Why Most Businesses Are Just Houses Made of Cards
The scientist Bertrand Russell once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how earth orbits the sun, and the forces holding our galaxy together. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady stood up in the back of the theater and said,
“What you’ve just told us is rubbish. The world is a flat plate, resting on the back of a giant tortoise.”
Russell asked, “What is the tortoise resting on?’
The old lady replied, “You’re very clever, sir. Very clever. But it’s turtles all the way down.”
When a gym owner books a free call with me, I spend the first ten minutes asking questions. I want to know their story; I want to see if I can help them. And I want to find their bedrock.
So I ask about their Perfect Day. I ask them to tell me the story of their business. I ask, “Who’s helping you with this?” But what I’m really trying to find is their foundation: the systems on which their business runs. When I discover a lack of systems, I want to know their goals. And if they can’t clearly state their goals–their giant, big WHY IN THE SKY–then I ask about their values. I’m looking for their foundation.
Knowledge–in science, in myth, and in your business–requires a foundation of absolute truth.
If I ask your staff, “Why do we open at 9am?” are they likely to say, “Because that’s the time we’ve always opened”?
If so, and I asked, “Why have you always opened at that time?”, what answer would they give?
“Well, that’s what time everyone opens on this street”?
And if I asked, “Why does everyone on this street open at 9am?”–what answer would I get then?
But if, to the first question, your staff answered, “We polled our best clients, and they prefer to start visiting at 9am” or “Traffic patterns on this block show that people arrive around 9:30am”, then I would know that your business had a solid foundation of data.
When I worked in a treadmill store years ago, a traveling rep subjected ME to such questions.
“Why do you open Monday to Friday from 9 until 5; then open for a half-day on Saturday, and stay closed all day on Sunday?”
My answer: “Because that’s when people come in.”
He asked, “What other times have you tried?”
I backpedalled: “Well, no one else in this mini-mall is open on Sunday. We’d be the only one.”
He asked, “Why do they all close on Sundays?”
Finally, exasperated, I answered, “Well, I’m not going to work seven days a week! I need my Saturday afternoons and Sundays off!”
His point: most people don’t buy treadmills between 9am and 5pm, because they’re at work. They buy treadmills between 5pm and 9pm, and on the weekends, because they’re not at work. So why open during those other times at all? Why not run wide open for two weeks, track when people wanted to visit most, and then close for the rest of the time?
As he asked me those questions, I realized that I had no bedrock. I didn’t have REAL reasons for doing things the way I did. It was turtles all the way down. My business was a house of cards, and each card was just a guess.
Here’s how we build foundations at TwoBrain:
We start with your values. What’s your PERSONAL non-negotiable bedrock? What are you not willing to sacrifice? For example, I believe in transparency and fairness, so I don’t offer discounts at my gym.
Then we follow with goals. What’s YOUR Perfect Day? Where are we heading?
Next, we build playbooks so that staff find it EASY to do things the way you want them done. The playbooks become THEIR bedrock.
Finally, we examine the gold standards in your industry and ask, “What are the BEST doing? What’s a ten out of ten?” and work to improve all of it.
Just as you can’t add weight to a house of cards, you can’t grow a business without a foundation. Myths and science alike fail when a foundation isn’t clear. Laws, too. In 2006, Justice Antonin Scala of the US Supreme Court wrote about unsupportable laws in “Rapanos vs. United States”:
In our favored version, an Eastern guru affirms that the earth is supported on the back of a tiger. When asked what supports the tiger, he says it stands upon an elephant; and when asked what supports the elephant he says it is a giant turtle. When asked, finally, what supports the giant turtle, he is briefly taken aback, but quickly replies “Ah, after that it is turtles all the way down.”
If law is the foundation of a just society, what is the foundation of law?
If your business is lawless, how can it survive?
What if one turtle burps?