Andrew Canion

Thoughts on technology, business and productivity.

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Part 3: My Business Philosophy

This is the final of a three-part series focused on explaining my business philosophy. Parts One and Two are also available.

On my home page I call out my personal business philosophy:

Andrew’s business philosophy is built upon the value of mutual respect, the skill to leverage process for continuous improvement, and the ability to ultimately achieve self-actualisation.

Self-Actualisation

My philosophical statement finishes with the rather grand sounding ambition of achieving self-actualisation. I will elucidate what self-actualisation is and why I consider it so important that I place it as the anchoring element of my philosophy.

Etymology

The concept of self-actualisation was brought into broad awareness when it was presented as the pinnacle of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s rationale was based upon the understanding that only after the more immediate human needs are taken care of, is there capacity to focus effort on what brings us satisfaction and joy.

Maslow explicitly defines self-actualisation to be “the desire for self-fulfilment, namely the tendency for the individual to become actualised in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”1

Fortunately, in my country and its society there is a reasonable (but not guaranteed) chance to achieve the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy. This unlocks the potential to aim for and potentially achieve that final goal of self-actualisation.

Building a framework

I don’t see self-actualisation as an end-point; as the win achieved at the conclusion of a life-long progression up the hierarchy of needs. I believe we can reach the point of self-actualisation early and often, but what it is represented by will change over time. As we move through the stages of our life, commencing with childhood, then into the teens, marriage, career building, parenting, middle age and senior citizenship, different experiences will facilitate the goal.

The degree to which we are realising self-actualisation is likely to ebb and flow over time. Building a framework for our life that supports personal growth and improvement will help ensure a reasonable chance of reaching periods of self-actualisation even as we deal with the trials and tribulations thrown at as by life.

Without a structure and a consistent philosophical and ethical approach to life to fall back upon in challenging times it is less likely that consistent self-actualisation will be achievable.

Measuring success

Society has a tendency to measure success by outward facing and tangible measures such as wealth, fame and status. I prefer to think about success as the achievement of one’s potential and the personal joy imbued from doing what makes us happy. Precisely what the activity is that delivers said joy will vary as we grow and change. Exactly what it is matters less than the feeling it provides.

At one point of my life, playing basketball delivered a feeling of self-actualisation. Then later it was finding flow in a work assignment. Now it is linked to experiences of successful parenting. I am sure it will be other things later. None of these achievements are important to others2 but that doesn’t mean I am not being successful in my own right. If we are seeking external validation it will a frustrating and largely unrewarding experience, because that’s not delivered with any regularity.

The journey is the reward

There is no prize for ‘winning life’. External plaudits cannot be the arbiter of a life well-lived. We have been gifted a single life which even at the most optimistic is probably going to span less than 100 years. Against the timeline of humanity we are but granted a short window of opportunity. To bring meaning and purpose to our time on the planet we may as well participate with an aim of achieving joy and self-satisfaction.

It doesn’t matter how many symbols of success we collect along life’s journey. The true measure should be our own happiness and fulfilment. Recognising each day as a gift to be enjoyed and maximised is a path towards self-actualisation. Find your joy, wherever it may be.

Bringing the philosophy together

So, ultimately, I like to think that in respect of my business philosophy:

  1. Mutual respect will help avoid many worries, anger and pettiness that can derail us as we build a career and/or a business.
  2. Establishing a process for continuous improvement will free our mind to focus on truly meaningful work, rather than busy work.
  3. By adopting a respectful approach to others and having a focus on always getting better, a person can grow self-confidence, self-satisfaction and their enjoyment of life in its entirety, which will form a pathway towards achieving self-actualisation.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-actualization 
  2. Apart from my kids, who at this point assign no value to this. I hope the payoff will come much later. 

Part 2: My Business Philosophy

This is the second of a three-part series focused on explaining my business philosophy. Part One is also available.

On my home page I call out my personal business philosophy:

Andrew’s business philosophy is built upon the value of mutual respect, the skill to leverage process for continuous improvement, and the ability to ultimately achieve self-actualisation.

Leverage Process for Continuous Improvement

I am a big believer in the value of process. This can be the big, organisational processes that dictate how companies do things, like build a component, or undertake customer service, or issue a refund. Or process can be an individual’s personal to-do list that helps them to get things done on a daily basis. Ideally the latter should represent a subset of the former but I think we are probably some way from that ideal being standard practice.

When processes are documented they provide an anchor point as to the way things are done now. That’s not to say that it is the way things will always be done. In fact, changes to processes should be welcomed. However, a documented process enables everybody involved to have a shared understanding of how things should be done. If something goes wrong it should be evident where the process broke down. That can enable improvements to improve efficiency and simplify things for those involved.

