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One of the most distinctive memories from my early days within the Army was one of my respected Sergeants suddenly and abruptly correcting one of my trainee peers.

My mate had mentioned the unmentionable…

We were discussing what we should do if we encounter an enemy that was larger or more dangerous than we had originally predicted, and someone mentioned the word ‘retreat’. The response from my sergeant was immediate, ‘Australians DO NOT retreat!’. He went on to explain that we might withdraw in the interest of finding a terrain that was more conducive and favourable for us, but we do not retreat.

This is a statement that has stuck with me since that time. It speaks of the importance of always moving forward and regaining the initiative. Of remaining focused and deliberate in everything we do. It accepts that at times we might have to take a step back, but this should only be done to regain our footing in which to be able to take more steps moving forward. Over the years this phrase has spread its utility into most aspects of my life such as:

The Importance of Strategy

But here is the catch, it is predisposed on an assumption that we know what direction we should be heading. What point is there moving forward if it is entirely the wrong direction?

This is why having a strategy is so incredibly important. A strategy is a framework which sanity tests our decisions in short time, in order to allow us to stay focused on heading in the right cardinal direction. I have seen so many people get this wrong at their detriment.

We need to ask ourselves does our strategy (personal or professional):

  • Detail what we are seeking to achieve (Mission)?
  • Explain what it looks like when we achieve it (Vision)?
  • Include a sequence of how we might actually transit there (Goals, pillars, objectives, measures of success)?
  • Contain an acknowledgement of what we are willing to invest (or give up) in order to achieve it (resource allocations)?

It is an area that is too often paid lip service, but it is this defining feature that separates good teams from the absolute best.

A strategy allows a team to make quicker decisions, allocate precious resources towards those efforts with the highest impact and effect, as well ignore those shiny distractions which enticingly seduce people off of the centre line of their success.

Stopping the rot

‘Moving forward’ all the time is extremely difficult. It requires consistency, dedication and focus. Traits that can be increasingly hard to come by these days.

Our world is full of ever-increasing distractions and information that act as ‘white noise’ to our concentration. This white noise can incrementally increase for some people to the point where it becomes debilitating to their decision-making abilities. Some teams can become so confused by the pressures associated with these distractions that they reactively overcompensate by creating more and more high priorities. Leaders become withdrawn as the idea of moving forward appears less and less tenable.

For these teams, a ‘circuit breaker’ is required. Something that can stop the spiralling confusion and provide some level of clarity. This often requires a combination of the following:

  1. Strong leaders & managers with clear roles and responsibilities. Kotter once described the distinction between Leadership and Management, explaining that leaders coordinate ‘change’ and managers coordinate ‘complexity’. I particularly like this description as it is a simple reference for teams to make in order to refocus and distribute their team’s efforts. It is a common observation that the teams that are drowning have not clearly identified the distinction in roles and responsibilities between key roles. Everyone is trying to do everything, and no one is doing it well.
  2. Objectivity. Sometimes people are so saturated in their problems that they cannot see the overall context. They are literally living minute by minute and the idea of popping their head about the parapet in order to refocus their direction is unimaginable. This is where objectivity is so key. A third set of eyes, from someone who is not so absorbed in the problem, can be invaluable in asking the right questions and assisting in resetting the focus.
  3. Horsepower. Some teams are under-resourced and under-supported – plain and simple. These teams have often been heading in the right direction but just do not have the horsepower or workforce to get their project over the line. They have been doing ‘more with less’ for so long that they have reached culmination, and they just need reinforcement. Jonathan Clark once said to me, ‘sometimes you don’t need more people standing around the hole telling you how to dig better, you just need them to jump in and help dig’.
  4. Prioritisation. It is common to see teams that have a massive list of ‘what to do’ they have forgotten to detail what they ‘do not need to do’. The list of what is not required is often more important than what need to do. It stops people being lured down the enticing trip falls we eluded to earlier…

Some of the readers might resonate with some of these observations. If you have, I would love to hear your comments, case studies, and ideas.

The Eighth Mile Consulting team has founded a reputation for helping teams navigate through this confusion. There is an amazing feeling of elation as a team steps over the line of success when things months prior looked dire and unachievable.

For those slugging their way through problems at this very time, remember:

  • We don’t retreat, we withdraw to more favourable conditions
  • We ensure the actions we are doing are working to an overarching strategy or design.
  • We don’t give up, but we do adapt our approach

 

 

Our clients buy in mysterious ways. This is because they buy on emotions and rationalise post-purchase. With this in mind, how can you ensure you position your brand better and develop a key message that stands out from the rest?

