tasks lasting just one or two minutes each, wildly fluctuating in focus; from a new business call to a snippet of project management to editing a newsletter entry to signing off a payment to scheduling an appraisal to fixing a software bug…It’s the mental (in both senses) equivalent of doing a triathlon by running a few metres, chucking yourself in the water, only to immediately jump out and onto a bike before pounding the road on your feet once more. Result: you don’t get very far, and your body can’t take it. Well – surprise, surprise – nor can your mind.

These behaviours are acute in growing companies for a number of reasons. There are fewer people to get things done, especially senior people who take responsibility for stuff. Staff aren’t always paid top rates, so there’s a reluctance to ask them to do apparently demeaning tasks. Not least – let’s be honest here – many entrepreneurs are control freaks, manic micro-managers, which is precisely the reason they work for themselves.

Some simple advice. Accumulate similar mental-mode tasks into ‘bundles’: project management; financial; client direction (not client management, that needs to be done in real time by people you employ); strategy; organisational development; operations and so on. Once you have two hours worth of stuff to do in a category, do it. That’s enough time to stay in the flow and capitalise on the effect of being in a consistent mental mode. We all know this already, experientially, from doing biz dev calls; we’re much more confident, articulate and effective when we set aside a morning and do one after another – we ‘get on a roll’ and our self-limiting fear of rejection and failure, the one Steven Pressfield calls The Resistance, falls away.

So save the multitasking for the kitchen, the garage – or even the bedroom. If you want to achieve maximum entrepreneurial efficiency in the workplace, leave it there where it belongs.

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard the founder of a creative or digital business imply that all their problems would vanish if only someone would see fit to throw a few hundred grand or the odd million their way…well, I’d probably have enough money to invest in one.

I used to take this stuff seriously and wonder if the problem was me; maybe if I had an MBA, if I hung out with investment bankers more, if I’d followed up with that guy from Schroeder’s I met in 1989.

Then, after I’d heard this broken-record lament enough times, I realised a couple of fundamental truths. Firstly, the vast majority of creative and digital businesses are inherently un-investable. They just don’t meet even the most basic criteria that would satisfy a VC or investment bank/fund. They would struggle to convince an angel investor or angel network. Which pretty much brings it down to a rich aunt with a passion for cutting-edge animation or online media analytics – and there aren’t too many of those around.

Not every early-stage company is a ‘start-up’.

The second thing that gradually dawned on me was that these wishful entrepreneurs were talking a kind of code. When they talked about ‘investment’ or ‘funding’ what they actually meant was ‘growth’. They passionately desired to grow their businesses, but they had made an a priori assumption that growth was only possible on receipt of a large ingestion of cash. So the conversation instantly became all about ‘Where do we find the money?’.

Given that inherent un-investability, this was always going to be – for the vast majority – a hiding to nothing. Worse that that, it constitutes a massive distraction from the real business of growth, a heavy drain on senior management time and strategic thinking capacity.

For first-time entrepreneurs, especially those who find their business stuck in a stage of development that is exhausting and unrewarding, it’s a seductive thought that you’re swimming with the sharks, hunting down that elusive half-a-mill that would make it all better. As a legion of business-lite authors know only too well, this is lucrative territory, the promise of overnight transformation.

The truth is far more prosaic, and it’s not out there. It’s right here, in the guts of your business, in the commercial and operational workings of the stuff you do to make a living. Paradoxically, most of these businesses already contain the means to grow into the next stage; the very inefficiencies that hold them back are themselves the key to breaking out and moving on.

It’s not about the money – or at least not in the way you thought it was.