In Who, Not How, authors Dan Sullivan and Dr Benjamin Hardy set out a principle for working better and smarter: Find the best people to implement your vision instead of learning how to do it yourself.
But why ask “who”, not “how” in the first place?
It depends: how many areas of your business are you holding hostage? How much is it costing you to play “jack of all trades” and trying to figure it all out yourself?
By asking “who” and not “how”, we not only optimise our systems and processes, but we remove our personal attachment to the outcome. Simply put, we are more likely to be objective about results when we assign projects to someone more qualified than ourselves. We’re less likely to throw good money after bad by repeating mistakes or following our own faulty, inexpert logic.
And with freed up time and headspace, it allows us to focus on matters which need our attention more.
“Who, Not How”: Our story
While I was reading this book, I realised how much time and money we had wasted trying to do it all ourselves. For example, an attempt a few years ago to develop our own in–house CRM solution resulted in nothing but 18 months and £95k lost, with £600k lost in sales.
It also brought into sharp focus many conversations I’ve had over the last few months with CEOs and entrepreneurs who had built successful businesses. From management consultants to tech businesses, engineers to financiers, these businesses shared very similar problems: they had great solutions, but their sales and marketing functions were not up to scratch. They lacked the knowledge and expertise in–house yet continued to focus on the “how” – never finding a solution and staying stuck.
Their products are good, they’re doing okay, but they know they could be achieving more. These entrepreneurs and CEOs remain frustrated and annoyed that they are not getting anywhere fast, but they’re not ready to give up their “how’s” yet. But why? We think it stems from the false belief that it makes economic sense to focus on “how’s”, as well as a lack of confidence in finding the right “who’s”. Sullivan and Hardy’s book explains why finding “who’s” is the single most important thing you can do for your business and gives some advice on how to mitigate some of the risk.
All businesses have a mixture of who’s and how’s. Most entrepreneurially led businesses tend to have a stronger focus on how’s, which is how our business operates. We employ talented and resourceful people who can learn skills. Given enough time, money, and experimentation, we could learn and achieve our goals. But that doesn’t mean we should. The opportunity cost would be huge, and the time to learn, make mistakes, adjust, adapt, and perfect is always underestimated. Those delays and lack of progress steal focus from other important parts of the business.
After reading this book, we gave up a lot of our “how’s” (training, aspects of new product development) in favour of finding ‘who’s’ instead.
This “who, not how” idea is not new. But while specialists have been around since the dawn of industry, delegating work to those specialists is a bit of a tricky subject. Especially for self-starters and self-confessed control freaks, delegation is a skill easily learned but tough to master.
Finding the right person/supplier for the job is not only the path to success but trying – and failing – to do it all yourself can tank your efforts and cause more harm than good.
In this article, we’ll dive into the following questions:
- How can this book help me and my business?
- What is the who, not how approach?
- How do I find my “who”?
- What pitfalls do I need to look out for?
No man is an island, goes the saying. But handing over the reins, even just a little, proves to be one of the most challenging aspects of levelling up both your career and your company.
Why is “who” more important than “how”?
Published in 2020, the book Who, Not How is promoted as “the formula to achieve bigger goals through accelerating teamwork”. The birth of the book itself as a perfect example of its core philosophy.
This book is traditionally published by an imprint called Hay House. Its authors chose to plug in a ready-built team of publishing and marketing experts to help make the book a success.
But could Sullivan and Hardy have written it, edited it by themselves, done the formatting and created the cover design, uploaded the eBook, organised print-on-demand distribution, and marketing?
Absolutely. In recent years, all these solutions have become available to laymen. It’s never been easier to be a one-man publishing house – some authors forge entire careers doing so.
Should they have? No.
Not only was it a better strategy to leverage the expertise of a traditional publishing house to handle distribution and promotion – but Dan Sullivan didn’t even write a single word himself.
