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In this episode of The Speaker Show, Maria Franzoni interviews Andy Bass.

Andy is best known as the Founder and principal of BassClusker Consulting, an executive advisory firm that helps organisations grow faster by using resources they have already.

He has taught executives at Warwick, Strathclyde and Aston Business Schools, and has also guest lectured on Consulting to Masters students.

He is the author of three books about business growth, leadership and innovation culture. His latest book Start With What Works: a faster way to grow your business, is published by Pearson Business.

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Episode #212

Start With What Works

Maria Franzoni (00:17):Hello and welcome back to The Speaker Show with me your host Maria Franzoni. In today’s show, we’ll be talking about business growth, leadership and innovation culture. Before we get started, let me tell you that The Speaker Show is brought to you by Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau for the world’s most successful organizations, providing keynote speakers for events, conferences, and summits. My guest is the founder of Bass Clusker consulting, an executive advisory firm that helps organizations grow faster by using resources they already have by tapping into existing underappreciated, potentials clients are able to grow their businesses with him more quickly, typically with no or low capital investment. He has taught executives at Warwick, Strathclyde and Aston Business Schools. In addition, he’s guest lectured on consulting to master students. He’s the author of three books about business growth, leadership and innovation culture. His latest book is called Start With What Works: a faster way to grow your business. I’m gonna find out all about that. Please welcome my guest today, Andy Bass, Andy. It is wonderful to see you. How are you today?

Andy Bass (01:29): I’m great. Thank you very much, Maria. How are you?

Maria Franzoni (01:31): I’m good. Thank you. I’m really interested in this topic. I like to grow my business. And I love the title. We’re gonna talk about some of the content, but I love this title. Start with what works, what a great title. How, how easy was it to come up with that title?

Andy Bass (01:47): It wasn’t my original title. My original title was slightly different. It was start with what you have and we can maybe get into what that idea was. So I’ll give the publisher credit. I think that they, they just sharpened that up and it’s working very well.

Maria Franzoni (02:00): And that’s great also because everybody can start with what works, but, but give us an overall idea of what start with what works is in a nutshell, please.

Andy Bass (02:09): Yes. Okay. Well, I’ll try and give it you in an eggshell. I’ll come to a story in a minute. Okay. Overall, the idea is that businesses have the business equivalent of cash in the attic and, and most businesses have got overlooked to underappreciated assets that they could be using to create, to create faster growth more easily with less risk. And so the book is about how do you do that? And the way to do that is to start with what works, which is not what managers typically do. They, they, most managers pride themselves on being problem solvers, which is about looking for what doesn’t work and fixing it. But by shifting your mindset and looking for what does work, you can often find a platform that you can use to create growth and energy and engagement. And the book basically tells you how to do that.

Maria Franzoni (02:58): I like that. I love the cash in the attic idea. I mean, anybody listening in from abroad would have no idea what we’re talking about, but there’s a but it’s, it’s a television program here in the UK. And and often we do hide cash in places and valuable items. Yeah, I like the fact that it’s less risk because I think at the moment we are probably all more risk averse. And you mentioned, you know, looking outside and not looking at what’s working. I, I, I think that’s an interesting approach. You warn about relying on saviors and magic bullets. Is that what you mean by looking outside?

Andy Bass (03:34): Yes. I’ve nothing against looking outside for ideas, but I think people often do it a little bit prematurely, and they do it in a mode where they say, wouldn’t it be great if we could just hire ourselves a rockstar, who’ll sort this out for us, or we’ll buy this particular piece of enterprise software and do you know what that will, that will be the idea, or maybe even an acquisition. In other words, they’re going for a one stop shop solution to whatever issues, their growth challenges. And what I’m saying is that that can work, but it can also be very risky. And at least before you consider doing that, you probably should be looking more at what you’ve already got going for you. And then even if you do go outside, you will do it from a, a more secure base. I mean, let me give you an example, which I think a lot of people will relate to.

