When Mark Parker became CEO of Nike in 2006, he asked Steve Jobs for advice. Apple’s founding genius didn’t mince his words, telling Parker: “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.”
Sometimes at Mole Graphics, it’s hard to focus on the good stuff. There’s always an exhibition to attend, a customer to charm, a new piece of kit to evaluate. Yet Jobs has a point - as management guru Peter Drucker once said: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
One of my old mentors, Charles, used to say there was too much ‘can do’ in print and not enough ‘can’t do’. To remind himself of that fact, he used to jot down a ‘no’ list at the start of every month. His favourites were no seminars, no new machinery and no restructuring of the management team. The last option was, he felt, often a waste of time, something managing directors did primarily so they could tell themselves they were doing something to help the business - and to avoid doing something that would have been more useful, but seemed time consuming and complicated.
Cynical, argumentative and idiosyncratic though he was, Charles steered his business through recession, survived one spectacular bad debt and, when he decided the time was right, sold the company for a decent sum. The thing that struck me was that he had just the right amount of ambition. With no interest in building a large company, he made sure he ran a smaller, but more profitable, business. All those ‘no’ lists certainly paid off for him.
I started doing my own ‘no’ lists in January. I don’t take them as seriously as Charles did but I find them useful, even cathartic - no webinars, no new equipment (well, at least until I’ve mulled over what I saw at Fespa) and no time to worry about Brexit (on the grounds that, as Doris Day sang, que sera sera.)