Case Study: unUsual Risks Insured

The Genie is out of the bottle

Information about building a business today, has never been more accessible to more people. But many small businesses still fail in the first 2 years and it’s clear that bad advice is expensive. Perhaps if they just knew how to ‘work smarter not harder’?

What does it mean?

So what is this magical phrase leading to business Nirvana, 'Work smarter not harder’? What does it really mean and does it really work? Sometimes it’s easier to define a process by first understanding what it’s not.

Working smarter not harder is;

  • not just about efficiency – we see lots of businesses who are super-efficient at burning out their staff with micromanagement
  • not about identifying procrastination through perfection – we all know if you don’t get the product or service to the customer, you don’t get the customer
  • not about a scattergun social media blitz - without a strategy its effects cannot be captured
  • not about the power of multitasking your way out of any chance of being able to focus long enough to create something of quality, depth and lasting value and
  • not about delegation - we constantly see organisations delegating their core understanding and expertises to consultants who have little invested in the needs of the customer the organisation exists to serve.

All these issues are just the hard work part of business - they're nothing new.

So why is this phrase so hard to define?

Because it was never meant to be a summation of business truth in the first place. It’s a metaphor and by nature imperfect. The phrase ‘work smarter not harder’ joins the ranks of the questionable logic of simply blue ocean thinking, dancing with elephants, eating frogs first, stealing back cheese, 800 pound gorillas (they don’t actually weigh that much, just saying) and the holy grail of a Four Hour Work-week. It’s a metaphor designed to help communicate an idea, frame a new conversation and perhaps shed light on new ways of thinking. The trouble is that some metaphors, once out of the box, are allowed to live a life of mischief. They become confused for statements of fact and quickly mutate into roadmaps to frustrating dead ends.

Could this really be bad advice?

This has never been more true than for the mantra of 'work smarter not harder.' This is bad advice. The problem is that we frame the position as one or the other, an either or combination. It's hard or smart, so you just choose one; where, in reality, smart business is probably a combination of both.

While some may hope to argue that both concepts 'harder' and 'smarter' are just different sides of the same career coin, mistaking harder as a valid substitute with smarter, leads many, pondering the virtues of starting their own business, into simplistic thinking that is ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of modern business.

The history of the Jinn

If you know your Middle Eastern folk law and the original tale of Aladdins Cave you might recoignise that Jinns and Genies are not the same, but very different. The problem is, these mystical vaporous entities, when summonsed by rubbing a magic lamp, were either good or bad; which one came forth to greet you took a while to recognise.

The phrase 'working smarter not harder' became larger than life when it was picked up by advertising agencies when universities first needed to attract more students to consider higher education over trade-based learning. The more people they successfully attracted to university education, the more government funding the universities were entitled to. (You may not recall but originally our school teachers were trained in speciality Teachers Colleges but these were later absorbed into the Borg Collective – I'm sure for good reason other than funding turf wars – but I digress.)sweet-candy

Beware sweet talkin'

Using the sweet candy advice of 'less work, more money, easy life' the catchphrase 'work smarter not harder' became the phrase of choice. It helped you explain to your working class parents why you were choosing higher education over trades-based learning. So began the devaluing of our skilled blue collar workforce as we knew it. For those brave enough to follow the skilled trades route - life was hard – initially. Apprentice trades people are paid so poorly during their training that when they are finally qualified, they extract vengeance upon us all with callout fees that would make a brain surgeon salivate. Did someone say hard + smart?

The industrial age saw the replacement of many manual jobs to machines, but the skilled trades of today continually report a constant shortage of skilled trades-people to fill the needs. Governments now host National Skilled Shortage Registers. Craftsmanship is on the decline and there are simply not enough skilled trades people passing on the knowledge.

So isn't this just semantics?

No. Getting into the rear of a windowless van for the sweet candy promise of an easier life, has led many an innocent thinker astray. We have lost significant levels of skill and expertise in our workforce as we've enticed our kids into higher education, over trades-based learning. We cannot afford to continue to abandon good business practices, smart practices, that fuse hard work, smart work and long work, for the empty charm that 'just work smarter' trumps 'working harder'. Because it doesn't.

The problem is that good ideas are usually wrapped up in hard work; people love new ideas, new work - not so much.Drew Browne

Smart business

Hard work and smart work alone are not sufficient for business success. Ingenuity, vision, calculating risks, a high performance environment, supportive friends and colleagues, a solid pitch, practice profiles and platforms and luck, among others, all play roles in business success. But the combination of both these key ingredients is essential. Hard and smart are the key elements of smart business and we need to stop discussing them as if they were mutually exclusive.

The mantra 'work smarter not harder' truly is more evil Jinn than benevolent Genie, and this mischief maker is not going back in its bottle soon. Because we have tried to separate hard work from success, we've become deeply disconnected from a key part of our labour force - the skilled trades – and we've foolishly clouded the smart thinking of those growing a business and those climbing the career ladder.

