The Kidney of Compromise


The logical fallacy of “No compromise”

Good Fast Cheap. Which one are you prepared to give up?

Living in the world of compromise.

Have you ever noticed how many advertisements will tell you that the product they are selling is built with zero compromise? What a load of nonsense that is. Everything is a compromise. Anything you do has a compromise built into the very nature of it. After all something can’t be the smallest and the biggest, the heaviest and the lightest, the highest quality and the cheapest. Everything we do is a compromise. We would be wiser and happier if we simply knowledged that and moved forward.

As a product guy I’ve had many a client tell me they want the product to be better. But even getting them to actually define better is often a challenge. In my 29 year (and counting) career I’ve often had management tell me they want more leads, of better quality at a lower cost per lead. Or more sales, of higher revenue per deal at an increased margin. At some level we all know these compromises are impossible. After all if simply everything could be made better in sync and instantly don’t they think we’d simply have done it already!?!?

Often the retort is well let’s not compromise, we’ll simply make everyone work harder. Often we hear stories of people, who through bloody minded determination, strength of character, and lots and lots of hard work managed to do something amazing. That’s ok for some people, good for them. They are often the folks who start a business. But what about the rest of the world. The ones who have a family, a personal life, something in their life that means they are not able or not willing to sweat blood for the business. How do we get the most from them?

After all turning a business into a death march for the staff can work for a little while, but quickly people decide that their family, their health, and their personal lives are also important and that they aren’t prepared to sacrifice themselves for the profit of someone else.

So assuming that businesses don’t want to plough through staff like a Russian Gulag, and want to maintain a healthy long term business capable of continual and sustainable growth, then what can be done?

Like so much else recognising the problem is a significant part of the battle. So first recognise the problem and codify its effects. Try this diagram for example.

Good Fast Cheap.

The orange circle can live anywhere within the triangle. So for example you can have Good and Fast, but you lose Cheap, Or you can have Good and Cheap but you won’t get it fast. Or you can have extremely fast but then you lose both Good and Cheap.

My suggestion would be to print out this diagram, pin it to the wall of every meeting room and when a project is discussed then a pin can be placed inside the triangle defining the compromise point.

The dark the color, and nearer the edge the more difficult the task becomes. Sometimes that effort is worth it, sometimes it is not. All that matters is that it is recognised and considered.

By the way the “no compromise” of simply working your people harder can work somewhat, but only for a short period. It’s not sustainable. All too often management like the work them harder answer, not the work them smarter answer. Productivity matters far more than hours worked. Long term working harder is a losing strategy partly because staff attrition becomes a huge drain on the business and mainly because you can never work hard enough.

Additionally attempting to keep all the workers noses to the grindstone takes ever more resources. It is always easier to keep working at a good constant rate.


When I started work straight out of school I had a job loading building material onto trucks. As a young 18 year old I felt I could run rings around the older men. The first day I ploughed into it. Working up a huge sweat, breathing hard, toiling away. I outpaced my new colleagues easily for the first 3 hours, by the 4th hour they we were working at the same speed, by the 8th hour I was in serious trouble, everything hurt, I was exhausted. My new colleagues simply kept going easily out working me for the entire day. The next day when I woke up I thought I’d been hit by one of the trucks. Getting out of bed, let alone doing the work was almost impossible.

They were most certainly the tortoise and I was the hare. Within a month I worked at the same rate, and the next Jonnie come lately was demonstrating to us old hands that he was stronger faster, better. Not for a moment would I want my statements misconstrued. These men worked hard. As hard or harder than any other job I’ve ever had. But what they did do is work at an unsustainable rate.

Compromise is NOT a dirty word

A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece.

Ludwig Erhard

Many people believe that compromise is a bad thing and that in some strange way a no compromise world is both possible and desirable. It is neither. Every great company, person, product and work of art is a study in compromise. Artists, designers, businesses need to have a frame of reference, boundaries to work within. The only non compromise device I can think of is the Doctor Who Tardis, and if one knows the show then even that is a deeply compromised device, it appears the Doctor can’t even control where or when it goes.

Every Superhero is a compromise. The more powerful they are greater their weakness is. The Hulk is incredibly strong but can’t control his temper, Superman can fly faster than a speeding bullet but is helpless when confronted by kryptonite. Compromise is what makes these characters interesting.

Companies and management organisations need to cure themselves of this nonsense of the “no compromise”, not only is it impossible, but it’s also undesirable. Compromise appeals to clients because it shows them to be decisive, to be prepared to make a decision.

I have run Apple Mac computers for over 10 years. I am a Mac Bigot, the compromise set they decided to embrace, Good, and not worry about Cheap or Fast suited me. Few technologies come out first on a Mac. They are just refined and packaged extremely well. You also pay a very significant price premium for this.

Living in a world of Powerpoint and Excel has caused me some problems when I work in Keynote and Numbers. But I’m prepared to put up with them because I believe the advantages give me a measurable business advantage over my competitors.