In this 50-minute workshop, we discuss with Dan Rowell from DSR Branding how to deliver a clear, unique and memorable message.

Topics We Discussed In this workshop

  1. Finding your point of difference 
  2. Balancing the risk between subtle and overt strategies
  3. The greatest value for money in marketing 
  4. Where to invest your marketing budget 

Developing your message 

Strategy development is fundamental to creating and running a successful campaign for your organisation. What are the values you stand for? What is it that your audience really wants to hear? The Eighth Mile Consulting can help you build a strategic outlook and communication plan to deliver your business and client outcomes.

Dan shared some awesome insights for those feeling a little lost in the marketing space. He recommended the A Brand New World Podcast and left us with the AIDA model to keep in mind when building content: Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. Here are some questions to help you find the right track. What constraints are your working with? How are you delivering a credible and trustworthy message? Are you giving your marketing ideas the overnight test? 

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What is your favourite tag line? Let us know in the comments below!

In this 60-minute workshop, we discuss techniques for presenting ideas that gain buy-in.

TOPICS WE DISCUSSED IN THIS WORKSHOP

  •  Understanding your manager
  •  Nesting your ideas within existing objectives
  •  Micro Skilling
  •  Matrix Teams
  •  Managing Obstructionists
  •  Using yours and your team’s values to support the cause

INFLUENCE REQUIRES UNDERSTANDING

Successfully presenting new ideas requires you to do the background research and set the stage for change. Take a look at what may be affecting your coworkers and how your idea will impact them. Forbes research shows that 70% of all organisational change efforts fail. Have you done the analysis that will enable you to achieve a break in with your idea?

There is an art to preparing information in such a way that it encourages transformation within your business.  If you present your ideas with no strategy you may experience push back.  The Eighth Mile Consulting offers executive coaching for individuals looking to develop their understanding of the motivating factors that determine the outcomes in their workplace. Developing self-awareness and social awareness can give you the edge that drives your career forward.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What are your thoughts or learnings when it comes to presenting new ideas? Are you seeing positive results from investing time in your own self-development? Let us know in the comments below!

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This article was originally shared by Ian Mathews on Forbes

David Neal spoke with Ian Mathews about his transition from his career in the military into founding his own consultancy alongside his partner Jonathan Clark.

David shares with Ian the considerations he and Jonathan explored when establishing The Eighth Mile Consulting strategy development.

They also covered these points in their conversation which can be seen in this short 8-minute video posted to Linked In.

  1. The costs of not acting on instinct
  2. The lesson on letting your ego impact your leadership
  3. Why do we fall into the trap of micromanaging?
  4. How much time do you invest in developing people who have not yet met their mark?

From Active Duty To Startup Founder: An Interview With David Neal

If you interview an executive and a military leader, many aspects of the conversation will sound remarkably similar. Both are responsible for adapting to change, leading people, thinking strategically and delivering results.

But several times during the conversation, you are reminded of just how different the stakes can be for the military leader. An executive might recall delaying the removal of a poor performer, resulting in a disruption in business. The military leader provides a similar example but with much graver consequences.

I recently met with David Neal, CEO of The Eighth Mile Consulting, to discuss his journey from the Australian Army to founding a successful business. David spent 13 years with the armed forces before leaving to build a company that helps private enterprises with change and project management, strategy and leadership consulting.

What was your first experience in business? When I was 14, I worked in a liquor store. Sweeping, stacking shelves and all that sort of stuff. I learned the value of talking to people and building rapport, particularly at a young age, because a lot of the customers were rough around the edges.

Your focus now is on leadership. What were your early influences? In my adolescence, I did Shotokan karate and worked my way up from a very young age, competing in the World Championships. That drew a lot of my time throughout my younger years. I was coached predominantly by my dad and spent time on the national team.

You mention your father as a coach. What other examples did your parents set for you? My parents worked in the tax office. That’s an interesting story by itself because my mom and dad come from pretty rough stock, a suburb called Elizabeth in Adelaide, which for many years was the highest crime rate suburb in the whole country. My dad scored a scholarship by randomly attending a school hall once. He went into the air-conditioned school hall on a very, hot Australian summer day. To stay in the air conditioning, he had to take an aptitude and IQ test. He is a brilliant man and his scores landed him an accounting scholarship funded by the government. He created a career there with my mom, working shoulder to shoulder on many of the same projects. It’s a pretty cool story when you think back to how they pulled themselves out of tough times through education.

