#105 Your Masterpiece: The Hairball Wrap-Up

This is my fifth and final post focused on the book Orbiting The Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie. And as I look back across the prior four posts, one theme jumps out - CONTROL.

Post #101 Killing Creativity talks about the desire of the school systems to get children under CONTROL. Sitting quietly in their perfectly aligned seats fully attentive to the instructor.

Post #102 Hairballs talks about corporations layering on rules and policies to keep employees under CONTROL.

Post #103 Too Busy talks about executives smothering themselves in busy work to keep themselves under CONTROL. Sedating themselves by wearing the mask of the busy executive.

Post #104 Are Cows Slackers talks about the drive for efficiency. Allowing the quest for CONTROL to crowd out the space necessary for incubating creativity.

Control. Control. Control.

As businesses grow they tend to get chaotic and scary. And the knee-jerk reaction is to create order and efficiency. And that’s a good idea - up to some unknown threshold. The point where all that control becomes a creativity killing anchor - but by then it’s too late to turn back. You’re the frog in the slowly warming water about to be boiled alive. There’s no easy way to unwind the mess you’ve created.

Here’s a MacKenzie quote that I shared with you in post #104 Are Cows Slackers that gets to this point…

“…Too many enterprises seem self-destructively locked into a debilitating reality of 100 percent perspiration and zero percent inspiration.
A healthier alternative is the Orbit of trust that allows time - without immediate, concrete evidence of productivity - for the miracle of creativity to occur.”

So MacKenzie’s big push is creativity. But he also pushes a lot deeper at times, as in this quote…

“When you wear a mask, nobody (not even you) gets to find out who you really are. When you wear a mask, nobody (not even you) gets to find out what you really need. And when you wear a mask, nobody (not even you) gets to find out what you really have to offer.”

So in his most pessimistic moments, Mackenzie sees work as a masquerade party for efficiency drones.

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A clusterf**k of rules, policies, perspiration, measurement, efficiency and people walking around wearing masks. Taking on roles that get them through the day, but that hide their true selves.

And as a business owner you should be particularly interested in this part of the quote. - “When you wear a mask, nobody (not even you) gets to find out what you really have to offer.”

So how can you possibly nurture the amazingness that people have to offer, when they don’t even know they have it to offer? How can you convince your team to take off their masks?

The only way I know is to lead by example. Take your mask off first. Because as long as you have your mask on, it's impossible for your team to trust you. How could they? They're dealing with a fake you. A masked you.

Recall above where MacKenzie talks about the "Orbit of TRUST". Well, that Orbit is an orbit around you. You’re at the core of the hairball, setting the standards for what the company believes. And that core needs to be authentic and transparent in order to be trustworthy.

And then, once your mask is off, you'll have some credibility when you ask others to take off theirs. And then, if they follow your example, together you'll have a chance to create something special. Something that reflects who you are as a person, and a place you’ll all love being a part of for the long term.

I’ll give the final words to Gordon MacKenzie…

“If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you.”


(This site is all about building a Map that will help me do work and life better. So at the end of each post I check in to see if any changes / insights come to mind.)

During my career I had the chance to see a few great businesses. And what stuck out about them was that they had ridiculously tight cultures. So if you want to lead a great company, you can't leave this soft stuff to chance. You can't build your business on a random foundation. You must get in the trench and nail down this culture stuff.

And that's the thought process that led me to build this site in the first place. I wanted to explore how we get the foundation right. My answer was to draw a MAP of what makes me and my business tick.

I don’t care if you draw a MAP or get there some other way. But please, if you want your business to be a masterpiece, do something.

#92 Michael Porter Strategy Wrap Up: Execution Dominates Strategy

(This is the 7th and final post of a series I’m doing on business strategy. My focus is the work of strategy guru Michael Porter via a book he cooperated on titled - Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy - by author Joan Magretta.)

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I found a couple bright spots in Michael Porter’s writings on strategy. For instance, I love that he teaches this…

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

We discussed this topic in post #90 - Deciding What Not To Do. Where I pointed out that trying to be everything to everyone is a guaranteed path to mediocrity. Oatmeal.