Perhaps you're not yet convinced that 'working smarter not harder' is the wrong answer to modern business? Consider this: Would you tell an Olympic athlete they just have to run smarter not harder?

Are we now throwing a baby out with the bathwater I hear some of you say? No let's keep the 'smart' just lose the 'err.' It was a mistake anyway.

So what does a smart business look like?

Smart modern business is nimble. The dictionary definesNimble as an adjective meaningquick and light in movement or action; agile in thinking and decision making. In a business context, it also draws upon the importance of being proactive and responsive.

A nimble entrepreneurial small business, can regularly out-manoeuvre a bureaucratic corporation, get far closer to a customer to solve their problems, before a corporation has approved the 'canopies menu' for their next quarterly sales meeting with the product team'. The fastest a corporation can move from product concept to delivery is about 18 months (as long as they don't have to bludgeon their way through their compliance and legal team).

Small business on rocket fuel

Their passion comes from entrepreneurial leaders who because they’re connected deeply with their customer seek to deeply understand their customers problems. These passionate often mission driven individuals, attract teams of like minded people and together they look for ways to create meaning and significance for their clients and often become part of their clients journey. These nimble organisations are more causes with secondary commercial interests are the wave to catch and the start of the a new generational revolution – the entrepreneurial revolution.

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How a small financial services business used technology to create a speciality brand from concept to delivery in under 90 days.

In 1997 Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, the online retail powerhouse of choice, in the annual shareholders letter said,

'When I interview people I tell them, "You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can't choose two out of three"'.

The result speak for themselves: long, hard, smart hours from an intelligent workforce placed Amazon as a market dominator with few to zero rivals. If you're in an industry where the status quo is two out of three, what would it look like if your business culture suddenly embraced that last third?

So work smart, not smarter

4 Keys areas that need a smart business response today

Manage distractions

1In today's connected and fast-paced world, distractions have increased to the point where distraction management is necessary. When you ask people, 'where they get their best work done', they usually don't say in sales meetings. The most common answers include: 'at home', 'somewhere I'm not distracted', 'somewhere I'm comfortable and can focus', 'usually when the kids have gone to bed.'

Manage multitasking

2Research is starting to point to a conclusion that many of us suspected: multitasking is damaging creatively, mental capacity and our relationships. Given all the things we have to do and the relentless flood of information competing for our daily attention, multitasking is something everyone does. It's hard not to and like a hydrogenated fat-filled diet, it's hardening our ability to be nimble.

Design motivational work

3We have spent too much energy trying to motivate people externally, that we have failed to invest sufficient effort into making work itself motivating. Rather than expecting people to be motivate from within, design work to be inherently motivating. When you have a clear sense of progress about your work, the more motivated you become in your contribution to moving the process forward. Dr Jason Fox, an Australian thought leader in the motivational design process, cites compelling figures about workplace engagement.
'Today more than 500 million people spend more than 700 billion hours a week playing online videos games with a level of focused creative, collaborative engagement, that we just do not see at work.' For employers who wonder why Generation Y thrives on feedback – it's in their games (perhaps now even their DNA) and when used in motivational work design, we can harness its significant power. That's smart business.

The smartphone history game changer

4The runaway success of the industrial age came about when smart people, with access to tooling, created bigger and better items with the tools at their disposal. The really smart businesses made even better tools and practices and so become the leaders, because they did more than simply ‘embrace’ technology’, they looked for it. Sadly those who did not have access to or awareness of these new tools, did not prosper and, in fact, found their new jobs in service to those who did.
Today’s smartphone and mobile devices are a business game-changer, for those who take the time to consider what they can do for you. Today, you have in your pocket a tool of connection, communication and amplification like never before and this same device is probably in the hands (or pockets) of 80% of your customers.Pocket to pocket. Person to person. Business has never been done this way before.

In your business today, you have tools at your disposal to go and do something, that has never been done before in service of your customers. It's smart business.

So there you have it – working smarter not harder is bad advice, the Jinn is out of the bottle, below you have a 4 step action plan (and a new heretical text to burn, for those of the bureaucratic persuasion).

In 1997 Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, the online retail powerhouse of choice, in the annual shareholders letter said,

'When I interview people I tell them, "You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can't choose two out of three"'.

The results speak clearly: long, hard, smart hours from an intelligent workforce placed Amazon as a market dominator with few to zero rivals. If you're in an industry where the status quo is two out of three, what would it look like if your business culture suddenly embraced that last third?

So work smart, not smarter

Drew Browne

You never really understand a system until you start to change it.
I’m an entrepreneur specialising in usable strategic financial advice for Small Business Owners and their families. After 20+ years of experience in law and financial services, I've come to believe there are some conversations that are too important not to have. And in the end, we won’t remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Contact Drew through LinkedIn