Andy Bass (04:21): When I was thinking about writing the book, I was chatting to a guy called Paul Faulkner, who at the time was the CEO of Birmingham Chambers of Commerce. And prior to that, he had been the CEO of Aston Villa football club. And when I was talking to him about this, he said, you know, it’s exactly like running a football club because I lost count of the number of times that people would say to me, one more player boss, just one more player and I’ll deliver the results. And he would say to them, Hey, I could buy you the best striker in the world, but if we can’t get possession of the ball and get the ball up to the front, what’s the use? Why don’t you work on that first? Cause I think you’d agree that we, we could be better at that. Let’s work on that.

Andy Bass (05:00): And then, and if we do bring somebody in, we’ll get more value from them. And we may also find that the guy that I bought you last year, that you promised me was going to be the great solution will come into their own as well. And so I, I think a lot of people relate to that. It’s, I’m not saying don’t ever go out, I’m saying start with what you’ve got start with what works. And then if you do bring in a, a rockstar or you do bring in something else, you’ll do it in an intelligent way with more internal confidence and, and understanding what you really wanna get out of that.

Maria Franzoni (05:30): That’s interesting. I like that the, the football story, because you do hear that you do hear, oh, or if we had enough money to buy that great player, et cetera, et cetera, but you’re right. If you can’t get possession of the ball, that what’s the, the point and companies, you know, if I could get that top salesperson, pinch them from the other company, we’ll be fine. Our sales will go out. Okay. Another thing you talk about is moonshots which is the word we, we hear quite often. And please, first of all, explain what you mean by moonshot and also why you, we should be not thinking in that way.

Andy Bass (06:03): Well by moonshot people mean by analogy to, you know, John F. Kennedy saying, we’ll put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade, this kind of huge, almost impossible seeming goal, which galvanizes people and galvanize his development. And I’ve nothing against them. I think they’re incredibly inspiring. There’s a whole genre in now of books saying everybody should be doing moonshots. And I think that most people shouldn’t be a few people Elon Musk can, can obviously pull off moonshots. It’s interesting that his competitors, by the way, in terms of getting people into, you know, the space Bezos and, and Richard Branson, their businesses are not moonshot businesses, neither Amazon, nor Virgin, they’re much more incremental, steady conservative businesses in many ways. Bezos started selling books out of the back of his car. Virgin often look for quite mundane businesses in segments that they think are underserved and improve.

Andy Bass (07:03): Those that’s much more, I think, pragmatic for most people. So moonshots are exciting. They’re very risky. Uber just sold bare autonomous vehicle division because it just wasn’t paying off. It, it looked like it was going to, and it, and it’s, it’s, you know, it’s gonna take a lot longer to get autonomous cars going. It seems. And actually the original Uber wasn’t a moonshot, either all the technology to do the original Uber, which was incredibly disruptive and turned an industry upside down was all based on stuff that was already there. GPS was already there. Taxes were already there. You know, customers rating users, rating people with stars, all that sort of stuff was already there, but they put it together in a new combination. And that I think is the approach that I’m recommending as being safer and, and really just more realistic for most people in most businesses.

Maria Franzoni (07:58): So you were, are literally giving us an example of starting with what you have and putting it in a different way to create something bigger than what you have. Yes.

Andy Bass (08:07): Yeah. Uber is, is an absolutely classic example.

Maria Franzoni (08:11): Fantastic. So why do you think that we are overlooking the potential in our businesses? How do we miss it?

Andy Bass (08:21): I quite often tell a story about walking in a park near where I used to live, and you’d often see mag pies in that park. And one day I saw a magpie and as I got closer to it, it turned out to be a black shiny bin liner. And I think we’ve all had that experience. You know, a psychologist would say that we have expectations, we have a perceptual set and we see what we expect to see. And once you get used to your business and you’re an expert in your business or your industry, then you have fewer possibilities for what things could mean and what the potential is. So one of the reasons is that we, we fill in the blanks the way we expect them to see, I mean, a great example. Steve Ballmer, one of the most successful people in technology ever when he was a, you know, second CEO of Microsoft, he knows a lot about technology, but he famously said that not many people would want an iPhone.

Maria Franzoni (09:16): And of course when the first computers came out, they were saying, nobody’s gonna have a computer. You know, there’s gonna be very few. We don’t need to make any, so it’s, it’s incredible. You’re right. So, so how, how do you go about changing that? How do you see the hidden resources, the hidden opportunities?