An expert on entrepreneurial coaching, Sullivan bypassed the “how” and sought the right “who” in Dr Benjamin Hardy to take his vision and roll with it. By combining their individual expertise – Dr Hardy is an organisational psychologist – they ended up with a more valuable product than if one had tried to do the work alone.
How do I find my “who”?
Most CEOs and entrepreneurs have ‘kissed a lot of frogs’, from wrong hires to team members to partners to suppliers.
It’s easy to get jaded. Many abandon outsourcing and invest their time and effort into doing it “in-house”, either on their own or by giving the task to a colleague with comparable expertise. But this creates more work and eats up resources.
Before you set out to find your “who”, you need to be making sure you’re asking the right questions:
- Don’t ask “how do I set up a new factory in India”, ask “who can help set up this factory for me?”.
- Don’t ask “how do I find more time to do more”, ask “who can help me free up my schedule by taking away more of my to do’s?”.
- Don’t ask “how can I make more money”, ask “who can help us increase profits?”.
You get the idea: what problems do you need to solve?
But when thinking of why you need a “who”, beware of “teaching traps” – don’t ask “who” as in, “who can teach me to do this”. Instead, ask, “who can do this for me”. Remember: you’re outsourcing labour, not learning.
Whether you’re hiring an expert, a supplier, a consultant, or anyone else, there are golden rules you need to follow to ensure your lips never touch another frog.
When interviewing candidates, you need to look for:
Results. Have they done exactly what you need, for someone else? A portfolio, or case studies?
Reputation. Do they come recommended by your friends, or people you don’t know – and in either case, do you respect their opinions?
Attitude. Are they confident enough to ask what they’re worth, and honest about their experience so far?
Swapping processes for people
In Who, Not How, Sullivan and Hardy advocate finding “who’s” for every single aspect of your life. Once you become quite good at outsourcing, it’s difficult to say no to more free time (and more money and headspace to devote to more interesting projects).
In business, there are two kinds of problems: technical and adaptive.
Technical problems have a definite solution: they are processes. For example, “how to set up a WordPress website”. You’ll find tutorials, YouTube videos and more to help you solve that problem. For technical problems, it’s best to ask, “Who can do this for me?” Otherwise, you’ll be volunteering for an unpaid internship in whatever skill you’re trying to learn, and still never reach the expertise level of someone you could hire in.
Adaptive problems, on the other hand, have no known answer. Like the Yang–Mills existence and mass gap (an “unsolvable” math problem with a $1m prize), the answer will not be an end result, but rather a new concept altogether. What is the Yang-Mills Existence and mass gap in your industry/sector that you should be working on?
These problems demand collaboration, consultants, and deep work. In your role as an innovative force in your company, these are the problems you need to focus on because no one else thinks how you think, say what you say, or do what you do. Adaptive problems are those which benefit most from your “special sauce”, or what you bring to the table.
That said, your special sauce is made up of ingredients, and – to stretch a metaphor – it is fine to introduce new flavours in the form of outside input.
“Who, not how” just works
In the book, the authors introduce us to Jacob Monty, a labour and immigration attorney in Houston, Texas. He used to drive to his meetings, occasionally being late in traffic and arriving stressed out and unfocused.
Now, since finding his “who, not how”, Jacob hires an Uber driver to take him to his meetings. Instead of getting sweaty and stressed, he uses his commute to prepare for meetings, which results in 90 extra minutes of high-quality work. He arrives put together and ready, instead of searching for parking spots and running down the street.
By spending just $50 on an Uber (the “who”), instead of asking “how” he could drive to work quicker, Jacob is able to exponentially increase his impact in these meetings, which for him, may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Finding your “who” can be tricky, but it’s ten times worth more than treading water. That’s why we have a renewed “who not how” focus in our business and wanted to share the concept as we think it could benefit many other entrepreneurs and businesses.
Adrian Tripp is Managing Partner of Business For Growth, a company of business growth experts who specialise in helping B2B companies develop and maximise growth. Adrian is also CEO and founder of the European Business Awards.