What was your first leadership role with the military? I went to two institutes: The Australian Defence Force Academy and The Royal Military College – Duntroon, where they designate army leadership officer training. It’s a very competitive environment and you get used to being uncomfortable. I also did some infantry-specific training and deployed immediately to Afghanistan. Straight out of military school, I spent 10.5 months on combat operations in Afghanistan, as a 22-year-old in charge of up to 27 soldiers at any time.

What was that like? That was very gritty work. My role was as part of an Australian force that could support the Afghan National Army and make sure that our soldiers were getting back alive. Wherever there was trouble, we got dragged in and would get our hands dirty. That’s where I developed my close affiliation with the U.S. because we supported each other during some tough times.

What was an early observation in that role that stuck with you? One of the things I observed was a difference between the U.S. and Australian forces in style and approach. I used to talk to my soldiers on a first name basis, regardless of what rank they were, and they’d be like, “Yeah, boss,” and walk off. I had a US lieutenant struck by the casual approach to the way that we deal with our soldiers. And he was like, “How can you do that? This is your rank, and this is their rank, and we’ve got to maintain discipline.” I learned not to rely on my position because the Australian Army is less structured in our hierarchies. And so what works for one military did not necessarily work for the other. We both have the same tactics on the battlefield, but the way that we communicate with our teams is drastically different. He thought they were insulting me by calling me boss, but in our world, that was a sign of respect. If they started calling me sir, I knew I’d stuffed up.

Does that lesson apply in business? There’s a level of respect in assuming that the people who work with you can poke fun at you. It shows that we trust your ability to deal with it. And if we don’t talk to that person or we don’t want to offend them or whatever, then that’s probably a more concerning sign in our culture.

Tell me about a mistake you made as a new leader in the field. I did not make the hard decisions early enough. An example of that, I had someone in mid-level leadership that was in charge of other people. I was easily influenced and didn’t want to break up the team just before we deployed. I thought that I could change or educate that person in time, and I was wrong. We had a gunfight, and this person froze at a time that I needed them not to freeze. And I now look back and know I could’ve done something about that.

Why didn’t you act on your gut sense? I didn’t want to ruffle feathers, and I didn’t want to upset the status quo. I paid the price for that at the gritty end. If I had groomed someone else, I wouldn’t have risked people’s lives. So for me, have those hard discussions early and be willing to justify the reasoning behind that.

I went through the same thing as a new leader. My naive way of thinking was, “I can change everybody.” It was my ego saying, “I’m a good enough leader to overcome this.” Absolutely. The lead up to that, we’ve gone through four years of relatively intense training where everything is graded, marked and assessed. You’re compared against your peers. The day you graduate, you’re rated from one to whoever is left in the class. You know where you sit in terms of your cohort, your peers, and these are arguably the best leaders in the country. And you’re getting rated against those people. I mean, that’s always in the back of your mind. There’s a competition about who is the best. I’ve got to be the fastest, and I can’t be the weakest — all these really kind of misaligned perceptions.

How did those rankings impact your judgment? I didn’t want to be the one with the weaker team. I didn’t want to cause problems for my headquarters. I didn’t want to be that guy. I wanted to be the guy with solutions. I’ll fix it. And really what I was doing was slapping more band-aids on the problem but not curing the infection underneath. And ultimately, I paid the price for that. And then I had to endure the rest of the tour with that individual. And it hurt me. I had to micromanage to make sure that my soldiers were safe and this came at the expense of the overall operation. With a few hard discussions early, we could have fixed that entire thing.

What were the consequences as you got dragged down to a lower pay grade? The soldiers see that, and they’re like, “Well, why is the boss mucking around at our level? Why is this, why is that?” And I’m trying to work behind the scenes to make sure that everyone’s safe and we all get back alive. That weighs heavy on your conscience. You’re trying to make sure that we’re all going to get back. The other thing I learned, and I think it relates to corporate, military, and personal life is the value of context.

The times when my staff were most frustrated with me were when they didn’t know how or why we were doing something.

If I could talk to a younger version of me, I would say spend that extra 60 seconds on every engagement you have with people to explain the context about how and why you’re doing something. If you can cover both of those things, it will prevent 90% of the problems before they start.

What happens when a leader isn’t transparent enough? It always creeps out anyway. Whatever you say to one person will get back to the original person. It builds strong rapport and trust when you go up to another human and say, “I have a lot of respect for you, and I’m not going to talk behind your back. I’m going to say these things to your face because I believe that you can deal with it.” If you can frame conversations in that way, people will take it positively. One thing that took me a long time to figure out is that the more vulnerable I am, the stronger I am.

