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  • 💥 The Wolf At The Door, Challenging Defaults, and The Agility Advantage

💥 The Wolf At The Door, Challenging Defaults, and The Agility Advantage

Welcome to the Action Digest, where ideas are turned to action quicker than a New York minute.

Coming up in this week’s action-packed edition:

  • 🥊 The making of the movie Rocky reveals why success might be much closer than we thought possible.

  • 🏁 We learn the timeless principle that an oil tycoon, a cartoon studio, and an airline all relied on to rise to the top.

  • 🔧 A cautionary tale highlights the fine line between moving fast and breaking things.

  • And more!!

P.s., you can check out editions 1-19 here in case you missed them, including insights such as the playbook that Coco Chanel used to rewrite the world of fashion and go from orphan to multi-millionaire, how Steve Jobs cultivated great creative taste, and the motivational memos that turned around a failing soup company.

Seriously, there are some gems you’ll appreciate in these earlier editions. ;-)

1. Challenge the default assumptions of speed

For all its controversy, South Park has consistently ranked in the top 10 most viewed shows on television. 

One advantage that sets the show apart is its rapid turnaround time. “Usually Simpsons, and Family Guy, those shows take like 8-10 months,” one animator explains, “and we’re doing it in 6 days. No one does an animated show like this.” 

“In this building,” another team member explains, “you not only have to be good and diverse, but you also have to be fast. If it takes you four days to get something done, you can’t really contribute.” 

Each Thursday, the team sits down empty handed with no script and no plan. Six days later, they have a full episode ready for broadcast. “There’s a show on this Wednesday and we don’t even know what it is,” admits Trey Parker, South Park’s co creator, “and even though that’s the way we’ve always done it, there’s little thing going, ‘oh—you’re screwed.’”

But this on-the-fly approach unlocks a unique advantage. The team is able to incorporate recent news and events from the week within new episodes, making it more topical than rivals. It also rules out the trap of perfectionism. “I always feel like—‘wow, I wish I had another day with this show.’” Trey continues, “That’s the reason that there’s so many episodes of South Park we’re able to get done because there just is a deadline and you can’t keep going because there would be so many shows where I’m… ‘no, no, it’s not ready yet, it’s not ready yet,’ and I would have spent four weeks on one show. All you do is start second guessing yourself and rewriting stuff and it gets over-thought and it [only] would have been 5 percent better.”  

It can be uncomfortable to challenge our default assumptions around how fast we can move. But individuals and organizations who push the limits of pace can unlock unique opportunities and gain a competitive advantage. 

2. Breaking the frame of “realistic” timelines

In 1975, Sylvester Stallone sat down to write a screenplay. Three and a half days later, he emerged with the full script for Rocky. 

“At that time, I must admit, my life was definitely on the wane, at least professionally,” Stallone recalls. “I was emotionally, spiritually, physically, bankrupt. So I had $106, rent was $300, I had a pregnant wife—you might say I had quite a bit of fuel to sit down and write the script!” “But I felt that if I was going to go down, at least into professional obscurity, I wanted to at least have the opportunity to say to myself, well, you tried. You put your best foot forward and you didn’t make it. That’s what, I guess you might say, provoked me into writing the script, because it wasn’t something that I had given a lot of thought to. I just knew that I had to do it one time and it was innate.” “I wrote the script in about three and a half days and only because I could hear the wolf at the door, literally.”

Most people would say it’s impossible to write an award-winning screenplay in three days. For Sylvester, the “wolf” broke his frame around how long things realistically take. But even though the wolf can be a powerful forcing function for speed, we can challenge our assumptions about how long things take without it. Opportunities to question our assumptions are present every day—all we need is the willingness to take up the challenge

3. The great and timeless principle

The oil industry in 1908 has little in common with cartoons and movies. And yet John D. Rockefeller shared the same propensity for speed as Stallone in 1975 and South Park today. When Rockefeller sat down to write his memoirs, the first thing he remembers is the team he worked with. And the first thing he remembers about them was how fast they moved. 

"They want to accomplish things, and to move quickly, and they don't mind any amount of work or responsibility," Rockefeller recalled. “It is always, I presume, a question in every business just how fast it is wise to go, and we went pretty rapidly in those days, building and expanding in all directions. We were being confronted with fresh emergencies constantly. A new oil field would be discovered, tanks for storage had to be built almost overnight, and this was going on when old fields were being exhausted.” “These are some of the things which make the whole oil trade a perilous one, but we had with us a group of courageous men who recognized the great principle that a business cannot be a great success that does not fully and efficiently accept and take advantage of its opportunities.”  

Speed always has been, and always will be, imperative.

4. There are two kinds of people: the quick and the dead

A seasoned marketing executive at Southwest Airlines once pitched a television campaign that would take place over 9 months. “Don, I hate to tell you, but we’re talking about next Wednesday,” Herb Kelleher, the founder and CEO, famously responded. 

“The sense of urgency that Valentine learned is endemic at Southwest Airlines,” write Kevin and Jackie Freiberg in their book Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success. “Employees are not timid about springing into action and doing whatever it takes to help the company accomplish an objective in record time.”

To illustrate this speed, the pair point to what happened when Southwest decided to open a flight service between the cities of Dallas and Little Rock: “When Southwest decided to expand into Little Rock, a competitor tried to preempt the company by announcing that it was going into Little Rock in a compressed time frame. Forty-eight hours after that announcement, Southwest people flew to Little Rock and quickly obtained a sublease on all available gates from Continental Airlines. Within ten days, Southwest had put together a schedule, laid cable and installed computer equipment, acquired airlines, and decorated ticket counters. When the competing airline showed up in Little Rock, it was shocked to find that the gates had already been secured by Southwest. With no time to properly launch a marketing campaign, Southwest got creative. The company introduced itself to the people of Little Rock by offering a $10 fare for ten days. Five days after Southwest initiated service, it had 25 percent of the Little Rock-Dallas market.” 

Breakneck speed was the default pace at Southwest, for Herb Kelleher viewed it as a necessity for survival. “In the beginning,” the Freibergs continue, “Southwest employees learned that there are two kinds of people: the quick and the dead. The penalty for being slow and slothful in the early days was not just decreased revenue and a losing quarter; it was the death of the airline and their job security. Southwest employees have chosen to be among the quick because, year after year over the last two decades, they’ve witnessed the demise of other carriers that were too slow to respond to the challenges they faced.”

Being too slow to punch did not put Southwest’s competitor out of business overnight. Nor did Southwest’s speedy Little Rock debut guarantee lasting success. But over time, the ability to maintain agility and urgency separates thriving entities from those that falter. 

5. The hidden precursor to speed

When Stallone sat down to write, he already had a clear vision for Rocky. 

He was filled with inspiration from the recent championship match between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner.

The obvious yet often hidden precursor to speed is clarity

It’s difficult to spring into action unless we know the next step in front of us. 

The Action Method product line is based on this core premise—that working with constant clarity of action is one of the biggest competitive advantages among the world’s most prolific creators.

Each page has a dedicated space for action steps—the action column.

It acts as a constant reminder to convert your ideas into action steps.

This ensures that you always know what your next move is and offers the most action-oriented note-taking system available.

You can pick up or replenish your supply here

“Gone are the days where I walk out of a meeting with long notes and no clear understanding what I need to do. These notebooks keep me on track.”

Tina Roth Eisenberg, founder and designer

6. Sometimes, when you move fast, you…

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We’ll leave you with this…

“We have a strategic plan -- it's called doing things.” 

Herb Kelleher

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