Many people don’t feel that way. But then the vast majority of people running a Windows PC can’t tell you what it is they have, above the name of the manufacturer. There is no love there, it’s simply a tool for a job. It does it well enough, but if I manufactured PC’s I’d rather have 10% of the market love me than 90% of the market who could even identify me.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference”

Simon Dudley

If companies insist on making “no compromise” technologies, they are reality making products that sit right in the middle of the triangle: not expensive, but not cheap; not good, but not poor; not fast but not slow. These produce no love, and in a world of increasing abundance the products and services that live in the corners of the Kidney of Compromise, up in the edges are the ones that users love.

Being loved, giving your clients a reason to want to become an evangelist for you, to become your greatest sales force, for free, is becoming ever more vital, as the cost of everything trends downwards. 

Want evidence ask the next person you meet with a Mac laptop what they think of it? Then ask the next HP laptop owner. If that doesn’t demonstrate the power of compromise nothing will.

The King's new clothes and the insanity of CEO's

What Fairy Tales can teach us about business and life.

A long time ago in a country far far away two hucksters went to visit the King. They told the King that they had a special loom that enabled them to make the finest cloth imaginable. The cloth was so fine that it was close to invisible, in fact it was so fine that only the wise and clever could see it.

The King of course, not wanting to look a fool suddenly realised he could see it. Amazingly enough, so could the Queen, the whole royal household, all the Dukes, and Earls, and Knights, and ladies in waiting. All the good and the great could see it

"The telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication"

William Orton, President of Western Union 1876.

The King decided to parade through the streets to show his people his amazing new outfit and how wise he was.

Everyone agreed it was beautiful, and very fine. Until one small boy stepped out from the crowd, looked sideways at the King and shouted “Hang on a minute, I can see the King’s tallywacker!!!”

Chaos ensued, people ran around screaming. The two hucksters started to pack their bags, assuming the game was up.

Calm was only restored after the small boy was put to death for treason and everyone could go back to wisely staring at the King’s new clothes knowing how brilliant they all were.

“The subscription model of buying music is bankrupt.” Steve Jobs (2003)

In far away land everyone died of hypothermia the next winter.

The King’s new clothes is a story designed, like so many fairy tales, as a life lesson. The lesson of course that hubris and group think will get us all killed. Additionally the idea that because someone was right in the past that they will be right in the future is a fallacy.

“There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”

Steve Ballmer. Microsoft CEO

To often in the modern era CEO’s can catch their own reflection in the mirror and fall in love with what they see. To be fair to them it’s all too easy to do. Once an organisation rewards compliance more than thinking, once the executive staff have decided that their own continued existence is more important than the long term health of the business, then acquiescence and the stroking of the egos begins.

CEO’s by their nature, are typically somewhat unusual types and often if not kept in check can easily lose sight of reality, particularly if they have been successful in the past. It is human nature.

So if we know this can happen, and also assuming we don’t want to die of hypothermia when the winter comes what can we do about it?

For the full answer read my new book The End of Certainty "How to thrive when playing by the rules is a losing strategy". 

The book will be published on August 6th 2015.

But as a quick overview of the top 10 tactics to employ to stop the CEO madness.

  1. Build a culture early in the business where being a contrarian is not a career death sentence

  2. Use evidence to make decisions. As the facts change so must your position. Anything else is dogma and has no place in business.

  3. Use techniques such as the 10th man to ensure that there is always a counter view.

  4. Build teams of diverse individuals with very different backgrounds.

  5. Ensure roles such as CEO and Chairperson are never combined and that the chairperson is independent

  6. Use non executive directors effectively and not simply as rubber stampers of existing policy.

  7. Ask your customers about your business regularly.

  8. Beware of sycophants. Remember if two people in business always agree one of them is redundant.

  9. Beware of analysts. They are good are examining an existing business environment but are no use when the success criteria change.

  10. Keep the CEO away from mirrors.

Work on the principle that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Everyone starts a business with the best of intentions. But like Frodo and the ring the love of power often becomes too much. So build a strategy early to help everyone cope.

“Windows Phone will be No. 2 in Smartphones by 2015”  IDC, Gartner, IHS

Many if not all the great CEO’s, scientists and inventors in history have made terrible decisions and horrible predictions. Having one, two or ten good ideas does not make any of us immune to making catastrophic decisions later.

"I predict the internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse"

Robert Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet, December 1995

Businesses need to support their CEO’s in a way to help them keep their feet on the ground. They often don’t appreciate it at the time, but if organisations want to continue to be able to innovate they must resist the siren call of the brilliant CEO and the slippery slope of groupthink.

With wiser counsel and a better management structure that Kingdom far away and long ago might have gotten rich selling the world coats.

Does the Queen think everything smells of fresh paint

Follow up on Infocomm15.

"Put the machine gun down"

Recently, I wrote about how far too many exhibitors at Infocomm15 “Facted the Clients to death”. The response was overwhelmingly positive, but it was also confused. Many people understand the power of stories to help explain a business concept that is easy to digest, but many had trouble understanding what a story might look like in the real world.

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Facted to Death at Infocomm15

Infocomm15 where were all the stories?

The big story of Infocomm15? There weren’t any stories.

I’ve just returned from a great week at Infocomm15 in Orlando Fl. There were an amazing range of technologies from a dizzying range of suppliers, many of whom I’d not heard of before. Infocomm does a great job with the show.

But there was a problem, the problem is there every year. There were no stories.

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