Can you elaborate on the importance of being vulnerable? It is counter-intuitive for someone trained to protect their reputation. The more I share about my vulnerabilities, the stronger the rapport I have with people. And I am able to leverage my network to achieve a disproportionate impact.

I find that the most productive people simply have more people willing to do them a favour. Absolutely. And what that looked like was, “Hey Bill, could I borrow some of your trucks? Could you give me a drop 20 km down the road with your helicopter, Harry? Because that would be a great asset for us not to walk that far.” These were favours, not orders or demands. This was over a mobile phone going, “Hook a brother up, and I’ll do you a favour later.”

How do you share vulnerability in a business context? When we meet someone, we tell them how bad we are at some things. We put those knives on the table before we start. We approached two-star generals with, “Hey look, this is where we’ve personally let you down. Let me explain where we’re weak. We haven’t hit the mark on this particular project.” The more we did that, the more those people protected us because they were like, “I can trust this person. I don’t need to hunt for the negative things. They just tell it to me straight away.”

As you approached the end of your term, how did you decide to start this company? I had no intention of creating a business. I jumped into a project manager role in a large not-for-profit organization to roll out an enterprise project. It was similar to some of the projects I worked on within defence. But while I was in that organization, I observed what I thought were Leadership 101 problems. It was a toxic environment, and I was like, “How can this business run when leaders can’t even talk to their staff? They can’t say one thing without bullying them.

So, you saw a problem first-hand and decided to build a solution? Yes. I started taking notes in the background with my friend Jonathan, as we were working on this project together. We got to the end of our contracts, and I said, “Do you think there’s merit in us starting a business where we can help people based on our lessons learned?” We got so comfortable working in high-performing teams, and there seems to be a complete vacuum of it. And working with high-performing teams is addictive. It’s an amazing feeling when you’re on a humming team, and everyone knows their place, and everyone’s getting stuff done. I thought, “Why don’t we start a business helping companies create great teams?”

Your company’s motto is, “Good people helping good people.” What does that mean to you? We look at projects and change initiatives holistically, but with a lens of, “How do you engage with people?” Because so many problems are disguised as something else. Most of what we deal with is people. What looks like a technical problem is often one person won’t talk to another because they don’t like them, and the company is trying to patch it with a new system that costs a million dollars. We ask why they don’t get the two talking to each other or get rid of the offender.

You started Eighth Mile Consulting with your longtime friend, Jonathan Clark. How important has it been for you to start this business with a partner? It’s massive. We made a deliberate choice that we would fulfil two roles, as we have two different styles. Behind the scenes, we do very different things. I’ve adopted the part of the gap-finder, forward-leaner, opportunity-finder, relationship-builder. Jonathan has adopted the systems, processes, structure, design, organization, management and operational side. Knowing your place in the team and defining it is crucial. We hold each other accountable, and I think our team thrives on that.

How did you think about positioning for Eighth Mile? In true military fashion, the first thing we did was purchase a whiteboard and a big marker. Jonathan and I sat there over bourbon and wrote about where you might not see two knuckle-dragging ex-infantry consultants. Where can we be a point of difference? And we focused on not-for-profits, clinical care, medical and education. We’re going to lean into these areas where we are a point of difference.

What was your marketing plan? We tried LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with different messaging. I aimed at these various industries to see where we might provide value. LinkedIn quickly rose to the top, and I developed a few tactile skills on that platform. So we started building our personal brands concurrently while we were making the company brand. Our messaging slowly switched to, “Well, if you like me as a human, you should see the rest of my team, because they’re incredible.” Since our business has been running, we’ve spent less than $500 on advertising.

What advice would you give to someone starting a company today? In the small business world, you do everything for a while. You don’t have the capital, and you don’t have the revenue coming in. Your margins might be small. Write down your strategy. It’s a contract with yourself and that should incorporate a linkage to your personal life. Do not commit to starting a new enterprise or a new business if you think that it will not affect your home life.

You can read the full article here

In this 60-minute workshop, we discuss getting the balance right in communicating with our employees.

