Casey Cobb [Twitter] is the founder of the 25-person design and development shop, Project Ricochet, but he is also an inventor, angel investor, writer, speaker, and has co-founded 2 other companies.

In this interview, Casey shares with us a concept that describes why working with a team can be so miserable sometimes. That concept is called accidental evil, and if you have spent any time working in a group, then you’ve been a victim of it.

Are you creating Accidental evil for your business? Learn what it is and how to avoid it (PODCAST) Click To Tweet

I’ll be honest, the deck is stacked against you, but luckily there is a way out, and Casey is here to explain what you need to do to avoid accidental evil and make work fun, profitable, and more impactful.

This isn’t some pie in the sky motivational talk built on cliches that you can’t act on. No, this is an actionable lesson to increase your productivity, decrease your stress, and build a better agency, and a better life for that matter.

Download a full transcript of the interview with Casey: Get it here.

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Key Takeaways

What is “Accidental Evil?” [3:30 – 28:00]

Casey describes accidental evil as starting at the precipice of a decision where there are two alternate paths it could go depending on what you decide to do.

If you behave one way then a certain set of things is going to happen, and if you behave the other way then something else will happen. What highlights accidental evil is that if you made one choice you would have really great results and if you made the other choice you could have really horrible results.

The distinguishing feature of accidental evil is that the difference in the effort required between those two choices is marginal. And what little difference there is in terms of energy is certainly disproportionate to the amount of hell you would have to go through for making the wrong decision.

Whether this is technical debt that cripples your system down the road or a bad policy that adds stress to everybody’s day, every single person that has worked as part of an organization has fallen victim to accidental evil.

You can’t avoid all evil [28:00 – 33:00]

Sometimes you simply have to make a decision you know isn’t the best one because of other considerations. That’s just a fact of life, but what matters is that you are explicit about the impact of the decision and create a plan for when and how you are going to address it. Now instead of accidental evil, you are dealing with intentional evil.

Most organizations go down this path but aren’t explicit about the impact of their choices. Without having a plan for how you are going to deal with problems down the road, you are left to put out fires as they ignite and get distracted from your real work.

First, make sure that the evil truly is unavoidable, then make sure you have a plan for addressing it, and finally, make sure you actually do address it.

Why this matters [33:00 – 41:30]

Casey actively works with six different companies while only working 40 hours a week, spending time with his family every day, biking every day, reading fifty books a year, and having time to spare. I don’t write this to make you feel bad, instead I’m sharing it to show you that if you get ahead of all the accidental evil, it expands your time exponentially, everybody you work with is happier, and at the end of the day, you have more profit.

For Casey, it’s just trying to get things to take as much time as they need to take so they can put that energy into pushing themselves forward and innovating and solving big problems rather than just on keeping their heads above water.

How to get started [41:30 – 48:00]

To find out if you’re creating accidental evil or not, start by mapping out your ideal outcome and then measure the delta between where you’re at and where you want to be. To the point that we were making earlier, if you just apply the scrum model to reducing accidental evil and having a plan.

Then work backwards to create a plan to address each of those things in an incremental way, trying to find the “eighty percent solution” for each of those issues. Casey recommends following the Scrum model to work towards your goal, but whatever methodology you follow, it is key to regularly assess where you are, where you want to be, and what you need to do to get there.

By ingraining this process into your agency, you’re going to reduce Accidental Evil, everybody is going to be happier, your organization is going to be more profitable, and you’re going to enjoy what you do.

Transcript:

Casey:

[00:00:30]

This is an opportunity to build something that is not just, I guess, that encompasses the values of what you get from an individual independent contractor but also provides the value the agencies provide in terms of scalability and a lot more separation of or a lot more expansive skill-sets that you can bring together, but without the bloat that traditionally comes with an agency. We setup very specifically at the very beginning to not grow accidentally.
[00:01:00]A lot of agencies, the thing that we struggle with is that especially when you’re really small is you get a big project and you hire to satisfy that and then you get another big project and you hire to satisfy that. By the time you’re comfortable with the size you’re at you are bigger and then the things you learned are no longer appropriate and you’ve got to learn the next thing. You’re always putting out fires. Our goal was to get it to the size that we’re actually at now, we’re at about twenty five.
Andy Baldacci:Roughly what is that size?
Casey:

[00:01:30]

