This is a workshop session I designed and facilitated in Summer 2018 (annotated and abbreviated version, with some classroom exercises and
Here’s the Slideshare version, although this annotated one is far better of course 😉
I created this as part of the growth & change management module of the AMP NYC accelerator program which ran here in New York City over the summer of 2018. Including the exercises, it was about 40 mins in duration, and can easily run up to 2 hours if you want to dive deeper into certain parts of the content.
This session is all about lifecycles – mainly in building products, services, and businesses, but also in careers and life.
Let’s jump straight in.
When we think about lifecycles, we probably think about nature in one form or another. Talk about the natural world, and this gentleman’s name will probably come up soon enough…
Yes indeed, it’s David Attenborough (he’s now 92 years old and still doing the do).
Most of us have seen one of his programmes at once stage or another. Even if you haven’t (really?!), we can probably all agree there are some pretty amazing things that happen in nature.
For example, this female lizard can clone herself.
No male required. Not a bad insurance policy when it comes to maintaining a lifecycle.
Here are the lifecycles of a few animals, including humans (in this case measured by oldest known age):
Ok, so how does this relate to building a business?
Well, it’s not just animals that have life cycles.
So do the products & services we create, the companies we build, and the careers we embark on.
What’s worth noting here is that all 3 of these more unpredictable than they used to be.
Let’s start with careers.
This is the cover of ‘The Long View’, a book by Ogilvy’s Brian Featherstonhaugh.
One of the main points made in the book is that careers are 50 years long – and sometimes longer. At the age of
But here’s the thing; careers aren’t just getting longer, they also no longer follow a linear path. The lifecycle is longer, and there’s more change we have to contend with.
You’ve probably heard something about Millennials changing jobs a lot. There’s some evidence refuting this, but as this graph shows there’s definitely been an uptick in the number of companies worked for in the first 5 and 10 years post-graduation.
So we can see Career lifecycles changing on a macro level, and Company tenures shortening (to a degree at least).
Whether Company, Product or Service lifecycles turn out to be long or short, they’re all susceptible to change.
Here’s a typical Product/Service lifecycle. As you can see, sales go up with growth, top out as the product or service matures, then decline again over time. Yup, we’ve all seen this in one shape or form before.
Let’s do a quick exercise using our own company’s offerings:
Once we’ve had a few people share out insights on what they got (clusters, too much stuff hanging around at one end of the curve, etc.), let’s extend this out:
Ok this is a bit scarier – starts to feel existential.
The point here is that we’re very attuned to growth and goals, but we also don’t like change very much.
This is becoming a challenge as the changes happening in our lives, companies and careers are speeding up.
No one too panicked yet? Let’s move on.
This diagram was originally created by John
Does this remind you of anything?
Yes! The trough of disillusionment we talked about in the Trend Spotting session.
The struggle is real.
What’s most important to note here is that we often forget about the middle of our endeavors. This is where the most difficult and most important stuff tends to happen – whether we’re talking projects, teams, companies, or careers.
It really helps when we know what length we’re looking at – but this can be difficult. Here are a couple of resources to make it easier.
Scott Belsky wrote a very helpful book on this topic:
Another useful heuristic for figuring out how long lifecycles (and our effort level to keep things alive) may be is Seth Godin’s book The Dip – a book all about quitting (but in a good way).
We’ve looked a little at journeys, and the swamps and messy middles that can come with them.
Now let’s think about something else.
Which game are you playing? This is an important question we don’t ask ourselves enough. As you may have guessed, it’s closely related to our Journeys, Middles, Swamps
There are a few games – here are a couple.
The lady on the left is Doreen Simmons. She died earlier this year at the age of 85, and up until her death was commentating on sumo wrestling matches in Japan.
She was so revered in the sport that she was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, described as one of the Japanese government’s highest
The thing about sumo is that it’s often incredibly fast – some bouts last just a few seconds. The game (in a single bout at least) is short.
On the flipside, you’re less likely to see a chess game finish in a few minutes, let alone seconds. They can go on for weeks, months, years.
There are two other things worth here:
First, what did Doreen and the
Second, chess is just as vulnerable to change as anything else. Machine Learning can wipe the floor with most chess grandmasters these days – something that was unimaginable back in the 70s and 80s.
When we think about games, there’s the immediate game, the short game, the long game, and perhaps there’s also the infinite game – where you’re just doing what you do, showing up each day, with no specific finish line, end date or set of rules.
Here’s the last thing on games, courtesy of the Rt Honorable Stringer Bell. There are games within the game, and there are games beyond the game.
The two important things to know are: which game you are playing, and why?
Before we continue, let’s take a second to acknowledge something.
Yup – you are here. By being in this group reading, listening or interacting with this, you are here. More broadly, let’s take a moment to recognize that there’s a reason you’re here. You are creating things, giving new life to projects, ideas, and companies that create value for people.
You’ve played some games – definitely won some, and maybe lost a couple too. But that’s ok. You are on the journey. You are here.
Speaking of journeys…
There are generally 4 ways:
Lifestyle Business: I don’t like this term much, but I haven’t found anything better so far. Simply it means building something to fuel your lifestyle, whatever that means to you. Likely it’ll be aligned to a passion or interest you have. You’re probably not too focused on growth, more on other priorities.
Grow & Hold: The lines get blurry here, but on this route you’re looking to grow to a certain point at which you’ll mindfully cease to seek doing so. Arguably at the hold point you then could become a lifestyle business – but the point is that growth is something on your mind, and that you’re playing a longer game.
Sell to an Industry Player: Most tech startups will be shooting for this or IPO, but this route is not limited to those kinds of businesses. Lots of companies get acquired – some by design, some by choice, some because they have few other options. If you’re looking to go this way it’s worth thinking early about who, why and how – and also what your boundaries and values are relating to this. You may be surprised how quickly a sale situation can manifest and catch you off-guard.
Grow and IPO: Going public. As small business owners, we’re far less likely to want to take this route, but it’s still a route. IPOs are complex, and all the mechanisms are way beyond this session. There are some surprisingly ‘small’ companies who still go public, but if you’ve got an immediate plan to do this, you’re probably in the wrong room. Give your lawyer a call.
Let’s jump back into another exercise, based on the 3 elements we’ve just covered of Journeys, Games and Routes.
Hopefully you’ve reiterated a few things you already knew, and also discovered something new. Now we’ve got a view and route, let’s look at goals to get there.
Here are a few typical growth goals for businesses:
Taking these as fuel, spend a few minutes with this question:
We could spend much more time on Goal setting and Growth Plans, but as this is a short session we’re going to move onto defining success.
This is a pretty big question when you get into it. The easiest way of think about success is in two ways:
Here are a few to try on…
Anyone had this one? Yep, me too…
Yeah, magazine features was a thing for me also…
Depends on what you’re doing, but perhaps this is a key success metric?
How about this?
What about this metric from ustwo founder Mills?
Those are a few to get started with – there are lots more. Now it’s your turn. Get into pairs for this one.
After we shared out a few ideas from around the room, let’s move into the home straight…
This is a much harder question than it looks. An effective method for this is to act
Time for our final reflection on today’s Lifecycles session. Take some time to write these down individually, and share one with the group if you like (optional)
Nice – we’re all done. This was a fast-paced session but hopefully you’ve got some new ways of thinking about the lifecycles of your products and services, how you think about growth, and how you define success for your company, your team and yourselves.
Any questions or ideas? Just let me know!