TOPICS WE DISCUSSED IN THIS WORKSHOP

  • 05:48 – Decentralised control and the balance between expectation and empathy
  • 11:00 – The trust issue
  • 16:00 – The freedom in routine
  • 21:30 – Combatting uncertainty
  • 29:00 – The impact of cutting employees to save money
  • 42:00 – Continuous education within a cost-sensitive period
  • 48:00 – How to have courageous conversations

HIGH PERFORMING TEAMS REQUIRE TRANSPARENCY

Successfully developing your people is fundamental to the sustainable growth of your organisation. Take a look at what may be holding your organisation back. Is the rate of change making it difficult for your team to feel connected with a sense of purpose and direction?  Do you feel there is a lack of clarity at the tactical level? Do your leaders feel confident to handle having courageous conversations? The Eighth Mile Consulting can help you build your leadership team through Leadership Training to motivate disaffected teams and deliver business and people outcomes.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What are your thoughts or learnings when it comes to managing employee performance? Are you seeing positive results from having courageous conversations? Let us know in the comments below!

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Panel Discussion at The Eighth Mile Consulting Aligned Leaders Summit

For those who were unable to make it to the Aligned Leaders Summit, we have recorded a number of presentations, including the panel discussion at the end where Peter Keith, Jonathan Clark, David Neal, Trehan Stenton, Neil Salkow and Samantha Pickering answer questions from the audience regarding lessons in leadership and how to support the desired values within our workplaces.

The questions discussed include:

  • 00:55 – What are some of the ways you can incentivise staff?
  • 04:35 – What would you classify as the single most defining leadership behaviour?
  • 09:42 – What do you do to increase self-awareness?
  • 14:20 – How do you pick up on team members’ well-being states and at what stage do you intervene?
  • 18:30 – At what stage in leadership should you start thinking about succession planning?
  • 21:45 – Do you feel we currently are in a mid-cycle economic slowdown with a quick recovery on the other side, or in a position with far more detrimental lasting impact?
  • 23:20 – What is the single most important discipline action that you do for you on a routine basis?
  • And many more…

About Aligned Leaders Summit

The Eighth Mile Consulting has brought together a team of experts to provide an event for Leaders to improve the strategic alignment of their teams, create a culture that fosters resilience, and learn ways to survive, stabilise and grow during times of uncertainty.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Do you have questions you would have liked to ask the panel at the Aligned Leaders Summit? Let us know in the comments below!

In this 50-minute workshop, we discuss the relationship between offensive and defensive business strategies.

Topics We Discussed In this workshop

  1. Personalities, biases and decision making
  2. Running concurrent offensive and defensive initiatives
  3. Understanding the relationship between strategy and risk
  4. Leadership considerations

SMART BUSINESS REQUIRES SMART STRATEGY

Strategy development is fundamental to creating and running your organisation. Where do you want your business to be in five years? Where are you now? How big is the gap between where you are now, and where you want to be? The Eighth Mile Consulting can help you build a strategic outlook and implementation plan to deliver business and people outcomes.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What are your thoughts or learnings when it comes to deploying the right strategy in business? Are you leaning towards an offensive business strategy or a more defensive one? Let us know in the comments below!

The best leaders and project managers I have seen are those that can differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information quickly, so time is not wasted unnecessarily. It is those individuals, whom through their line of questioning, determine from another person – ‘what is the thing you want?’.

Do not confuse what I am about to say as an excuse for poor stakeholder engagement, or buy-in. This article is geared towards organisations and teams which operate in high tempo environments, experience stressful positions and require streamlined communication in order to survive.

My previous role within the military was one characterised by high and low tempo periods. Due to the nature of high tempo periods, time becomes short to make accurate and well-reasoned decisions often concerning the allocation of resources, and judgements about personnel safety. But what struck me as odd was a phenomenon I can only describe as ‘rambling’. As people got stressed, they felt the need to justify their question prior to asking it. But why would you be saying more when there is significantly less time? – it doesn’t make sense. It only creates more stress. It took me a long time to realise what was happening, but after having reasonable time to deliberate on the phenomenon I think I have figured it out!

As people become stressed they internally perceive the stakes to be higher. In turn, people tend to transition into a self-protection mode (either physically or professionally) – this is seen particularly in the military where individuals are assessed routinely on their technical skills and their ability to operate complex/complicated systems under trying circumstances. As a result, people rearrange the way they ask their questions in such a way that they begin with the justification before asking the question. You might have experienced this before when someone opens with a massive preamble about a problem and all they really wanted was to ask for something simple like a signature for something you already knew about. This is the same issue on a graduating scale.

On one such occasion I was helping run operations in a large scale military exercise. A person (whom I have the highest respect for, particularly their technical ability and their integrity) was ten minutes into a ramble and unbeknownst to them – time from my perspective was very short! I had to ask directly:

“What is the thing that you want?”