We’re about twenty five people, not all of those are full-time but this is about the size where it’s a very specific and explicit size for us, because it means that my partner and I can manage and meet with everybody on a weekly basis. We can actually have a one on one with every single team member. Once you start getting any bigger than this you start starting to have a middle management or not. Then you have pain points that come with each of those.
[00:02:00]As a part of Ricochet we’ve taken and equity investment in several startups and we’re actively involved in advising and guiding those. Then independently I’m a partner of a brewery here in the Bay Area Ale Industries. Pushed that along and I’ve just got my hands in a lot of things.
Andy Baldacci:It seems like it yeah.
Casey:Plus, evangelized all the topics that I’m really passionate about and I try to in-between all that fit being a dad for a three-year-old soon to be four years old in a couple of months.
Andy Baldacci:It seems like you have a ton of free time them?
Casey:Yeah, a lot. That’s my back story.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:02:30]

That’s super awesome, I wish we could have an episode or a series of episodes so I can just ask like, “You started a winery, how did that go?” For this we’ll focus more on the agency side of things. I loved when you said that so many agencies grow accidentally. One of the things I’ve seen so much as time and time again, when talking to all these agencies is that so many of them almost are accidental agency owners.
[00:03:00]They were a freelancer themselves, they did great work, they had some referrals and then they said, “Hey, I can’t handle this but my buddy or whoever, I know this other person who can help out and we can do this together then we can take on more work.” Two or three years down the road they have a team of five to ten and they have no idea how they got there or what they’re even doing because it wasn’t deliberate they just grew.
[00:03:30]Hearing about that deliberate plan is something that I think is so important and honestly that could be a topic in and of itself, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today and maybe we can talk about it another time. There’s one thing that you’ve written a lot about, you’ve spoken a lot about and I really think is very important but not many other agency owners think about this. That’s accidental evil. Can you tell us a little bit what that concept is?
Casey:
[00:04:00]
This is something that I’ve honed in on over the years. I’ve seen this through my own businesses, through client organizations, through even just my personal life is this concept of. I guess the best description is imagine you’re at the precipice of a decision and there’s two alternate paths that could go depending on what you decide to do. Are you going to hire somebody or are you going to take on this new client or whatever?
[00:04:30]If you behave one way or you make one decision that a certain set of things is going to happen and if you behave the other way or you make the other decision. Then these other things are going to happen. The thing that highlights accidental evil is that if you made one choice you would have really great results and if you made the other choice you could have really horrible results.
The distinguishing feature of accidental evil is that the difference between the effort between those two choices was marginal. There was almost no additional expulsion of energy for the great outcome over the bad outcome or maybe there was, but it was just barely anymore. It was certainly disproportionate to the amount of hell you had to go through for making the wrong decision.
[00:05:00]This hits every aspect of whenever you have more than one person in a room you have accidental evil potentially happening. I’ll give you a couple of examples but just on that point you were just making about seeing agency owners grow accidentally. That’s one of the situations, that’s one of the environments in which accidental evil thrives. A book that really highlights this and makes it explicit. I don’t know if you’ve ever read E-Myth by Michael Gerber.
Andy Baldacci:I’ve actually gifted that book a lot to people.
[00:05:30]

Casey:

It’s interesting because he talks about not really agency work, he’s talking about you open up a dry cleaner or something where you just want to do … Maybe a dry cleaner is not a good example but he talks about the engineer who wants to …
Andy Baldacci:Or the chef who wants to open a restaurant?
Casey:
[00:06:00]
Perfect example, a chef who wants to open a restaurant and he finds very quickly that he doesn’t get to cook when you open a restaurant. If you want to cook, you have two choices either go work for somebody who will let you cook or build your business to a certain size to where it can allow you to cook and it can be self-sustaining. Those two options, the option where you build the business that can be years and years before you get to cook really.
[00:06:30]A lot of people don’t realize that and when they do try to do both they end up neglecting some very key responsibilities that make their lives and their employees lives and even their customers and their vendors lives a lot worst when they decide not to engage in the business aspects that they need to when they are a business person. I’ll give you two examples. One I’ve used before in another podcast interview but it highlights the point in a dramatic way.
[00:07:00]Then one is very specific to agency experience and a solution that we put in place to overcome that. The first one the really dramatic easy example is every time I get in my Volkswagen Toureg, it’s a 2012 it’s maybe a little bit dated now maybe they’ve fixed it since. I did a voice navigation to get to a meeting and it says, “Okay, where do you want to go?”
[00:07:30]I say, “I want to go to Oakland.” It pops up and says, “Which Oakland do you mean, do you mean Oakland New York, Oakland Florida, Oakland Montana and I have to page like three times to get to Oakland, California. I’m literally ten miles away from Oakland. I’m probably not going to be going to Oakland, New York. What’s even worse is that the reason you’re using voice navigation is because you don’t want to be typing because you want to be safe.
[00:08:00]When you start paginating it says, it pops with a screen that says, “Hey don’t type while you’re driving and click here to confirm that you’re not doing what you’re doing now, what I’m forcing you to do for no reason.” You click that, you finally find Oakland, California and then it starts guiding you. I wonder how many people have been run-over because of this feature or this lack of a feature which is sorting by distance rather than by alpha.
[00:08:30]When you think back to the programmer who was originally making this, it was probably some sort of SQL query where he just at the end sort by alpha or sort by state or sort by distance because you know they have the distance information.
Andy Baldacci:Right, it’s a GPS, it has to.
Casey:

