Discipline and Virtuous Cycles

Why is discipline is at the core of great independent consultancies?

Imagine this:

  • You answer the question, “who was the best client you ever worked with?” 
  • Based on your answer, you get a list of 1400 similar clients
  • You spent 40 years studying those 1400 clients
  • You identified 11 out of 1400 which were superb businesses in every sense
  • You figured out exactly what those 11 companies had in common

Apart from the first bullet, this is the creation story of Jim Collins’ Good to Great. It’s not surprising that it’s packed full of wisdom: 

  • Create a “Stop Doing This” list 
  • People matter more than vision, strategy, or processes. Doggedly pursue good people.
  • Be a hedgehog (does one thing perfectly) not a fox (does many things)
  • Great leaders don’t have great big personalities; they’re “normal people”

That’s a random selection of interesting observations but if you were to sum up the book in one sentence:

be fanatically picky about who you hire and disciplined about what you focus on, how you act, and how you think.

In fact, discipline is the book’s keyword. 

The challenge you and I have with the great business strategy books (this one is probably top 10 all-time)  is that they’re not really written for us. They’re mostly written for the Fortune 500, rather than independent businesses.

There are exceptions to this rule. Pricing Creativity, The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms, The Business of Expertise, Win Without Pitching, Getting Real and Company of One were expressly written for niche, independent, expertise-driven businesses. 

Meanwhile, the average headcount of the Good to Great “Top 11” was 2,300. You’d think you’d have to do a lot of translating to apply this corporate wisdom to indie firms.

But not so much. Take the flywheel.

The 7th and final feature of great companies identified in Good to Great is the presence of the “Flywheel” effect. People apply it to sales and marketing – a steady flow of leads from marketing efforts lets you both hone your sales process and focus on doing great work and publishing high-value content marketing. Which in turn generates more leads. Without having to start the flywheel.

Jim Collins uses it in a larger sense – for him, it’s a flywheel of discipline.  Disciplined thinking leads to disciplined focus leads to disciplined action – and back to thinking – in all areas of a business.

This sounds a lot like the virtuous cycle of cognitive-behavioral therapy – actions influence thoughts, thoughts influence feelings, feelings influence actions. This might be the most important cycle of all to pay attention to for the independent entrepreneur. 

All of these flywheels of virtue begin with a little bit of discipline..  back to the “Stop Doing This” list we go.

My best