Embrace change

A process should never be considered a finalised product. Stagnation is the enemy of improvement. No way of work should be considered beyond reproach. No process should be sacrosanct.

A current process is merely the way in which one group of people at one point in time thought would be the best way to achieve an outcome. With new information, new technology, changed inputs, or changes in customer demand, there might be a need to change the process to achieve a better — or just different — outcome. Go ahead, make the change. The only way to drive improvement is to change stuff. Otherwise, you already know what you’re going to get before even starting. Repeating this approach of making and trialling small changes, over and over again, is how to achieve better outcomes.

Trial and error and small incremental improvements are the crux of continuous improvement.

Once a process of documenting processes and updating this documentation upon each change is established a traceable (and reversible) process history is created. In software development, this is standard practice – managing versions and being able to compare code differences is a key element of development and debugging.

More generalised process management can benefit from a similar approach. Make a change and see if it works. If things get better after the change, stick with it. If things get worse, revert the changes and try something different.

Process at a personal level

At a personal level I implement process management for my own work. I rely primarily on OmniFocus to manage standard operating procedures for projects that are repetitive in nature. I use project templates that enable a framework to guide work that is similar in nature. As I learn and discover better ways of doing things I refine and improve my templates.

This makes my work more effective in the short-term because I don’t have to think about the how/when/where’s of the repetitive work elements. Instead I can focus my energy on doing great work on the value-adding elements of the project that matter to my clients.

Facilitating creativity

At first blush, the concept of defined processes can seem staid and boring. In actuality it is freeing. Defined and documented processes allows people to forget about thinking about the steps to achieve a goal and instead allows them to focus on using their skills and expertise to add value to create a better end product.

Process doesn’t restrain creativity; it unleashes it. For this reason it forms the key middle component of my personal business philosophy.

Part 1: My Business Philosophy

This is the first of a three-part series focused on explaining my business philosophy.

On my home page I call out my personal business philosophy:

Andrew’s business philosophy is built upon the value of mutual respect, the skill to leverage process for continuous improvement, and the ability to ultimately achieve self-actualisation.

Mutual Respect

To make progress in this world we need teamwork and co-operation. High performing teams are built around trust and respect for one another.

Even in a competitive environment there can be mutual respect. If you are beaten by a better performer, there is value in recognising their success and then using that as motivation to improve your own performance. Winners should stay humble and respect the competition that may not have succeeded this time, but might get the better of them next time around. Staying humble helps build respect.

Managerial respect

If a manager wants to get the most out of their employees, I believe they need to demonstrate respect and understanding for those they are asking to undertake the work. Acting with respect will build trust in leadership. Without trust it is difficult to achieve anything great. Time and and focus will be lost to people questioning what ulterior motives are in play, what forces might be working against them, and how to move into a position to win. More time is spent focused on self-preservation than on achieving team success. In such an environment it is unlikely that the team will be high-performing.

A manager who respects their employees is likely to create a team with better camaraderie, better stability and a desire to deliver great outcomes.

Employee respect

Employees need to understand that their managers may be seeing the situation from a different vantage point. After climbing the organisational tree, the view from that altitude often looks very different. Much like a general might take to an elevated vantage point to survey the field, a manager may have a perspective on things that can’t be perceived at ground level.

An employee needs to appreciate and understand that the manager is likely to be balancing multiple competing pressures, and have respect for that challenge confronting their manager. This respect through understanding will help both parties.

Respectful reciprocity

A manager and an employee; co-workers and colleagues; buyers and sellers; all of these relationships rely on mutual respect to operate effectively. Each is a participant in a process chain. Mutual respect is about working to make the life of others a little easier, and a little better. This establishes a positive reciprocal relationship. If somebody is respectful towards me it is likely I will treat them with respect in return. Everybody enjoys a better experience.

I believe that demonstrating respect for colleagues is the foundation for all other elements of business. If you don’t treat others with respect, it’s unlikely you will go far. Others aren’t likely to be willing to go out of the way to provide help and support if you haven’t been respectful on the way through. Nobody gets to wherever they are alone. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before. Acting with respect offers a chance for others to stand on ours.

The Business of Glengarry Glen Ross

I love the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. I’ve never seen the stage play, but the movie seems to be a faithful translation and its actors are all top shelf, so I’m willing to accept it as canonical1.

Despite the dated nature of the film’s setting, much continues to ring true about the circumstances in which the protagonists find themselves. Desperate times, leading to desperate measures, with each character dealing with the same adversity in their own varied ways.

This could be considered an accurate reflection of the human condition when people are put within an organisational structure that is essentially a manufactured construct with appointed ‘leaders’ and abstracted hierarchy. Each person has their own motivation and varying degrees to which they will go to get what they want. At some point, teamwork will collapse as individuals strive to assert themselves and ‘win’, putting self before team. It becomes a case of the prisoner’s dilemma.