[00:09:00]

He just chose one or he or she just chose one over the other and that was it, he probably doesn’t drive a Toureg. He doesn’t know that this is impacting hundreds of thousands or millions of vehicles and millions of driving hours across the country and I’ll bet you people have died as a result of this. Just nobody is thinking about that because there’s not that communication back up or because Volkswagen doesn’t have some key thing in there where you’ve actually got to use the system that you’re programming.
[00:09:30]I don’t know what that is but there’s probably a marginal additional energy to sort by distance and they just didn’t do that. Let me bring it into practical for your audience. One of the things that we do every single week, my partner and I meet with every single person on our team for thirty minutes. Ten minutes for them to talk about whatever they want, ten minutes for me and my partner to talk about what’s important to us with relation to them or the company. Then ten minutes dedicated to their growth and coaching and the like.
[00:10:00]One of my team said, “Hey, I really don’t like the fact that on the day before a demo for a client QA finally gets around to looking at tickets and then they re-open a bunch and then I’ve got to work late that night to fix that stuff, fix those bugs that there’s no reason why QA couldn’t, I’ve had that ready for a week. Why couldn’t QA have done this a week ago and I would have been able to have a normal work week and fix these things in a timely manner rather than last minute.”
[00:10:30]You think about organizationally especially when you’re growing, you’re always trying to keep up, QA has got more than they can do. If you don’t have a dedicate QA person it’s just developers and it’s always the second priority. This ends up happening last minute and then that ends up playing out. First really awesome that he felt comfortable bringing that up because a lot of people just think that that’s just the way it’s got to be. My guiding light to my team is if there’s ever something that you feel is unfair or just really sucks bring that up.
[00:11:00]There’s no reason why you should have a job that has something where you feel that it’s unfair that we’re doing something and there’s no way out. Because that’s how people get burned out. At least bring it up and let’s make a plan or say, “Yeah we just can’t deal with that right now but we’re going to keep looking at it every month or every week or every quarter to try to come to a solution. Maybe we need to grow to a certain size to be able to afford somebody to address that who knows.
[00:11:30]What we did basically was we made a, this was actually at the end of last year. We decided that we needed more QA help, we hired more QA help and then we also made a series of metrics that measured. We actually came together as a team, we created three metrics that measured the health of a sprint. It spanned tickets stagnating in a single status throughout the sprint, it spanned things staying in sprint after spring never getting closed out and then also things getting re-opened repeatedly.
[00:12:00]All three of those are three different health metrics that we decided to start measuring and now every single week on our management meeting we look at all the projects as a team that score below a certain threshold. It’s not so important that all these be at a certain threshold or at a certain score because it is always mitigating reason some clients are just really picky, you can’t get them to not close a ticket. They just want to keep tacking stuff on.
[00:12:30]There’s a bunch of different reasons why those scores might be low but at least we have the discussion then we say, “Is there something that we could be doing better as a result of these learnings. Things did get better, the sprint started getting closed out, they started becoming more tidy.
That actually played into a bunch of things which is that when sprints don’t get closed out and they go week to week people start getting demoralized. Because they never rally to finish out the spring. They just know that there’s always a ton of stuff on there. Just do what you can do, as the best you can. It’s never something that you can actually achieve and you start checking out to certain extent.
[00:13:00]

Andy Baldacci:

