by Anurag Gupta

Series 4 – “No-Thing” Works

One of the most foundational principles of our work as business coaches is “nothing works.” It is a very simple concept, and yet, sometimes, it takes a little work to really understand it.

Today, we will talk about applying “nothing works,” as a general overall approach to business, as well as how to have it very specifically impact your productivity and ­business culture.


For every approach or technique, system or strategy that you think works, we could probably find someone who failed with that very same approach. Right? For everything you think can’t possibly work, we could probably find someone who succeeded with it.

So what holds true for some people is not true for others. What is possible in some companies is not possible in others. We’re interested in what does work, and we had to ask ourselves, “So how come sometimes stuff turns out?”

What we discovered is that anything can work, if you work it. So no “THING” works, but when YOU work it, it can work.

For example, a gym membership or diet doesn’t work—you have to work it. Sales scripts and time management systems don’t work—you have to work them. Getting a personal assistant doesn’t work—you have to learn how to actually give them the right stuff and manage it. That’s why it is a foundational principle for business. Nothing ever works, until you work it.

There are probably tens of thousands of books and thousands of business schools, workshops, and trainings to tell you how to make your ­business work, all spoken like the truth.

In most of the western world, over 70 percent of new businesses fail, and that figure has been the same for decades. Don’t you think that by now if any of that stuff worked, we would all be doing it, and that figure would finally change?

If the stuff you believed works, actually does work, then wouldn’t your results be better and more consistent?

The fundamental thing we have to deal with is giving up our fascination with our own ­brilliance. Ever notice how much we sit around our offices and boardrooms and come up with ideas for selling or marketing. Talking like we KNOW who our potential customers are, what they are thinking, and what makes them buy? Did you ever stop and think that if we really did know the answers to those questions, we would be ­producing much greater results than we are now?

We are taught at a very early age not to assume. Yet, essentially every action we take every day is based on an assumption. Think about it—if all those assumptions were accurate, wouldn’t you have everything you wanted in life?

Real Life Examples “NoTHING” Works

To illustrate, here are two examples from our work:

Restaurant Parody

I was doing a training session at a retreat for a very successful restaurant chain with 20 ­executives and the president. I introduced the concept “NoThing” works, and it just wasn’t landing—they didn’t get it. They believed that they were successful because they knew what worked in their restaurant. They had the ­evidence and track record to prove it. Success will do that to you.

So I went around the room and asked each person to give me one definitive truth about how you must do things to be successful in the ­restaurant business. I took a flip chart and wrote all 20 answers down. We had things like “you must change the menu with some frequency,” or “you must train your staff in a particular way,” and the list went on with twenty success answers.

Then we went down the list, and I asked them to give me an example of an exception to each “rule” where the restaurant was still successful. Interestingly enough, with only a little thought, everyone could come up with something.

For example, even though they believed that they had to keep the menu fresh, there were plenty examples of places that succeeded ­because of the same unchanging menu for years.

As we went through the list, we got stuck on “you must have good service/take care of the customer.” Obviously, you can’t mess with that. And then someone proposed we take a look at the Elbow Room in Vancouver. It is a place that is very successful, and you go, specifically, to get terrible service and lots of abuse. In fact, if you are not abused, you feel ripped off. If you want a really good example that crappy service sells, check out the Weiner Circle in Chicago on youtube.

The point—anything can work if you work it, including places that intentionally “work” bad service.

Meeting Mania

I got a call one day from a client. She was friends with and had been reading a book about Brian Scuddamore who created 1800 got junk. One of the practices he talks about was a morning huddle for 10-15 minutes with all the staff. She started the same practice and had called me to say that it wasn’t going well, and could I come by and take look. So I went to her office and observed one of the most awkward things I had ever seen. A group of eight people in a circle, hands in pockets, looking down—just dying for the time to be over.

My client had read that morning meetings were the way to go. She decided “it” would work and tried it. Unfortunately, she was not even close to producing the same result. She didn’t understand or own the purpose behind the meeting, and so it wasn’t working. She was just hoping it would work.

Knowledge and Expertise is Limiting

So to summarize this first part: be wary of knowledge and expertise, including your own. It is limiting. Every week, there is some breakthrough business somewhere, doing things in a way that “is not how things are done.”

Every client we have will say, “We don’t do things that way.” I know. That is the point. You want new results. Do new things. Be open. Explore. Create. Take risks.

The reality is most companies are not even close to optimizing their current systems. That is to say most of us know there could be more productivity out of what we currently have without changing things. Well, consider that is because you and your staff are not working it to its full potential.

Outcome- vs. Process-based Thinking

One of the things I am going to propose is—the moment you say something works, you are no longer on the hook for ensuring that the outcome is produced. You can say, “I did the process that is supposed to work, and it didn’t turn out.” This is a stay-small strategy called “going through the motions.”

Every one of us has had the experience of ­trying to get back to a happier or more ­productive time in our lives, trying to do the same things we used to do, and it is not ­working. Why not?

You have an outcome in mind. Some result to be produced. You create a process. But the result was really produced by your intention to fulfill something and using/working the process to reach the desired end. Then after a while you think the process is what produces the result. You teach it to others. For some reason, they don’t produce the same with it. Sometimes, you are off your game, and you also don’t produce the same.

Let me describe it in another way: the old 80–20 rule, showing that 20 percent of the people are doing 80 percent of the work. While I do see this in many places, I don’t believe it needs to be this way. You could say that those 20 percent that do most of the work are outcome-based thinkers—people who will produce the outcome that is required. They will likely try the process that is available, and if it doesn’t work, they will try other things until the result is produced. If it still doesn’t work, they will come to you for help because they believe it is important to produce the outcome.

The other 80 percent will do what was required out of the process, tick the boxes, and then their ass is covered because they did what they were supposed to, regardless of what it produced.

You don’t have 80/20 on a surgical team or on a competitive sports team. Everyone is there 100 percent. When something important is at stake, we all play full out for the outcome—save the life or score the goal.

It is possible to build a culture that is 100 ­percent outcome-based. You have to start with ­yourself, with being able to explain the difference to others, and then be uncompromising with it everywhere.

With that restaurant company, there was an insightful moment that day as they realized they had created a massive manual for opening new stores in the East with every procedure and detail. They realized that their success came from the commitment that “every customer has an exceptional experience” and all process only existed because of that outcome.

And that outcome was not in the manual. One of them actually had the insight they could ­replace the entire manual with one page which ­simply says ­“ensure each customer has an ­exceptional ­experience, whatever it takes.”

Anurag Gupta

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