Andy Bass (09:31): Well, I have three broad approaches I talk about in the book and each one of the them has a basic question. So let me, let me tell people what those questions are. The first one is what resources do we have? You know, you have to make a decision. You’re going to take a new mindset and you say, what resources do we have apart from money that an entrepreneur would love. If they could only get their hands on it, it might be access to senior decision makers in large corporates. It might be data. I mean, a lot of people now have got huge amounts of potentially really valuable data. It might be knowhow that you’ve acquired that you don’t directly sell, but you could do. So. For example, Lotus developed knowhow in automotive suspensions because it was building racing cars and sports cars and half of its business.

Andy Bass (10:19): These days is consulting with other auto manufacturers on suspensions. So it had this knowhow. So that’s the first question. What, what resources I, there are 17 categories. People can download a, a worksheet if they want. I can tell you about that later on. Second question is let’s look at the things that we do and ask ourselves what must be there for this to work. Again, give you an example. Acardo have started as an online grocer, as people know, but in order to get, make that work, they had to develop all the technology for booking and, and, and picking and packing and so forth. They they’ve taken that and offered it as a separate platform called smart platform. And now they’re selling that to Kroger in the US eco in Sweden, casino in France, all these different supermarkets. And they’ve moved from being a grocery, which they still do into being a global technology player by looking and reverse engineering, the things that they taught themselves to do.

Andy Bass (11:22): And then the third question, which I really love, cuz it’s so counterintuitive is to say, why aren’t we doing worse? Cause if, if I say to you, oh, you, you know, you’ve got this goal and you say that you are, let’s say that’s 10 out of 10 where you wanna be, and you are maybe giving yourself a five or a six. We could say, well, how come you’re not a 7, 8, 9? And what you’ll get is blocks, problems, excuses, maybe. But if I say to you, why aren’t you worse? Why aren’t you just a five, that’s gonna get answers in terms of, well, you know, resources, capabilities, ideas. So what resources do we have an entrepreneur would love? How do we do what we do? And why aren’t we worse? That will start to get you through these kind of habitual filters. And you’ll start to notice these resources.

Maria Franzoni (12:11): I like those question. I like that last question too. I’m gonna gonna ask that with my team. We have a team meeting on a Monday. I’m gonna ask that question and I thank, I appreciate the fact cause I’d written them down so I could summarize for you, but you did that for me. Wasn’t what a complete and utter professional you are. Tell us about this worksheet because I know if I was listening to this and if I want to know where it is, I want to know how to get my hands on it. How, how can I get that.

Andy Bass (12:33): Sure. Well, if people go to, they can read about the book, they can read a, a sample chapter, but I’ve also put some downloads on there. So there’s something called the hidden resource inventory, which has 17 categories of possible answers to what resources do we have that an entrepreneur would love. And those categories overlap of it, what we found is that as people start to go through those sheets, they start to get the idea and then they don’t need to be, you know, step by step by step. So you can go and get that. And there’s a sheet about this, this question of what, you know, how, how come we’re not doing worse. You’ll find all that. If you go to that domain and we can, we, I guess we can put that domain in.

Maria Franzoni (13:14): We are going to do that. We’re going to put a link. That’s very generous of you. Thank you very much, indeed. So anyway, come back. If you’ve all gone and downloaded it, come back and listen to the rest of the podcast because there’s more, I have lots more questions for Andy. Andy, you’d also talk about letting the world teach you. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Andy Bass (13:33): Yeah. So we talked about Ballmer earlier on Steve Ballmer and I mean no criticism at all, if he he’s incredible achievements, but of course William Goldman, this great screenwriter said about the film industry that nobody knows what will work. He said it better than that. Cause he was a great writer, but that was his basic idea. And he wrote, you know, all the president’s men and Stepford wives and many, many success, which Cassidy. And he said, no one knows which films will catch on and which ones won’t. And I think that’s true of business. Generally, once you start getting into innovative businesses anyway, so if you ask people, would they buy a certain product that will never give you very reliable information because none of us are very good at predicting what will do in new situations. And so market research that’s based on interviewing people and asking, would you buy this is, is pretty unreliable.

