Regardless of the wealth of advice you can find about how to be more productive and motivated, people perpetually struggle with what they're trying to achieve at work and in their personal lives. Instead of lamenting a lack of discipline you need to design your world so that it's optimized for reaching your goals. That's according to Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan, authors of Selfish, Scared and Stupid and behavioral strategists and researchers at The Impossible Institute. Here are a handful of strategies they say anyone can use to achieve transformation in business and life.

1. Look at your business under a new lens.

You know your job, what you offer to customers and the industry in which you operate. But it may be possible to glean fresh insights about the market you're playing in. For example, while it might seem like an odd question Gregory and Flanagan worked with a group of optometrists and asked them what business they were in. The eye doctors naturally responded that they were medical professionals. But when Gregory and Flanagan pressed them about where they made the most money, the optometrists said the highest margins were in eyeglass frames, not exams. In essence, the core of their business was retail, meaning it makes sense to design the office more like a store that invited shopping and the spending of money. "And do you spend your training budget on yourself so you can do the consults better, or do you spent it on the 19-year-old who's sitting up front updating her Facebook status when she's your sales department, responsible for all your profit?" Gregory says.

2. Look at what drives the behavior of your customers.

Gregory and Flanagan recently advised a group of some of the top-performing hair salons in Australia. They looked at the problem of getting new customers in the door in an industry where women are hesitant to "cheat" on a stylist by seeing another because a new cut or color aren't things that can be hidden. So the question became "How do you make cheating OK?" An ingenious solution: A besties night out for blow-outs, champagne and an opportunity to bond with a new stylist without cheating on another. "That way, the minute their hairdresser drops the ball they'll come to [the new stylist] the first moment they can because they've built rapport and a relationship," Flanagan says.

3. Pick the customers you most want to serve and demonstrate you love them better than anyone else.

Instead of sharing her photography skills with any kind of student, Gregory and Flanagan steered another client toward a niche market she had a passion for-new or expectant parents who wanted to take brilliant photos of their children. She finds them by attending mother's groups, visiting maternity wards, and having a presence in stores that sell baby products. After making a new connection she then focuses on serving the new student better than any other generic photography school could. "We only notice the very, very good--the exceptional, the surprising, or the very, very bad," Gregory says. "So in order to stand out, in order to have people share stories about you and to evangelize for your business on your behalf, you need to create these exceptional experiences."

4. Automate your behavior so you look thoughtful.

IKEA has done this by offering umbrellas for half off when it's raining. The small gesture isn't rocket science, but just a matter of having the habit of wheeling out the sign when someone notices rain. "Having those experiences built-in is really differentiating," Flanagan says, "because sometimes human beings aren't that reliable."

5. Design discipline into your life and work.

People will inevitably run out of motivation and discipline so it helps to design processes that support getting the results you want. For example, one of Gregory's goals in the past year was to spend more time at home. Yet regardless of how disciplined he was about shutting down his computer and heading home, he continued to spend two hours a day commuting-essentially 10 hours a week which added up to two full months a year. "Discipline isn't going to solve that problem; motivation can't solve that problem. It's actually a design failure," he says. "If all I did was move the office half an hour closer to where I live, or move where I live half an hour closer to the office, I automatically-with no more discipline, no more motivation-get a month extra time at home every year."

6. Ask impossible questions.

Identify the parts of your business or life that need improvement and ask yourself how you can achieve an opposite effect. For example, a financial services firm working with Gregory and Kieran said its customers disliked being on hold on the telephone. By brainstorming how the company could help people like being put on hold-a seemingly impossible feat-it came up with the idea of asking some of the best bands to create unplugged versions of their songs that could only be heard while on hold.

Another example: White Lady Funerals in which the typical dour-faced director in a suit is replaced by a kindly females dressed all in white. "A friendly, empathetic face is actually the kind of person you want to deal with when you're grieving a lost loved one," Gregory says. "By breaking all of the rules in the category, they've actually created a distinctiveness in their business."

Published on: Jun 16, 2015
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