For sure exactly when the goal is so high, when the goal you just know and you’re almost ingrained industry work habits you’re like, “Alright we can’t get that anyway so just do your best.” What actually comes out is not your best it’s just what it is at that point. I’m curious to dig into this a little bit more because is this just … I know it’s more than this, I know it’s not just accidentally evil is more than just all the kind of annoyances in everyday office life.
[00:13:30]Is that the goal to just not have any sort of friction because a lot of people especially those who have worked in larger corporation would just assume that in every job there’s going to be some sort of friction. There’s going to be some things that just really don’t work the way they’re intended to. Is the goal to just eliminate all of these things or what is it?
[00:14:00]

Casey:

That’s a really good point, a really good question. The first thing on the thing about the sprint stuff is, okay somebody could say, “Who cares, if they’re working as hard as they can, they either finish the tickets or they don’t, they do the same amount of hours every week. Why does it matter?” There’s a reality which is that when people know that they can and should get the sprint completed.
[00:14:30]When they see that there’s an extra ticket there they might go to somebody and say, hey to the client, “hey we can’t get this done the way that acceptance criteria of specified right now, but if you could accept this kind of alternative solution we could get it done right now on maybe two hours of work instead of ten. Is that okay for you?” They might say, “Yeah, totally.” Then you can ship the product and have a success rather than having a delay and having a bad mark on your company because you guys can just never get stuff done.
[00:15:00]

[00:15:30]

When things are really ambiguous people don’t find those opportunities. That has really larger implications through the team morale, your team burnout, your customer satisfaction, your customer retention, all these bigger points. Let me give you where I discovered accidental evil. Where it really crystallized in my head was and I’ve used this example before or not even an example, this kind of realization before. I have a condo in a city nearby here and my tenant called me and said, “Hey you need to fix the garbage disposal. When I flip on the garbage disposal all the stuff on the counter top vibrates so violently that it all falls on the ground.” I was like, “Wow that sounds really dramatic.”
[00:16:00]I was like, “Before I call somebody to fix it let me just come down and take a look.” I went down sure enough, flipped it on, stuff was vibrating like crazy. I looked underneath the sink, now I don’t know anything about garbage disposals, but just trying to understand the mechanics of it. Underneath the sink for the drain there’s the disposal and then there’s a little ring that connects that to the bottom of the sink. All that I did was tighten that ring ever so slightly maybe a quarter of an inch and then flipped on the garbage disposal perfectly smooth.
[00:16:30]All of a sudden I have this big realization where my business life and all the things that I’m involved in flashed before my eyes. I realized that what most people do, this is kind of maybe hyperbole or anecdotal. what a lot of people do is they say, “We need a new garbage disposal,” and they might get somebody out here and five hundred dollars later, maybe even a thousand dollars you’ve got a new one and it’s repaired and the tenant is happy.
[00:17:00]Whereas the alternative is expending less than a calorie of energy to solve the same problem. Now I can take that a thousand dollars that I would have spent and I can invest that in my life to get returns elsewhere. Fifty years down the road that thousand dollars might turn into a million dollars or more. The alternative is that I wouldn’t have had that. How that applies to business is that I would venture to say that most crazy organizations come back to a few root causes just maybe even a couple.
[00:17:30]Instead of expending the calorie of energy to solve those problems we try to do these really dramatic changes and try to solve the problem through firing everybody and re-hiring or bring in a consultant to change the culture or whatever. The reality is like for example, this has been well documented. Organizations are often times a reflection of the owner. If the owner is a crazy disorganized dude the organization ends up being that.
[00:18:00]If the owner is a really meticulous engineering style dude the organization has problems with marketing because that’s not what they’re all about. The solutions to those are really just figuring out how to inject the opposite of those qualities into your organization. It’s not some big dramatic thing, it can be really small. That’s the point when it seems like a big thing you never have time to do it and so you never do.
[00:18:30]When it’s actually several small things there are very painless things that anybody can implement and you can affect dramatic change in your organization, in your client work, your quality of work. I’ll give you another example where accidental evil was pretty prevalent at Ricochet and how we resolved it. If we have time if that’s okay.
Andy Baldacci:Yeah.
Casey:

[00:19:00]