Andy Bass (14:23): And what I’m saying is that you need, instead of behavior, you need to watch what people do rather than pay attention, just to what they say. A great example of this. My, I try not to use apple as an example cause everybody does. And I didn’t know Steve Jobs anymore than anybody else who’s giving this advice. So I’m not gonna tell you what Steve Jobs was thinking. But Bob Iger, when he was the CEO of Disney, told a story about having Steve Jobs on the board at Disney, and they were thinking about Disney stores and Jobs’ suggestion was build a Disney store on a movie lot and invite kids in and see what they do and move the designs around. And, and that way you’ll get the real information. And I think many businesses could learn from that. Figure out how to actually watch what people do and let the world teach you what works. And of course you may or may not have the resources to build a huge thing. So you know, you can borrow some ideas from the startup world and, and look for what are the key assumptions that my business idea depends on. And just test those first if people know like lean startups, some people about that, but a lot of people don’t. And so this is, this is introducing these ideas.

Maria Franzoni (15:36): Absolutely true that what you say you do and what you actually do are two completely different things. That’s quite interesting. And yet we still ask people, what would you do? What would, would you buy it? That, that is a really good point. Bringing children’s Disney, great ideas. See how behave is that the same as your principle of bringing customers inside? Is that what you mean?

Andy Bass (15:58): I think, I think the, the concepts really overlap. I mean, I think people can use customers so much more as a resource in many cases than they do. So certainly bringing them in and asking them to, you know, to, to go through a simulation that in that sort of is one thing. My favorite example is Lego. Lego, a lot of people know, struggled a lot in the early two thousands. Part of it was because they had a belief that they were a children’s product a children’s toy business. And they really resisted the fact that there was a huge adult user community called adult fans of Lego. And when Yugen dig, Nu took over and turned it around and there were other people he galvanized, they started to tap into the fact that this adult user community had I mean, not only they had a lot of money to buy Lego, but they knew about Lego and Lego had had designers who were excellent designers, but didn’t understand the product.

Andy Bass (16:56): And they had designed products. People didn’t buy. If someone had the idea, Hey, we’ve got this large user community. Maybe some of them are designers, so it’s turning on its head. Why don’t we see if we can find some of them and hire them. And they hired their customers to design the future products, which were much more successful. And since then, they’ve been very active in promoting the relationship. So I think looking at customers as much more partners and less transactionally and more of a relationship and lots of things you can do one more example is bring them into your town hall meetings, cuz they’re much more credible than you are when you talk about one time delivery or quality or these kinds of things. And, and we’ve done that and have great results.

Maria Franzoni (17:39): That’s really being truly customer-centric, isn’t it. When you are working in partnership with your customers, that’s wonderful. Super. So I know you started writing your book pre COVID has anything so having written it now has anything changed or do all the principles in the book still apply?

Andy Bass (18:02): They do apply. I mean, I, so I wrote the proposal and we started just as COVID was hitting. And so I talked to my editor about this and we didn’t have to change things very much. So we mentioned COVID a few times, I think the start with what works approach is really great in volatile circumstances. And even if it wasn’t for COVID, I’m sure if we were doing this interview you we’d both agree that this was still the most unprecedentedly volatile time in history. So COVID has just added one more thing on, but with digitalization and energy and you know, geopolitics and everything else, that’s going on. Two specifics, I think one is, everyone’s talking about pivoting and how you’ve got to, you know, this is the word of the day. How do you pivot? Well, you’ve gotta have a good pivot point.

Andy Bass (18:50): And I think that your undervalued resources could be your best pivot point because if you look at those and think, how can I apply them in new ways? That’s a firm foundation on which to look at in new directions. So from a growth point of view, that’s one thing. And from the other, I think another big issue everyone’s talking about is this whole hybrid workplace. How do you figure out what’s gonna work for you? And frankly, it’s too early for anybody to say what the best practices are and they’ll be different for different companies, your best resources, probably your, your recently promoted first line supervisors, people like that who are very in touch with your workforce. And I would say, they’re a great resource, engage with them. I’ve done this quite often. You, you, you convene them. You give them the task of figuring out whatever the workplace issue is. Senior executives can be mentors. You provide them with HR people and so on to, to make sure they don’t break any legal rules, but you, but you nurture them and help them to solve the problem for themselves. Going to that in the book. And I think, yeah, I think, I think everything stands up.

