Find your core, tone your fingers & eat cake!

Know your Core

You will hear us go on about having a ”firm foundation’. Well, in a nutshell this firm foundation is in part made up from your core (and no, I don’t mean your mid-riff!)

The ‘core’ of your business is most likely something you have: researched, mulled over, tussled with, dropped in frustration, picked up again, partly dropped again, picked up once more and then finally refined down into what essentially then became the essence of your business idea. The core of your business, most succinctly put, is ‘the simple yet powerful essence of an idea’, according to Dan and Chip Heath (2008, Made to Stick, London, Arrow Books).

Other commentators remark that; “The core of your business should be built around things that won’t change. Things that people are going to want today and ten years from now.” Fried J & Hansson Heinemeier D (2010, REWORK, London, Vermilion).

A tall order in today’s ever changing and ‘faddish’ business world! You may well be thinking?

It is nonetheless, the core that forms and directs your firm foundation and becomes the trusted ally of a business owner. For all its ‘boring’ characteristics of stability and commitment, there is no getting away from that fact that this is exactly what is needed and what your business can invest in. The fun, creative, ‘try it and see if it works’ stuff comes next and sits on top of your core and firm foundation and the exciting bit has the potential to be as short-term, flamboyant and as ‘out-there’ as you dare to go, so long as you remember some will work and some wont.

The gift however, is knowing you can always come back to the core and foundation for re-grouping.


Having a Firm Foundation

We’ve found that taking forward your business core, ‘your essential business idea’  is best done with the support of a firm foundation. No-one would expect any business to have everything sorted and hunky dory on day one, life and business are just not like that! It’s something we and you know doubt, will visit and revisit from time to time.

The firm foundation gives you a platform from which to jump off and be as creative and flexible as you like, knowing that you  have that grounding to come back to, so that you remain true to the core of what your business is about. Even if the core changes which it may well do.

Dan & Chip Heath describe the core and its ability to provide perspective to a business owner well, in this story about Southwest Airline, a company which set as its core the idea that they would be ‘THE low-fare airline’. A simple idea where everything else, all other business decisions stemmed from and were directed by this core. This commitment to this core idea went so far as that even when customers requested an improvement to the food, the deciding factor on whether to improve the food came down to would it help achieve the core business idea?


Stick to the Knitting

A friend once told me “stick to the knitting” stay with what you have set out to achieve and excel at. I did not take this to mean don’t try new ways of doings things,  I took this to be a lesson in, stop trying to be all things to all people! Understand your business core, create a firm foundation with your business model, your processes and resources and once this is in place – start trying out new ways to achieve your core business idea.

Interestingly in sport and fitness, we hear the same message over and over. I love to run, and my running coaches have always told me that the best way to improve my running is to have a strong core! Why? because your core holds the body and the limbs together as you run, and if your core is weak and you don’t focus on it, you will lose running form.

Line up the Ducks!                          

When we talk about business models, many folks eyes glaze over or they think it is irrelevant to them. After-all aren’t business models, strategies, mission statements and processes the language of big organisations right?

Well we think not, we are an SME ourselves and we have found incredible value in sitting down and working out the purpose behind our core idea and developing our business model, then aligning our processes and resources, through something we like to call “lining up the ducks” and we believe that you will find it valuable too! (do you like the ducks?…. courtesy of my nephews bath-time!!)

So, the Tone is in your Fingers

So to summarise so far:

  • know your core
  • create a firm foundation
  • sticking to knitting and
  • line up the ducks

What’s next?

Well there is always a BUT!

Fried and Hansson’s use a phrase ”the tone is in your fingers’ which refers to a story they tell where they discuss the fact that no matter what models you use, the result will be different if the implementer is different. They give as an example, the guitarist Eddie Van Halen. Eddie could pick up any guitar and play it and it would sound like him playing, you could pick up the same guitar and use the same techniques and equipment and you still wont sound exactly like him, why? Because the tone is in his fingers! It’s his fingers that play the tune and set the tone.

Using business tools and models are extremely helpful but they are not what set the tone, you are!

A model is only as good as the one implementing it and a plan no matter how good it is, is only useful for the time that it is relevant. Be prepared to change your core and re-visit your firm foundation, times they are a changing!

Less is More

So whilst we would argue that business models, planning and lining up the ducks are actually very helpful and useful we acknowledge that they are only part of the story of setting up, running and growing a business. Models, tools and techniques can become restrictive and actually end up stunting growth if not used lightly, sparingly and with purpose. The expertise comes in knowing when the standard model does not apply and either modifying it or chucking it out.


Cutting out the good to only be left with the great!

A little of each Please

What is interesting is that I have read several business books recently where arguments have been put forward in support of both sides of the coin:some say use models and have clearly defined plans and goals and others say no, do not plan ahead it is futile and the best approach is one that is oblique and indirect.

We saw in the Southwest Airline story that a clear core and sticking to it worked for that company, they were clear about what they would and would not do and were successful following this mantra. Similarly in his book ‘Obliquity’ John Kay (2011, Obliquity, London, Profile Books Ltd) provides an equally compelling tale of how following a standard model actually proved highly counter-productive.

‘The National Park Service, US Department of the Interior’, learnt to leave some forest fires to burn out themselves rather than amassing a huge human operation to quash the fires. The reason for this oblique response was the discovery that when small fires are left alone they burn themselves out destroying the combustible undergrowth and thereby creating natural fire breaks preventing more fires.

I ‘m left thinking that maybe like when you have to choose between two puddings at Sunday lunch, the best response to give is, ‘a little of each please!’

Why not have a firm foundation and a core which are reasonably stable and long term but from which you can jump off  into an arena of creativity, abstractness, full of short-term and fly by the seat of your pants ideas?

Safe in the knowledge that when you need it, if you need it, there is a firm foundation to land back on to re-group?

Its not hedging your bets, its better than that – its having your cake and eating it!! (which for any of you who knows me well, will know that this is right up my street).


If you would like to talk more to one of the Magma Team,

Call: 0845 2416460






Made To Stick – Dan and Chip Heath ISBN 978-0-099-50569-3

REWORK – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson ISBN 978 -0-09-192978-7

Obliquity – John Kay ISBN 978-184668-289-6


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