They looked at me somewhat shocked as to the bluntness of the question, but I continued,

“If you had to describe in 50 words or less how I can help you best, what would you say? As I have to leave for a meeting.”

Their reply – priceless.

“Can I borrow your computer for a couple of minutes.”

My reply – and a quick pat on the back later.

“No worries”.

Our relationship since that time has never been better. There was no massive social blunder, no awkwardness, just professional courtesy. Since that time, it dawned on me – how many hours of other people’s busy lives I have needlessly wasted by asking questions in the wrong way.

In certain circles within Defence, a technique called Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) is utilised. It directly addresses this problem – it formally requires the individual to rearrange their correspondence in such a way that the question is the first line read on the document, brief or presentation.

BLUF Example:

I seek approval to move item X to area Y?

Justification:

  1. The item needs to be serviced
  2. Replacement items are inbound
  3. The item will no longer work with system Z which will be introduced in June.
  4. Etc.

The result is the decision maker is queued towards the problem early, and can actively consider the justifications without getting lost in the data.

Please note, when I refer to direct questioning, I am not implying one has to be rude, or unapproachable – quite the opposite. I am suggesting that a strong team with well rehearsed lines of communication should be able to circumvent the need to talk unnecessarily in times of extremis, or high stress. Team members should be confident in asking questions directly, and leaders should be comfortable in their team members’ abilities. Those teams that can achieve this level of operational ability are routinely the same that outperform their competitors.

Now I am not suggesting that Nirvana can be reached in terms of perfect communication, but I would suggest that there are certain things we can do at our level to improve our communication when it counts the most:

  1. Think before you communicate – What is it you want? Be prepared to explain why if they ask. Rehearse your question and answer.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask the direct question – ‘What is the thing you need from me?’ or ‘Please describe exactly what you see me doing to help you?’
  3. Train your personnel – Encourage people to be confident enough to ask direct questioning.
  4. As a leader, be approachable and explain your intent – If you have to ask someone to be direct with their question also explain that you are not being rude and you appreciate direct questioning as it helps you problem solve more efficiently.
  5. Reinforce the correct behavior.

In my own experience, I have seen this work very effectively. Not just within Defence but across a multitude of different agencies. By cutting out the white noise I think I have significantly improved the way in which I communicate. My team members have also adopted the same line of questioning, to a point where it has become habitual. Give it a try!

We have taken many of these lessons and incorporated them into The Eighth Mile Consulting.

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

My father is one of the most intelligent people I know, blessed with a highly analytical brain, and an ability to simplify the complex. He once challenged a younger version of myself, when I was massively overthinking about an issue. During one of my lengthy rants he stopped me abruptly and asked, “what is it you know?” Not paying much attention (as I hadn’t yet learnt to listen) I went on listing hundreds of pieces of what I thought were truths. He asked again, “What. Is. It. You. KNOW?” Upon further analysis it became evident that all but one or two pieces of information were assumptions, fabrications or guesses at best. This second challenge caught me off guard and has induced a healthy skepticism that has aided me to this very day.

When I stopped and thought about it, I really didn’t know anything. I had jumped to numerous conclusions based on my emotions, my perceptions of individuals (and their behaviour), and subjective observations which if had been seen or experienced by someone else would have ultimately led to very different conclusions. My father, on this day, changed the very way that I look and analyse problems. It has kept me more grounded through a combat military career, as a project manager, and as a consultant.

In 1997, Men in Black (MIB) was released, but there was one quote that really resonated with me. Kay, an experienced MIB operative is attempting to recruit Edwards and has just confirmed conclusively that humans are not alone on Earth.

Edwards: “Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.”

Kay: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the centre of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow…”

Assumptions Vs Fact

An assumption is ‘a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof”. A fact is defined as, ‘a thing that is known, or proved to be true’.

When I was in the Army, we often conducted planning in preparation for complex emerging issues, conflicts and situations all around the globe. Planning under these arrangements was often characterised by:

  • Limited planning time
  • Very restricted resources
  • Scarce information
  • A complex and confusing operating environment
  • A need to gain early momentum on whatever it was we were committing to.

Our planning methodology was commonly referred to as, ‘assumption-based planning’. In doing so, we would spend numerous iterations of planning identifying a lengthy list of assumptions. These assumptions would become the premise to whatever plans we were simultaneously developing, allowing us to get early preparation and movement. Data collectors and different organisations would push significant time and resources towards confirming whether the assumptions we were using to form the foundation of our rapidly developing plans were factual, or not. It was not uncommon for assumptions to be disproved and would suddenly change large aspects of the plan, at short notice. But when the assumptions were proven correct, it would inevitably have given us the jump on our enemy or would have allowed us to get significantly ahead of schedule.

