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.

I didn’t eat yesterday

It was an accomplishment for me not to eat anything yesterday. It took 36 trips around the sun, or approx 13,000 experiences of the Earth spinning in full for me to challenge myself to do that.

“Why did you not eat? You are being reckless.”

Long term body weight

According to The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung, which I’ve skimmed over, obesity is an issue with hormones more than calories themselves.

He quotes that the average American puts on 600g of body fat on average each year. It’s such an incremental change, that it’s easy to overlook the effect of that after, say, 60 years of adulthood (that’s 36kg of fat).

The crux of the matter is the amount of time our bodies spend in or out of a “higher insulin” mode. Look at the Irish in the 1950s, they were monching on those potatoes but obesity (and so diabetes, Alzheimers, and related chronic diseases that seem to come under the term metabolic syndrome) didn’t seem to be a social issue (although surely there were overweight people). They probably had a couple of meals a day, a cup of tae, and that’s about it. No munchies at the telly. 

Fung’s argument is that persistent periods of years and decades with surplus insulin in your bloodstream (that is, your body disposing of glucose in your blood, which is absolutely natural when you eat) leads to insulin resistance, and insulin resistance (a gradual phenomenon) in turn leads to obesity. He argues that changes in societal eating patterns, to eating more often during the day has been a big culprit in this (see the chart on this article for more details).

From my understanding, excess body weight is a symptom of metabolic syndrome, which has been linked to a variety of diseases like obesity, Alzheimers, cancers and indeed Type 2 diabetes.

He argues that the level of insulin resistance can determine your long term body “set” weight.

How do you drop the level insulin resistance? Through periods of being in lower-insulin mode (sleep helps every one of us achieve that as it normally stops us eating). Any food produces some insulin response (even the smell of food does, I’ve read before). So the quickest way to reach a lower-insulin mode is to not eat. Keto diets seem to produce a large chunk of the same response, but not eating is most effective. Fat-rich diets like keto seem to be a good companion to not eating.

In summary, in Fung’s perspective of the world, two general behaviours can help if you are any bit overweight:

  • What you eat: he first recommends to avoid added sugar, since it has a unique property of raising your insulin levels both immediately and in the medium term. After that it’s a matter of dialling down on the worst offenders (bread, pasta). He goes into more detail of things that could have a beneficial effect including fibre, fermented dairy and vinegar.
  • When you eat: the ancient practice of sometimes not eating. Pairing feast and famine. This was obviously a very strong tradition once in Ireland: Dé Céadaoin (Wednesday) means “The First Fast” and Dé hAoine (Friday) means “The Day of the Fast”. This has a key difference with low-calorie dieting: in low calorie dieting, your body strives to burn less energy so you’re burning less calories, but in not eating your body is allowed to switch over to burning fat stores (if you allow for your body to adjust to this mode over time, intermittently). Since every food produces some insulin response, it’s just not good enough to choose the “low fat yoghurt”.

For more info, I recommend a next step of watching a video from Fung’s site, and picking up a copy of The Obesity Code if you want more details. There’s plenty of his output on DietDoctor.com.

Also see: 28 days without coffee

WordPress: Tis not bad

From pre-2010 to 2018, Bitesize Irish has been running on custom software, with WordPress just powering its blog.

I moved this blog back to WordPress in 2018, and realised that it really is a matured platform.

It takes effort to learn and configure, but you can achieve a lot with no coding. You’re benefiting from the big ecosystem of plugins.

The features that I had developed (but as always struggling to keep up to date) with our custom software:

  • Membership logic
  • Payment integration
  • Email marketing list integration
  • Event-based emailing
  • Contact form
  • Course management (create lesson, create week, move lessons between weeks)
  • Marketing site styling

All that will now by powered by the following WordPress extensions:

Our aim for Bitesize is to create a community, a place where people can find a sense of belonging and support each other. We’re going to get there 🙂

For good resources of WordPress, I suggest watching videos by WPCrafter.