I’ve been thinking a lot about effectiveness and efficiency over the past few months, and I want to share a story about how I came to a realisation about my management style and also my approach to strategy and business. I call it the “One Shot, One Kill” approach.
This understanding and subsequent naming of this approach all came together for me while I was doing a mind-numbing and repetitive job ~ I had to punch about 2,800 individual nails into a deck, each to a depth of 2mm under the surface (bear with me, these details become important later).
When you get the opportunity to do something over and over again, you quickly try and find the most efficient way possible to do it. This includes not expending any more energy than is absolutely necessary to get the job done to the quality that is required. @Timferris calls this “the minimum effective dose” ~ do what is necessary, but no more.
Back to the deck: I began by using a carpenter’s hammer and a 2mm nail punch. I found that each nail required between 6 and 12 hits with the hammer before it was at a depth that was acceptable. After the first 100 nails, I had decided that there had to be a better way (apparently, I’m a slow learner; it’s another ‘lesson’ that I’ve learned and have put processes in place to ensure doesn’t happen again).
This led me to my first realisation – I needed a bigger hammer. Now this is nothing new, often if you apply more force to a problem you can just muscle it through, though this is often not a very elegant solution. (Unfortunately the “more force” approach is one that management often defaults to in the absence of a more sophisticated approach to problem solving). This is not the realisation that mattered to me though, it was the fact that there is a more appropriate tool for the job. I’d selected an approach that was not ‘right’ to solve the problem. In my selection of the carpenter’s hammer (which I had readily in my toolbox) I had effectively chosen a tool that required me to expend more energy than necessary (multiple hits). A quick trip to my local hardware store later, a 3 minute conversation with the owner and I had a brand new 3-pound hammer and I was now only hitting each nail on average 3 times before it was the required depth below the surface. The hammer was heavier to lift, but I had to lift it fewer times. Energy saved.
The next 50 nails taught me my next lesson. If I wanted to get a better result, I needed to commit all of my attention and focus to solving that particular problem right then and there. Any distraction and I’d have to re-strike the nail punch. Energy wasted. So I began to focus on just hitting the nail punch dead centre each and every time. It basically became an exercise in focussing on hitting the nail-punch and not worrying about missing and hitting my thumb. I found that if I worried about hitting my thumb rather than hitting the head of the nail-punch, I would swing the hammer with less force. Fear meant that I didn’t commit to the task. Fear meant that I would probably have to hit the punch more than once. This increased the opportunity for me to hit my thumb, so on a couple of levels it was better for me to only ever hit the punch once – it meant less energy spent and I was less likely to hit my thumb. The lesson here: concentrated effort generates a better result.
My success with these first two realisations encouraged me to experiment with all the other variables I could think of. My focus was to only hit the punch in such a way that it drove the nail the required depth (but no more) with only one hit. I experimented with everything I could think of – arc of swing; position of punch; size of punch; angle of strike; force of strike; position of body; position of head; time of day (during the day the wood would heat up and expand, meaning that the nails were easier to drive); orientation of punch (I was more likely to have a successful strike if the punch was orientated square to the angle of strike – any other orientation seemed to cause me to be less confident about the strike and thus ‘pull’ my swing often resulting in me having to strike it again. Weird, I know, but the results showed that a square orientation is best).
Ultimately, punching all these nails became a meditative and somewhat competitive process that revealed to me my (unconscious) approaches to management and strategy.
Management: Decide early what the best approach is to solving the problem and commit to it. Be aware, though, that you might be wrong and that better solutions may exist. Be open to them and adapt quickly and without regret. Just because you have a tool in the toolbox, doesn’t mean that you should use it unthinkingly or for the sake of convenience.
Strategy: It’s better to commit to an approach and constantly evolve/experiment than to try and get it exactly right the first time as a result of pre-planning. There will always be a million variables that you can’t pre-empt (e.g the square v. not square orientation issue) without direct experience. Build the results of the experience back into the strategy formation process for next time. Learn the lesson and integrate it into all other subsequent thinking. Figure out what the main strategic aspects are and solve for these in the planning, but don’t obsess over things you can’t control or possibly anticipate. Do rather than Plan.
Management: There is a correct way of doing something and a correct amount of ‘force’ that is necessary. Don’t over-do it. The management/leadership theorists would call this contingency theory, but that doesn’t cover it adequately. There is the added aspect of “the minimum effective dose” that these theories often overlook. Refine both the approach and effort required to get the result that you want and concentrate on doing just that. This simple approach will generate systemwide efficiencies that can be leveraged in other ways. Use the energy saved to work on other, more important things.
Strategy: Know what you have to ultimately achieve, but concentrate on the task at hand. 2,800 nails punched in to a depth of 2mm was the required result, however if I only concentrated on the end goal, I would have missed all the thousands of little improvements that ultimately meant that I achieved the final result in the most efficient manner. I was aware that I had a deadline and that this job had to be done by Friday night ready for a weekend of sanding and staining; getting it done was important (effectiveness) but combining that with a one-nail-at-a-time focus meant that I was surprised when the job was finished with much less effort and in a shorter time than I expected. The strategic goal kept me focussed and motivated to spend my time and energy in this one area and not somewhere else (the point of strategy in the first place) and in the end this exercise is all about adding value to our home/asset that we can realise later. Good strategy can get you through the grind of mind-numbing tasks.
The “One Shot, One Kill” approach is about much more than just efficiency. It combines a focus on applying yourself to a task in such a way that generates extraordinary results and allows you to learn, grow and improve rapidly so that you can stretch ahead of the competition. This post may ostensibly been about hammering nails into a deck, but the lessons for business are important.
When next you are doing something in your business, try the One Shot, One Kill approach. Try to justify your actions in terms of both management and strategy.
Let me know how you go. I’m interested in results.