During my time in the Army we never, I repeat, NEVER made the mistake of thinking that our assumptions were facts.

There is one key difference between the commercial industries and the Army. The Army is deliberately geared towards effectiveness and capabilities, and less towards efficiencies and cost reduction (although effort is still invested into cost reduction). This approach is what largely separates the two communities, as a business that is not continuously reducing cost is likely going to encounter significant survival problems later.

Since my transition from the Army to the commercial sector, I have observed a common mistake for businesses to make sweeping generalisations and assumptions and use them as the basis for an organisation’s overarching strategy. This can be very dangerous! It’s okay to use assumptions, provided there is adequate time invested in proving, or disproving them later.

Misinformation Is Worse Than No Information.

In today’s world we are constantly barraged with information. Information that directly disagrees with other reputable sources. Technology in all its forms has now saturated our brains with so much content that it can be very confusing where to turn, who to listen to, and which medium to approach.

If I could invite you to consider one thing; Misinformation is so much worse than no information. Conclusively knowing we do not yet have factual information about a topic affords you the opportunity to conduct targeted analysis in order to prove or disprove assumptions. Misinformation on the other hand, only offers the opportunity to run down rat warrens, poorly invest resources, and waste time.

Misinformation itself is often manifested by our own personal biases, our aversion to collecting accurate and contemporary data, our available sources of data collection.

“Before the invention of printing press, the problem was, lack of information, and now due to the rise of social media, it is too much information – the former leads to mental starvation and the latter to mental obesity.”

Abhijit Naskar

My recommendation to those teams conducting strategy planning is to spend the time confirming the following:

  • What do we conclusively know?
  • What don’t we know?
  • What do we need to know more about?
  • What assumptions can we make at an early stage in order to get things moving?
  • How do we scale or rate the assumptions?
  • How will we prove or disprove these assumptions later? By when? For what purpose?

This should provide an opportunity to streamline your data collection and ensure that you are only collecting information that you need, and not wasting time and resources unnecessarily.

These are some of the lessons I have taken with me in my current capacity as a Director at The Eighth Mile Consulting

We have decided to honestly document some of our lessons collected over the first six months of operation. We hope it helps people.  

We have tried to gear our efforts towards expectation managing others who may be considering the challenge. In doing so, we will be brutally honest with ourselves and you. It’s the ‘Eighth Mile’ way. 

The Background 

The Eighth Mile Consulting officially launched on 01 January this year (2019). At its launch, the team consisted of just the two of us. We had known each other for 14 years in the Australian Army as Infantry Officers and we were confident that whatever happened, we could trust each other. We knew that we had very different ways of thinking. We knew our strengths and weaknesses very well. 

This was a good foundation bedrock from which to launch a business. People who knows us well, know that we are also brutally honest, and we wear our reputation on our sleeve. Above all else, we also like helping good people. So here goes… 

What Did We ‘Know?’ 

  1. Right platform. We needed a platform that allowed us to explore all of our crazy ideas that we had been suggesting over the years.  
  2.  Only work with good people. We would only support good people, projects and initiatives. We would outright refuse to support anything that doesn’t align with ‘Good People, Helping Good People’.  
  3.  Aim to Grow. We wanted to grow our influence in order to help more people. Secondly, we are good at making friends and we are good at what we do. We made an educated guess that there were many others that would fit into this ridiculously simple criterion, and therefore we could grow our team. We also knew that we needed people who were not like us in order to cover our gaps. 
  4.  Abort Criteria. If it jeopardised our reputations, our values or our friendship, we would turn it off.  
  5.  Strength in numbers. Consulting was a highly competitive industry, and we would grow our influence by doing what we do best; forming teams of like-minded people that support positive causes. We would leverage off their well earned reputations and networks, and they would leverage off of ours. 
  6.  Protect the brand. We would protect the reputation of the brand at all costs, even if it cost us our growth. We are fiercely protective of our brand. 
  7.  No investor funding. We would back ourselves and launch without investor funding. The risk of this was somewhat mitigated by relatively low overheads when compared to other business types. But it also meant we would have to work fast and be very targeted in our approach in order to source revenue for the company.  
  8.  Bite the bullet and operate by the book. Jonathan and I have skills and qualifications developed over many years, but we were reasonably weak at financial processing and legal administration. We knew outright that we would need to seek external help on an ongoing basis to make sure we got everything right and by the book.  

