Irish songs course, Godin style

Over at Bitesize Irish, our general approach since around 2008 or 2009 has been:

  • Create course helping people with the Irish language
  • Make available on the internet
  • Answer resulting questions

That’s been quite motivational in its own right, because people always reach out and pour their hearts out, explaining the “why” behind they want to speak the language.

We can go further, though. Seth Godin in The Icarus Deception (and his other books…) calls on us to connect people, and influence people in a positive way.

At Bitesize Irish, Siobhán our language assistant agreed to make a course for singing in the Irish language. Our general plan was:

  • Create course helping people to sing a song (and eventually more) in Irish
  • Make available on the internet
  • Answer resulting questions

But after listening more to Godin, my updated approach is something more like:

  • Create course helping people to sign a song in Irish
  • Call out for people who want to be able to sing this song (Transa na dTonnta to start with)
  • Enroll people into a course that starts at a certain time
  • In the course, provide general info about the song, a meaning of each line, and a pronunciation guide of each line
  • Connecting everyone on the program by providing a private forum for them to share these recordings, to give encouragement to each other, and to discuss their love for Irish song
  • Challenge the people in the program to record themselves saying the initial verse or indeed the full son
  • Provide the song in slow and fast videos
  • Challenge the people in the program to record themselves singing the song

What’s more scalable? Of course, it’s just giving a course as video files.

What’s more fulfilling, more human, more satisfying, more real? It’s to challenge everyone involved to share their version of the song.

Client Fulfilment System, Godin Style

Michael Gerber laid out one of the core functions of a business is its Client Fulfilment system:

“The Job” is one and only one thing: it is your Client Fulfillment System.
No matter what your product or service is, the delivery of that product or service will only be scalable to the degree you design, build, launch and grow your Client Fulfillment System, and then turnkey it.

Michael Gerber’s view

Gerber rightfully argues that a business delights its customers, and he argues that that should be done consistently, systematically. You build a system. For example, you step back and ask what information would you like to know about a customer, and then you use that info systematically to later delight them. In the world of SaaS, that might look like creating email segments and mass-emailing people in those segments regularly.

In 2018, part of the foundational work at Bitesize Irish has been a discussion about what our client fulfilment system should be. The brainstorming went into a series of specific questions we’d love to know about the person who’s part of Bitesize (such as “Do you plan on visiting Ireland any time soon?”). Posed questions to ourselves including “if a member isn’t active any more, what should we do to help them? How long is inactive? Do you do this systematically, automatically?”

Gerber’s focus is on enabling growth. But as Peter Drucker said, a business does not need to continually get bigger, but it does need to get better.

The very tension in Gerber’s approach is that it’s systematised. It’s like a company sends me an email on my birthday because that would be personal, oh how nice of them.

I would posit that Seth Godin would agree on delighting the customer, and having a plan for how you’ll do that. I think his system would be rather simple, however:

  1. Get to know the person, what are their dreams and their fears? What is important for them?
  2. Sometimes get back in touch with them personally. Ask how they’re doing. (And it’s fine to keep notes to help you remember details about this person.)

Checklists: Godin vs Gerber

Giveaway: for me, now, Godin wins.

Michael Gerber made the case of working on your business instead of in your business, in the popular book Emyth Revisited. His point of getting stuck in the daily routines of running a business was absolutely valid, and hit home with many readers, including myself.

He offered an alternative future: one of stepping out of the day to day, and instead using your time to define, orchestrate, and refine the systems involed in running a business (that is, a collection of people trying to provide something and improve something).

In practical terms, he argued for a business run by specific standard operating procedures, so that people of minimal skills could execute the process, so that a business could consistently delight their clients (repeatedly). You would do this by looking at the business as a whole, defining roles (even if the same person is filling multiple roles), creating a “contract” of responsibilities for that role, and finally (importantly here) describing the role with a precise set of operating procedures. This type of systems thinking is valid in itself, I think.

Seth Godin retorted in Linchpin that this is a race to the bottom. That if you make your business replicatable by relying on such process, that the people who will replicate the business will be your competitors.

Gerber and Godin agree, I think on one thing: what a company, as an organisation of people, is trying to do is satisfy their customers’ needs as best as possible. They agree on dreaming big: “what could we create?”, what Peter Drucker termed as “What should the business be?”.

Gerber’s view of checklists is that they should be as detailed as necessary, so that every step is executed the same way every time. That means quite a substantial set of documents, the strategy we’ve been following with Bitesize Irish.

Sam Carpenter made a similarly convincing argument in Work the System, that if you document your business processes, you can improve them over time, and have big systems (like accounting) run on a complicated set of documented steps. Without those steps, he would argue that such a regular task would be out of control regularly.

On the lighter view of checklists, Rob Walling, founder of Drip, has said on his podcast that in building Drip, they were a substantial enough team before needing to start to document things. (As far as I know they were all located in the same building, and the probably is a factor on how much documentation you need.)

The Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) described in Traction takes the “just enough process” approach, lighter than Gerber’s.

In the Checklist Manifesto, two types of checklists are described: prescriptive procedures that you follow step by step (which I’ve written about), and referential checklists that you check just to make sure you’ve done everything that’s needs. (Those terms are mine, I don’t remember precisely what terms were used in that book).

In practice, the practical trouble with prescriptive procedures is that they are not followed! I don’t blame people working in Bitesize Irish for that. I do that myself: if it’s a regular task such as publishing a podcast blog post, I don’t feel even the patience of sitting down through two pages of descriptive checklists in order to get that blog post public in front of people.

So who wins for me, Gerber or Godin? They are more similar than you might think, in that they are both motivated by dreaming big. Godin makes a strong case for making your business remarkable, and for the case that a remarkable company is human and simply not the output of detailed procedures. Godin would test your business model on whether it’s repeatable or not, and would conclude from that whether it’s a remarkable business that’s creating something human and unique.

I think Godin wins on that case, and the solution is to run a business on principles, not centred around SOPs. I think a business needs some set of checklists, but I don’t believe any more on the focus of documenting every single tiny step to make reproducable outcomes.