Habits are crucial for driving execution excellence. Four things contribute to forming better habits:

  1. Being deliberate – be clear on what you want
  2. Being consistent – commit to keep going
  3. Looking down now – start as soon as possible
  4. Looking up often – learn and iterate as you go

This is number 2.

Why consistency is important

Some people have an awkward relationship with habits.

It makes them feel boxed in, contained, controlled.

Less agile, less free, less fluid.

Like creativity and habits can’t co-exist.

I can empathise with that.

Habits gone wrong lead to mindless routine.

Habits done well, on the other hand, lead to deliberate consistency.

Deliberate consistency

I’ve suggested previously that cooking every day doesn’t make you a chef. A deliberate pursuit of goals is required.

The other side of that coin – if you want to be a chef, you have to cook every day. A consistent application of discipline is required.

(Many refer to it as deliberate practice – James ClearShane Parrish, and others. I’m cautious of using “practice” because it implies the true test starts when the game starts. This might be true in sport. In business, the game has already started.)

“Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.”

John Maxwell

I want to focus on why we need to “cook every day”, not how to go about it.

In effect, why do we need to create good business habits? Why is consistent discipline required?

The case for consistency (even in a time of crisis)

In a time of global unrest and changing working styles, consistency is more crucial than ever. Here are 5 reasons why we think so:

  1. There is no magic potion for execution excellence
    • Consistency is required because there’s no quick fix. Start with one ingredient, try it out, change it, add another. Over time, you’ll find the right formula.
    • “An overnight success takes about 10 years.” Jeff Bezos
    • Some ingredients though, like focus and alignment, we know will probably increase your odds of success – start with these.
    • In times of crisis: you’re not going to find the right formula for remote work from the start. Build testing into your system – do it, test it, change it, do it again.   
    • Sidebar: The same applies for software and methodologies. There’s no piece of software, or any methodology, including OKR, that magically solves execution challenges. Create a formula that fits you.
  2. Compounded small wins stick easier than big-ticket wins
    • Statistics show that if you win the lotto, the likelihood of going bankrupt is higher than for the average person. Which means big-ticket wins could even have a detrimental effect.
    • If you’ve made money through consistent hard work over many years, you’ve probably figured something out and it’ll keep compounding into the future.
    • In times of crisis: celebrate the small wins.
  3. Muscle is built through consistent (and deliberate) effort
    • After winning 3 NBA championships, Michael Jordan retired from basketball in 1993 to try his hand at baseball. In 1995, he came out of retirement, returned to basketball, and went on to lead the Chicago Bulls to victory in another 3 NBA championships.
    • However, when he came out of retirement, he talked about how he struggled to get back into basketball. I guess you can say his muscles atrophied – or at least the “basketball” muscles. He lost muscle because he lost consistency.
    • In the same way, consistency in practices (daily standups, weekly check-ins, quarterly reflect and reset session) build specific muscle groups. Natural talent isn’t enough.
    • In times of crisis: decide which muscle groups you want to build during these unique times – don’t try and do it all, and don’t do nothing
  4. Habits are stronger than the people (but not more important!)
    • Healthy business habits will transcend an over-reliance on people. Whether you want to scale up and pursue opportunities, or scale down and take a vacation, an unhealthy reliance on people won’t allow for either.
    • Sidebar: Habits should never come at the cost of people though.
    • In times of crisis: create healthy business habits to over-communicate and increase connection.
  5. Willpower is finite
    • We have a limited amount of willpower. This means we have to decide what we spend our willpower on. Creating systems (or habits) means you save some willpower to spend on more important decisions.
    • Are you worried that you’ll get into “mindless routine”? Build a time for reflecting on the system into your process.
    • In times of crisis: systematise crisis update calls and team check-ins, to free up mental capacity and willpower to make other decisions.
    •  “The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.” Cal Newport, Deep Work.

Two questions from me: 

  1. Are your business habits mindless routine, or deliberate consistency?
  2. Will habits in your organisation carry on when you’re not there?
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