What We Didn’t Know At The Time Of Launch (Top three) 

  1. How many good people there are out there, and how many needed our help. It is difficult to measure, so we went with a gut feeling. We were right, there are heaps of them out there and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.  
  2. How we would be received by the market and by others. Would we be just another one of those small ‘wannabe’ firms that gets lost in the white noise. This is too early to tell. But we hope that even if this did occur, we would have left the market with a positive impact by having supported some incredibly positive initiatives. 
  3. How powerful our existing network was. Our background was largely Defence, with a comparatively smaller commercial & corporate network from our time in the corporate environment. Turns out we had an incredibly influential and impacting community network that sometimes lay dormant until prompted.  

We are eternally thankful to everyone who has helped our team. We could not have launched this without your unwavering support and loyalty.  

What We Still Don’t Know 

  1. The scope and scale of emerging industries and opportunities. We have our eye on a number of emerging industries, which I believe will have a profoundly positive impact on the world.  
  2. How we are perceived from the outside. We imagine that there are still a number of fence sitters watching us from afar wondering if we will fall off the perch or not. Sorry to say team, we are embedded like an Alabama tick now. More LinkedIn posts coming your way about positive projects. No apologies.  

Top Lessons Learnt 

  1. Ask for help and be humble. We gained momentum by biting our pride early and seeking help from others including friends, family, and all available networks. In doing so we rekindled relationships with lost friends, and I am so grateful I did. The Eighth Mile has been one of the most positive decisions we have made as a result. 
  2. There are bad people. Some people lose their way in life and turn to the dark side. In the short time we have been operating, we have already encountered: 
  • Some people steal your ideas and don’t acknowledge your input.  
  • Some people don’t take you seriously because you are a small firm, and therefore make assumptions about your competence. 
  • Not all the people you expect to support you, will. However, people you didn’t consider, will come out of the woodwork to help. 
  • You learn quickly who your friends are…and were. 
  • Understanding the context behind an interaction could mean the difference between an enduring relationship or a burnt bridge. 
  • Not everyone is operating by the same positive values as you. 

Sometimes these events hurt at a personal level, particularly after having been so careful to screen prospects through the ‘good people’ filters.  

  1. It can be difficult to monetise only supporting good projects. We knew early that this would be difficult, but people are now approaching us about having our positive brand associated with their projects. The difficulty lies with those organisations that are on the fence. They might have good people, but they are doing a questionable project, or vice versa. In those instances, we as a team make a judgement call and see whether we can help them in the areas they need improvement. By in large, most people and organisations are trying to do the right thing. 
  2. You must explain when you are offering advice or it’s a paid service. In doing so, know your value.  
  3. Find a gap. You need to become relevant… quickly. Our backgrounds have taught us to support whatever team you’re in. At times this requires learning new skills, lifting heavy things, and doing things you don’t want to do.  
  4. Small business can be fragile. Cash flow and time are the lifeblood of small business. Making simple mistakes can be very costly. In our case, we invested too much time into the wrong people, which unfortunately drew our attention away from those who were doing good things for others.  

Summary – Moving Forward 

Positives. We have grown from two to six staff (in varying capacities) in the six months. We have good people approaching us for projects and for jobs. We are finding gaps in new industries that no one else has yet seen. Our brand appears to be well received and is now being associated with positive initiatives.  

Focus Areas over the next 6 months. 

  1. Changing people’s perception of The Eighth Mile from being just ‘Dave & Jono’ to a growing business that currently includes six amazingly capable individuals we are very proud of. 
  2.  Cementing our presence in a number of new industries. If you think we can contribute to a positive industry, we might not have considered yet. Please contact us for a chat! 
  3.  Cement our physical presence within the Sunshine Coast area in Queensland, Australia. 
  4.  Communicating our capabilities more effectively. 
  5.  Continue supporting our current clients in making a positive legacy. 
  6.  Continue supporting veterans, emergency services and first responders as part of an enduring effort 
  7.  Grow our staff pool and influence 
  8.  Build our support to the local community  Jon
Jono and Dave at the Better Business Breakfast in the Sunshine Coast

Every six months from now, we will release an article which captures our lessons learnt in an effort to help more people considering the challenge. 

If you would like to see some of our other articles they can be accessed via our website:  The Eighth Mile Consulting

Cheers  

Dave and Jono