Maria Franzoni (20:02): Excellent. That’s good because that would’ve been, if you’d start through the book and then it

Andy Bass (20:07): Would’ve been great.

Maria Franzoni (20:07): Yeah. And if it stands up through, so through all the term or that we’re going through now I mean that just, just says that the approach works really well. How do you start? How do your clients, how do people start with the approach? What’s what’s the first point

Andy Bass (20:24): You’ve I think we’ve already mentioned it. I think what you do is you convene a meeting with your team and you do any level in the organization, senior team, or any level and you say, look, here’s the agenda item we’re going to discuss. What’s really working well. Cause most people never do that. They talk about most agendas are, what’s not working. So if you just do that, use the three questions that we talked about earlier to, to go a bit further. And in fact, a colleague and a friend of mine just did this last week. He’s a consultant based in the US, he was working with a transportation company and he said I’ve read your book. Let’s talk. Which, which bits shall I focus on? And we, I said, do do this. I spoke to him last night. He said, once they started to cut how many resources they had, the energy was tremendous, but the ideas just flowed there wasn’t, it wasn’t as if you had to then pull the ideas out. So just have a meeting on what’s working.

Maria Franzoni (21:20): Fantastic. And is this what you are asked to do when you are brought into companies as a speaker or a facilitator, are you asked to help them to do that? Or are you explaining the process or are you doing a mixture of both?

Andy Bass (21:32): I do both. I introduce the ideas and then a really nice way of doing it is of course, is to facilitate people then in applying it to their specific issue. So sometimes I just do an educational piece, but as often as possible making it very interactive.

Maria Franzoni (21:48): Fantastic. How much time should should be put aside to do that, to make those first steps with you and have you interact and, and facilitate for them?

Andy Bass (21:57): Well, okay. This is a bit of a, how longs a piece of string, I guess.

Maria Franzoni (22:01): No, I’m like that.

Andy Bass (22:02): Yeah. I, I would say that the first thing for us to do is to start getting really clear on your objectives and then, you know, I can suggest things and of course we can be incrementally, you know, we could do a couple of hours to get the idea across and then people will usually wanna do more. What was the other thought just as I was saying that you can

Maria Franzoni (22:27): So, so what I was trying to establish there, Andy, obviously, I mean, it sounds very simple when you actually go to practice all the principles and, and putting everything into place in the book and that you teach, I want to know, are you there to hold their hands? And you’re telling me, yes, you are. And you are able to stay with an organization and help them through the process. Yes.

Andy Bass (22:47): Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy. And you know, some people will get the, the idea more quickly and of course there might be political sensitivities that need to be negotiated and you know, all that kind of all that kind of stakeholder stuff as well.

Maria Franzoni (23:01): Fantastic. Wonderful. So if, if you were to give people any tips apart from obviously read the book, get the worksheet and start having these meetings, would those be the three tips to take, to, to move forward? Is there anything else they should be doing?

Andy Bass (23:18): Yes. Yeah. Meet specifically to look for what’s working think about your customers almost as if they were partners or even paid advisors. You know, you can really flex your understanding of your relationship with your customers and think about supporting your own people to solve their own problems and help them to see what’s working, using the same sort of approaches. Those are the sorts of things I would suggest people start with

Maria Franzoni (23:43): And you know, that’s excellent advice. Andy, thank you so much. You’ve given us a masterclass in how to start with what works and grow your business faster. Thank you.

Andy Bass (23:53): It’s been a pleasure. Thanks very much, Maria.

Maria Franzoni (23:55): Super! Thank you for listening to The Speaker Show. I hope you enjoyed this episode. And if you did, please leave a rating on apple podcasts. You can keep up with future episodes on the Speakers Associates website, that’s or your favorite podcast app. And if you need, Andy’s help to take, to hold your hand and get your organization to start with what works and grow your business. Please contact Speakers Associates in time to book him for your next event. Thank you very much. I will see you next week. Bye bye.

Live interview

Maria Franzoni is an established and recognised speaking industry expert and one of the most experienced speaker bookers in Europe.

As well as working with speakers, Maria also hosts live shows and podcasts. She currently hosts The Speaker Show podcast for Speakers Associates.

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