Awesomely Simple 

By: John Spence



What if there was a guy who read a hundred business books a year for almost 20 years and worked with some of the worlds largest and most successful companies over that time.

What if that guy boiled down everything he learned from those experiences in to less than two hundred pages.

And what if there is another guy who boiled those two hundred pages down into ten minutes (that’s me).

In the next ten minutes you’re going to learn the 6 steps to making any business grow and prosper.

There are two types of simplicity. Simplicity on the near side of complexity which Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said he wouldn’t give a fig for. And then there’s simplicity on the far side of complexity that he famously said he would give his life for.

This book focuses on the latter. And while I certainly don’t think this book is worth giving your life for, it certainly is worth paying attention to.

Here we go.....

Principle #1: Vivid Vision

If I hear one more person tell me that I need a mission, vision and core values for my company, I seriously might have a heart attack. Except if that person is John Spence. Why?

Because while he tells us that the mission is the description of who we serve and why we exist, that our vision is what we want to become, and our value statements outline the behavioural commitments of the organisation, he also tells us they don’t mean a damn, without some very important things.

First, we’re not looking for A+ prose here. Instead, you should adopt a similar approach suggested by Guy Kawasaki. Rather than creating a long and convoluted statement that nobody understands or can remember, a good vision should be like a mantra - a few words, a simple phrase that can be repeated, over and over again to keep people focused on the goal.

Secondly, and probably most importantly, you need to communicate that vision until everybody is sick of hearing it. This is about aligning your entire team in the same direction. This means that you can’t enable mediocrity anymore, and it also means that you follow through on your plans. That’s what your mission, vision and values are for.

If you are using them because they look nice on a wall or in your annual report, you’re going to lose.

Lastly, if you are the leader of the organisation you better be living these things too.

Principle #2: Best People

Quite simply, the future of your company is directly tied to the quality of talent you can attract and keep. To help identify the top talent keep the following five C’s close by at all times: competence, character, collaboration, communication and commitment.

If you can see somebody who fits that bill it’s time to start talking to them. On the flip side, John reminds us that while many people like to say that people are the most valuable asset, that simply isn’t true. Your talented people are your most valuable asset, and your worst people are your biggest liability. Remember that your lowest performing employee sets that standard for acceptable performance in your entire organisation.

Lastly, how do you keep your people happy so that when you have collected all the five C employees in the marketplace, they stay with you? Study after study has indicated that people are truly searching for two critical items. The opportunity to do meaningful work on important projects with talented people, and the sincere appreciation for their contribution.

The great news for you is that it costs absolutely nothing to fulfil 50% of that equation.

Principle #3: Robust Communication

John says that the number one problem with struggling businesses is the lack of open, honest, robust and courageous communication. So what do we mean by that? Here are six incredibly simple and amazingly hard to accomplish aspects of such communication. Honesty: This one is simple - just tell the truth all the time. This is number one for a reason, and your life will be a lot easier if you follow this one.

  • Empathy: Tell the truth frankly and directly, but respectfully and empathically. There is a definite art to being straight without being a jerk. Sign yourself up for a course if you need to.
  • Courage: You need to have the courage to put uncomfortable topics on the table and force a discussion about them.
  • Safety: You need to create a safe environment if you expect your team to have this type of robust communication in their lives. Don’t punish people for saying it like it is.
  • Intellectual Rigour: You’ll love this one. John says that people should be safe, ideas should not be. Challenge each others ideas in a respectful way, and every idea in your company will be better for it.
  • Transparency: Information should flow throughout the entire organisation freely. How else do you expect to get a ton of great ideas for your business or for people to truly understand the depths and the challenges of the opportunity you face?

Principle #4: A Sense of Urgency

Here’s something that should get you at least a little bit anxious. The game has changed so completely in the last few years that the table stakes for running a business is now delivering very high quality, at the lowest possible price, with superior customer service, right now for every customer.

In a world like this speed rules. In order to do this there needs to be clear intended outcomes so that people can actually make day to day decisions to advance you towards the goal. The only way to do this is to topple the bureaucracy in your organisation and to give people the authority to actually make decisions.

John gives us a very powerful model of 4 level decision making so that the appropriate people in your organisation are making the appropriate decisions.

  • Level 1 is a decision that you completely own as an employee.
  • Level 2 is a decision in which you get some advise from an appropriate person in the organisation.
  • Level 3 is a team decision.
  • Level 4 is a CEO decision.

So once you make the levels of decision making clear to your organisation it’s time to put it in practice. If somebody is always coming to you with questions they know the answers to, but really don’t want to take responsibility for, tell them that’s a Level 1 decision.

If it’s clear that they need help from somebody in the organisation, point them in the right direction to get that advice, but tell them after that they need to make the decision.

Lastly, if it really does require the entire team to decide, take the appropriate steps to make that happen. As John points out though, rarely does he encounter situations that really call for a Level 3 decision and even rarer for a Level 4. So let's stop pretending, okay?

Principle #5: Disciplined Execution

Through John’s work he has found that getting things done is the critical piece to success. I think we can all agree on that. Of course, it’s easer said than done. So, John has created a 9 step process in order to help us do it.

  • Step #1: Vision and values. We’ve talked about this already so we won’t dwell on that one.
  • Step #2: Strategy. You need a focus on a critical few areas that will yield the highest return. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple he pared down 15 product lines to 4. That focus literally saved the company from extinction.
  • Step #3: Commitment. This one is simple. Your entire team is committed or
  • they are not. Take responsibility for making that happen and making the necessary changes if they’re not.
  • Step #4: Alignment. Everything from your vision all the way down to your day to day activities of everybody in your company must be pulling towards the same goal.
  • Step #5: Systems. Ahh yes, nobody likes to talk about systems. But would you fly with a pilot who couldn’t look at the pre-flight check list? Probably not. The goal here is to make success repeatable in your day to day activities. Focus on it.
  • Step #6: Communication of priorities. I think this one is pretty clear by now.
  • Step #7: Support and training. Not everybody in your organisation is a genius in their field, yet. It is your job to get them there with the support and training that they need.
  • Step #8: Adjust and innovate. Deciding what to do and what not to do is not a one time boardroom event, it’s a process that never ends. Measure the right things, and take constant corrective action.
  • Step #9: Reward and punish. Lavishly reward those who get it done, take remedial action on those who don’t. You should train them, then transfer them to a job they’ll be more successful at, and then finally, terminate them if all else fails.

Principle #6: Extreme Customer Focus

There are two things you need for extreme customer focus: delivering what is important for customer service and hiring the people who can deliver it. Survey after survey tells us that the things that customers want most are reliability, professionalism, empathy, responsiveness and ambiance.

The list isn’t terribly daunting but finding the right people to deliver on it might be. John gives us this awesomely simple advice to help us deliver.

The most important element in building a business that can deliver superb customer service is to hire for attitude and train for skills.