So you need to learn to say no. But that doesn’t mean you have to live in a tiny box. Here’s more goodness from Magretta/Porter.

“Continuity of strategy does not mean that an organization should stand still. As long as there is stability in the core value proposition, there can, and should, be enormous innovation in how it’s delivered.”

So if I wrap these couple points together I would say the following. You must start with a well thought out value proposition - a rock solid nucleus. Then you can embrace change, as needed, everywhere else.

I like that advice. It’s simple and it describes the conditions surrounding the most intense growth periods of my life and career.


In prior posts I already complained, in detail, about the following couple points. So I’ll be brief.

First off, every example of strategy that I’ve seen him share is a business-to-consumer example. So it’s easy to assume he has nothing to offer the business-to-business companies that I focus on.

Second, his definition of strategy is so narrow. You’re either trying to increase profit MARGINS or, in his world, it ain’t a strategy. Which means all the folks I described in the middle of post #88 (B-to-B Competitive Advantage) - the folks that have good reasons to prioritize something other than margins - would probably ignore his work.

And that would be a mistake because he makes some good points. A couple I already addressed above, and there’s another biggie he kind of hit and kind of missed.


In Porter's eyes, operational efficiency is important, but it only gets you a seat at the table. Your competitors can do the same lean, 6 sigma, kaizen, process stuff.

So to really kill it, to get those above average profit margins, you have to get creative. You have to perform a different set of integrated activities than your competitors. Unique activities that require trade-offs. His favorite example of this is IKEA, and I shared details of their strategy with you in post #89 Be Different Or Be Average.

And if you dive into this and other examples, you’ll see that there are really two parts to a great Porter strategy.

1) Define your unique set of integrated cross-functional activities.
2) Master cross-functional implementation.

And by cross-functional he just means working across departmental boundaries. So, for instance, sales cooperating with accounting to make sure you get paid on time.

Now I’ve already pointed out, up above and throughout this entire series on Porter, that I’m not aware of many business-to-business companies that have been able to figure out number one. When you’re shipping cardboard boxes it’s hard to find unique activities that differentiate.

But what about number two? Regardless of whether your activities are unique, can you differentiate by nailing cross-functional implementation?

Hell yes you can!


I was briefly the president of a lean consulting firm, and that business is all about getting folks to play well with others. And the challenge is especially hard when you're working across departmental boundaries. Things go great while the consultants are there driving the efficient behaviors. But then the high dollar experts leave. And, over time, folks tend to drift back to their pre-existing departmental allegiances. It’s like a slow reflex that’s incredibly hard to stop.

So Porter, and all the strategy gurus for that matter, are taking the easy way out. They’re focused on point number one, building that unique plan on paper. But that expensive document might as well be toilet paper if you aren’t good at point number two - nailing the cross-functional implementation.

And here's what management guru Peter Drucker has to say on this topic…

“Strategy is a commodity, execution is an art.”

Drucker has obviously spent some time in the trenches. He's probably watched amazing strategies go down in flames because Susy the CFO and Jerry the VP of Sales can't get it together. He knows this is where the magic lies.

Which is why I argue that, if you can pull off this cross-functional cooperation miracle, you've achieved sustainable competitive advantage.

Your competitors won't be able to touch you. And, as a special bonus, you won't spend your days refereeing drama. And I don't care that Porter wouldn't consider this to be a “real” strategy.

So, in summary, I thank Michael Porter for his insight. It's been fun. But my biggest takeaway is that he's shining his light in the wrong place. He missed a chance to direct folks to the real pot of gold - harmonious human to human implementation.


(This site is all about building a Map that will help me do work and life better. So at the end of each post I check in to see if any changes / insights come to mind.)

Now you know, in great detail, why I passed on the word Strategy when building my Maps.

Instead, I chose the word IF. My IF’s are the ideas banging around in my head that I believe can lead me to a better place personally and professionally. And as simple as that might sound, it works for me.

I challenge you to figure out what works for you.

***NOTE: I've added a new section to the website titled SPEAKING. Here you'll find brief examples of my public speaking, and information on how to get hold of me if you're looking for a speaker.