Besides the deep conflict that propel the movie, there are some other scenes that also neatly capture smaller elements of working life. When I’m talking to somebody on the phone to schedule a meeting, I’m sometimes ever so tempted to pause and say, “Oh Grace, would you mind checking my schedule”, just to proffer the illusion that it’s more than just me and BusyCal managing the load.

Alec Baldwin’s performance as the slick sales consultant rings true, and as much as it is a comedic moment, the enjoyment is almost excruciating given the truth behind the message. It is one that sticks with me and even does help from time to time in reality. That lesson, “A. B. C. – Always Be Closing”. Sometimes this forms part of my internal monologue when I’m talking to people!

The Glengarry Leads

Ultimately, what everybody in the movie wants is possession of the Glengarry leads. The good leads. In my work, I also want the Glengarry leads. I want introductions to the firms that are going to understand what my offer is, sign up, and work in a positive way through to conclusion.

It would be great for management to dish out some of those good leads. Don’t hold them back, share them out! This is where I think reality diverges from the plot of the movie. More often than not, I think reality is that management doesn’t actually have any Glengarry leads. They might have a nice stack of cards that look like they’re going to be great leads but if you were to examine them there may be a good chance they are more Glen Ross than Glengarry. Really, the promise of the Glengarry leads is simply a motivational method to drive sales of whatever dreck does exist. “Deal with what we’ve got, and then you will get something better”, is a fairly basic motivational ploy.

The problem is that better doesn’t necessarily exist; at least not in the hands of management. If you really want the Glengarry leads, you’d best go out and find them yourself.


  1. Despite the addition of the non-theatrical Alec Baldwin scene. 

Internet Services Worth Paying For

On the Internet there is a weird user expectation that everything should be free. Over the past couple of years I’ve been bucking this trend and have determined that spending a bit of money on what is both a hobby and an integral part of my existence in our modern, connected world is something I’m willing to throw a bit of money towards.

I don’t want to be the product; I want to be the customer. Paying money for a service to avoid my usage being a vector to sell advertising is a trade-off I am happy to make.

The other nice thing about paying for services is that it facilitates access to genuinely useful customer support. As a paying customer companies tend to care a little more about ensuring satisfaction. Having problems solved by a system administrator instead of wasting my own time futzing about can make a subscription worthwhile. I value my time, and where money can buy time, I’m in.

I thought I’d take a quick audit and look at the areas online where I am willingly paying money in favour of a free option.

Ciao Google

The biggest change was a move away from many Google services. While Google offers its GSuite as a paid option (and a pretty good one at that), I elected to go a different route.

I’ve always preferred native apps and have never loved the Gmail web interface. As a free service it’s fine but if I’m paying real money I don’t want to be spending it on something I don’t enjoy using.

If I were an Android user, the Google situation might be more compelling. On iOS, however, there always seems to be a little friction between what Google wants and what Apple is prepared to give.

So I bid adieu to Google, and took my business elsewhere.

My Paid Providers

  • Mail & Calendars: Fastmail. I evaluated Office 365, GSuite and Zoho when making the choice. I only wanted really good email and calendars; I didn’t need online storage, office applications, and other bolt-on services. I like that Fastmail is an Australian firm and that it has a focus on standards compliance.
  • Domain registration: Zuver. The little brother of VentraIP. It is a great no-frills option, and they were having a product sale when I signed up.
  • Web hosting: VentraIP. Another Australian company that offers great support service. Their servers are fast and I am provided a web hosting solution that is perfect for my needs.
  • Personal finance: YNAB. Our family is in the best financial position of all time thanks largely to YNAB. No arguments about money in our home! The cost of this service is a pittance compared with the value (both monetary and stress relief) it has delivered.
  • Password security: 1Password for Families. The best security is not even knowing your own passwords. I am totally willing to pay to ensure all my online accounts (plus credit card details, etc.) are unique, random and locked down. It’s peace of mind.
  • Entertainment: Netflix and Spotify. I’m hardly a special snowflake here, right? Broadcast media is dead to me.
  • Photo Storage: iCloud 50Gb. Apple has me over a barrel here. Despite maintaining local backups, the ubiquity of photos being available to all my devices is too good not to take up.

Bits and Bobs

I also pay for a few other subscription apps and online services but I don’t consider them to be part of my “infrastructure” so am not going to list them all here.

The Customer is the One Who Pays

Money makes the world go around. It pays employee wages, funds infrastructure acquisition and incentivises the implementation of new ideas. I’d rather be a direct customer paying my own way, and helping companies do good work than rely on the largesse of search and banner advertising to underwrite my online activity.

While I pay the bills, I call the shots. This is true in all business, and online services shouldn’t be seen any differently.

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