Less is more.

Photo Update; The doors at Brains on Fire’s World Wide headquarters always seem so friendly and welcoming to me..

I’m a big Good to Great fan. I have to admit it’s one of the few business books beside Switch and of course, Brains on Fire that I’ve actually read from start to finish.

Come on. Don’t judge. Don’t we all scan business books?.

Anyway. I was pretty excited to read these excerpts from Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All in Fortune yesterday.

(Thanks Verne Harnish for sharing the link in your trusty newsletter.)

Okay. Listen to this.

Jim Collins and his co-author, Morten Hansen looked at 20,400 companies beginning in 2002. Out of that entire group only seven had reached what the authors called 10x status.

In their own words:

“We labeled our high-performing study cases with the moniker “10X” because they didn’t merely get by or just become successful. They truly thrived. Every 10X case beat its industry index by at least 10 times.”

In other words they were very sustainable companies.

Southwest Airlines is a 10x.

Seems that one of the key traits that all the 10x companies had was a “slow and steady” wins the race philosophy. The authors labeled it the “20 mile march”. They made a brilliant analogy between these 10x companies and two hikers going from the west coast to the east coast. The one that goes 20 miles a day in bad weather or good weather wins the race compared to the one that rests when it’s too hot or rainy and goes full tilt when conditions are just right.


“Southwest had the discipline to hold back in good times so as not to extend beyond its ability to preserve profitability and the Southwest culture.”

Fantastic! I love it. It feels so simple and right as a business principle in my gut.

Sometimes holding back and having a bit of restraint is good thing.

And you know what? I believe with all my heart this same principle applies to growing a community of advocates for your business.

At Brains on Fire we strongly believe that if you want to start a movement you have to first have a community that is connected through shared passions. And we also believe that there has to be a certain amount of restraint in building a sustainable community. You don’t want people in the community who don’t want or intent to be involved. They just muck up the waters.

You need a barrier of entry to make sure that those who sign up are willing to put some skin in the game. You want to weed out the curious or those looking for something free for goodness sake. Which is why it kills me to see sheer volume and numbers of people (or fans or ambassadors) as a measurement for success when it comes to igniting community or sparking word of mouth.

You need to measure success one human being at time. One relationship at time. Slow and steady equals sustainable.

Here’s my simple analogy.

If you want to build a house with volunteers would you rather have 10 people who raised their hand and have a passion for helping build houses? Or 100 people who just want a free lunch?

Seems so obvious to me.

What do you think about this notion of slowly and steadily building a community of advocates?

It’s Tuesday. Let’s share.

When has less been more for your organization?

  • http://6foot4.net/ Clayton Borah

    I completely agree. Though it’s hard to not get caught up in the race for fans. I run a small brand identity company in a small town that thinks a lot like Brains on Fire, but even I feel pressure to join “The Great Fan Grab” when I don’t have enough work to pay my bills.

    Those of us that think that social media is about creating community and not about sending targeted marketing messages are in the minority.

  • Mack Collier

    Hey Robbin, this is probably going to sound a bit pithy but I promise I don’t mean it that way.  I totally get what you are saying about barriers to entry when trying to build a movement and making it so you ‘qualify’ members so that only those that want to work to push things forward will be involved.  I am on board with you there.

    But in the picture, you show a chained door, and mention how a barrier to entry makes being ‘let in’ more exciting.  It’s funny, because when I saw that picture, I thought that it was sending the message that NO ONE is getting in here.  So I think it’s important to communicate the difference between a barrier to entry, and a dead-end.  The picture looks like a dead-end, but I think if we communicate that it’s a barrier and how you can GET IN if you are willing to WORK, then I think it’s an effective qualifier for your movement.

    Does that make sense?

    • Robbin

      HI Mack. I agree. My photo choice went to too far and is the wrong message. You want to inspire folks to want to join the community and or conversation. Not lock them out.

      Maybe a photo with the door closed but a round peek hole like the ones on the front door at Brains on Fire might have worked better. You got to knock but we’ll let you in.

      Hey, I think I will change it. Great suggestion. 

      • Mack Collier

        Well I was hoping I could convince you to do a follow up post on how to create effective barriers to entry for a community that:

        1 – Don’t let everyone in
        2 – Also effectively communicate to others what they need to do TO get in

        As I think that would be an interesting discussion, and who better to lead it? ;) 

  • Kathysierra

    I flippin’ love this post. Wonderful in so many powerful ways.

    Minor point: I agree with Mack on the photo. As a metaphor, a chained door is not just a barrier, it means there IS no entry. And that *is* the tricky part about qualifying people for a community… what the right level/size/difficulty of the barrier should be.

    For some domains that are already perceived as difficult, you might need two “doors”: the massive one with the big bouncer out front and the small, light, friendly one that gets you only into the first level…

    I prefer the system used by the best and most sustainable games: easy to start but takes forever to master. Some of the people who go on to become the most devoted and passionate may never get there if they are not given a chance to experience a taste of two things:

    * Wow, it would be WORTH IT
    * Wow, it is possible for me to do this

    Almost nobody who has ever become a passionate snowboarder, for example, enjoyed it on the first day. But if someone had NOT made it easy for them to try it out and experience that glimpse of what it COULD be like, they would never have bothered and never gone on to become an expert (or at least a passionate enthusiast).

    So, maybe two doors. First one is for helping people discover if they might, in fact, go on to develop a passion for this thing. The other door — the one you describe — is where it all really matters. The first one is just so we don’t pre-screen out the people who just don’t know enough to care, but *would* if only they *knew*…


    • Robbin

      Hello Kathy. Thank for joining the conversation. Love the double door comparison and visual. This is a great conversation to have with folks like you, Clayton and Mack. Communities should be welcoming and inviting. But grabbing “joiners” to up your numbers is silly work in the world.