Nick's Notes

Rules not Recipes

Throughout the Spring many people look at their lifestyle and make resolutions to fix some of the things they are most concerned about. This includes the amount of alcohol they drink and leads to ‘dry January’ or the amount they eat – especially following on from over indulgence over the holiday period.

The newspapers and magazines pick up on this theme too, of course. And stuffed between the reviews and adverts for summer holidays you can find all sorts of advice on losing weight, getting fit and what to drink instead of alcohol.

Much of this material is contradictory – not within articles and series, but between them. It is really hard to know what to do. But regardless of the underlying beliefs, most protagonists share with you a generalized view of good and bad foods, perhaps why they are that way within the author’s philosophy and then give you a set of recipes for a two week initial period of dieting and a longer term re-education programme of eating.

But there is a problem, even if you believe the underpinning idea. All too rarely do authors give the rules on how to choose what to eat. Instead they give you those recipes. Endless lists of what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner day after day before then getting to repeat these menus, none of which really fit in with your normal patterns for cooking and eating. And I really don’t want that. I want to understand how to make healthy low sugar, low fat, low calorie meals for myself.

It’s really hard to do. Food labeling is ok to a point, but do I prioritize low fat over low sugar. What about salt? How much meat? The advice is contradictory or based on something the author has decided is important.

And I think the underlying problem is we don’t know. We’re talking about biases and opinion, not facts. We know a great deal about nutrition but not so much about eating. People handle different foodstuffs differently. The whole system is massively complex and any individual’s “ideal” food intake is unique.

To lose weight fewer calories consumed than used is the only meaningful advice. But “quality” of calories – balancing vitamins, fat etc with calories is challenging. At a macro level calories from alcohol are unlikely to be as good for you as calories from, say vegetables, but may hit the spot more effectively after a hard day’s work.

And it’s the same with business. What works for one organisation is different from what works for another. I’ve written before that it is the focus on a way of working that is more important than what you actually do. I think that is likely to be true with diets too. Likewise which systems you use is less important than being able to use them well. Probably true with which hardware and software too, much more so than any vendor will admit. Even whether you are using Windows or Mac OS.

Most of the differences we spend so much time examining and debating about, much of the time we spend arguing, actually doesn’t matter at all. What does matter is why you do something, being outcome-focused, value proposition focused so that you can create true progress and learn from it. This has the additional powerful benefit that it’s your set of rules or guidance in your context and not someone else’s generic recipes that you adopted so it really empowers you as a leader and as an organisation or as a team.

Eat less and you’ll lose weight. Focus and your business will do well. The rest is just noise.

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