Changing a Flat While Driving

Changing a flat while still driving the car sounds utterly bonkers, doesn’t it? And yet it is something many of us are doing right now. Let me explain by way of a story.

This was going back a few years but explains the phenomenon of changing a flat while still driving. I had a client that was a fast growing online business. They had reached a point where the infrastructure they had built the business upon was creaking under the strain of their growth. The existing system was constructed of code that was undocumented and for which there was little or no local labour to service it. The developers were mostly cashed out after having taken the business public. So the infrastructure needed refreshing to meet the changing aspirations of the business to serve its clients. At the same time it was becoming clear across the whole company that the quality and breadth of available labour was a growing threat but there was no capability to embrace any remote working. So this too became something of an urgent requirement.

Metaphorically speaking, the car these people were in had a flat. They were driving as usual but things were slowing down and control was ebbing away. Everyone accepted that they needed to change the flat.

A pretty robust process was undertaken to identify requirements and then define ways to meet all the known and anticipated requirements. Some of the requirements were updates to things already needed, and others were completely new. Like anything else in the business, everything was ‘must have’ and all were needed ‘immediately.’Resources were stretched as they usually are wherever you are. What everyone, excluding the commercial team) wanted was to freeze all bespoke development work and focus all technical resources to development and implementation of the new infrastructure. Commercial staff wanted a minimal investment in the new infrastructure so that technical resources would be available in support of their clients requiring bespoke development. They feared that if this work was suspended their bonuses would be eliminated. They were probably right.

So, while everyone agreed we had a flat tire, the commercial and finance teams were against stopping the car to change the wheel. They advocated for a plan that would have us build a new wheel with as little resource as possible, no matter how much longer that would take, so that we could continue driving the car with the flat. Once the new wheel was eventually ready, we would then swap the bad wheel for the good one, barely skipping a beat. This made sense to the finance guys who never like to hear of a cessation of revenue streams.

I anticipated this situation as it had come up a few times over the years. I had just enough resources to quantify the value of the bespoke projects the commercial team was worried about losing. From a revenu perspective it was a significant number. But what I uncovered was that only a very few of these projects actually resulted in profit. Such was the burden of development cost. This was the whole point of undertaking the infrastructure project in the first place — these once loss-leading projects would finally become profitable with the new system. This truth had not before been known as there was no quality measurement of the business performance — which was also a major goal of the new system. We used a prototype of that part of the system to do this research.

Needless to say, commercial went quiet and finance joined our side. Bespoke work was eliminated unless proven profitable. Developers focused on the new system while still delivering the rest of the business. Revenue growth dipped a little but profits actually grew. As usual, development of the new system took longer and cost more, but the new wheel was built. In fact, the whole car was updated significantly, wheels and all.

It can seem really frightening to say ‘no’ to revenue in the face of change. But sometimes it is the right answer. Sometimes it really pays to stop the car and just change the wheel. There is a cost to either option and these need to be weighed against each other in the presence of agreed facts.

But What About Changing Personal Flats?

The same situation applies to us as individuals. Some years ago I built a small eco lodge in Hawaii called Kipuka. It was a beautiful place and, as a business, it was moving swiftly in the right direction. As things moved in the right direction I started thinking that I wanted to leave Hawaii and return to Europe. It was pretty lonely out there in my remote location and I missed my friends. There were many reasons why I wanted to leave so I thought about selling the business, my home, and make the move. But I was nervous because I didn’t know what I might do next for a living. I decided I would focus most of my attention on growing the business and maybe try selling it through a small agency.

The small agency was also a slow agency. It seemed my property was effective at drawing attention to their other properties for sale and not my own. I didn’t push them to change or to hire a different agency. There seemed no rush. Then in June 2018 the nearby volcano erupted, I evacuated, and the place was entirely destroyed. Probably would have been wiser to stop the car and change the wheel as soon as I discovered the flat.

A friend had told me, stop everything and sell now. I asked why, and he said, ‘because the property will never look better than it does right now, without any wear and tear.’ How right he was. So now I listen to myself when I feel my head and heart are moving in a new direction. I no longer prevaricate. I act. I follow my head/heart. This doesn’t always mean that I must stop my car, but it does mean that I immediately set in motion everything that needs to be done to change that wheel. It’s difficult to grasp your future when your past holds onto you in the form of a flat tyre.

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