I had a PM come to me totally overwhelmed and the feedback to me was that this project was just a hellacious project, nothing was getting done, things were getting stacked up, the client was frustrated. They just would never accept what we actually did even though we thought we were doing exactly what they asked for. I was like, “Man we’re an agile shop,” but a lot of people say they’re agile shops.
[00:19:30]I’ve read about agile, I’ve studied it, I had studied it loosely. I was like, “You know what I need to do, I need to read agile, I need to go back and just really study it.” I did, I got a couple of books and I spent the weekend reading them. I had this epiphany that one thing that we’re not doing so well is getting very concrete acceptance criteria from the client to the point where it’s like, “Okay the user story is as a user of the application, I logged user of the application, I need to be able to lot out.”
We were not doing to show that, show that I don’t leave my browser exposed to other people coming by and messing with my stuff. You maybe don’t need a log out link for that, maybe you just need a timeout, who knows? If you don’t know what the reason the person is asking for it to show that. How can you really devise a solution that actually satisfies the need other than an engineer just building a log out link.
[00:20:00]Then the other thing is the acceptance criteria, what exactly did they mean by that. Did they want a link up in the upper right hand corner or did just timeout after an hour? What are the details here so that we can make sure that our estimates are accurate? That really in all honesty that we can guarantee that we’re going to finish it. I said basically no tickets get started until they have acceptance criteria. If there’s no acceptance criteria we don’t do any work on that project that week.
[00:20:30]All of our efforts should go towards discussion with the client to build out that very specific acceptance criteria. As we do then if the client wants text or form we say, “Hey no problem we can do that stuff but it’s got to be a new ticket because it doesn’t match the acceptance criteria. “There’s no issue with this, let’s just close this out, accept it or make a new one right now with new acceptance criteria.”
[00:21:00]We hold our developers accountable for their estimates too, we want to know that they’re accurate and that’s a metric that we actually measure every single week. Suddenly the project became a dream project night and day. All it took was for me as a leader to really understand what was missing here, the acceptance criteria.
[00:21:30]Make sure that our organization was demanding from the client what we really needed to be successful and then implement that. It was really quite a simple solution and the project swam right along at that point. As opposed to literally ending in tears on both side and for me too when the client was pissed off that we weren’t getting their stuff done.
[00:22:00]Let’s back up as to why this is happening because that’s instrumental in explaining how we can address this and what the bigger picture is. It’s basically that, you must have read Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people. He talks about this urgency importance matrix and he says, “You obviously have things that are urgent important, urgent not important, not urgent important the two by two matrix basically.
[00:22:30]What we as human beings are really good at is dealing with urgency, we love it. we get a dopamine fix every time we deal with a fire or a crisis. What ends up happening is for the most part when you’re first starting your business, when it’s just you everything is urgent and important. You’re just knocking stuff down and fixing things. You’re stressed but you get this dopamine fix that equals that and usually keeps you pushing.
[00:23:00]When you start hiring people you stop becoming the firefighter and you start becoming the person that should be dealing with stuff that’s not urgent but is important. Because we’re addicted to urgency at that point we start pulling things in that are not urgent and not important and we start, for instance the phone rings. Do you really have to answer that phone right now? Probably not, it’s probably a sales person. That’s not urgent and not important most likely. If it’s important listen to the voicemail right after and call them back.
[00:23:30]At that point it becomes maybe urgent important, maybe important but not urgent and you can get back to it in a couple of days. It’s interesting to me when we got to a certain size when I was no longer billing time. I actually went through this crisis of conscious where I was like, “Man what do I do?” I was sitting in my chair like, “I don’t have to do anything right now.” Depression is probably an extreme but it like lost, I was lost at that point.
[00:24:00]I was going through withdrawal of urgency and I had to come to the conclusion that my role should be dealing with things that are the coming problems in the organizations. For instance, a lot of agencies they get work just coming in and then when it doesn’t come in they have crisis. I wanted to be solving that problem for business development. I put my effort to that. When really needed to start learning, start changing our position for our own efforts I started learning that.
[00:24:30]All these that I didn’t have to do but I should be doing because those are the problems in the coming year really that I should be getting ahead or hiring or managing or whatever. A lot of people don’t get over that addiction, they keep dealing with the urgency. What ends up happening is because you’re spending so much time on that you’re not doing these other things that are actually really, really important.
Then it ends up affecting your organization in these really negative ways. Really I think it comes down to a leadership but there are a couple of things depending on your temperaments. I’m a big proponent of the DiSC personality assessment. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this.
Andy Baldacci:No, what is it? Is it D-I-S-K or C
[00:25:00]

Casey:

D-I-S-C yup. It’s just a way of understanding personalities and temperaments. I like it infinitely more than Myers-Briggs because Myers-Briggs is more about what’s going on in your brain rather than how you behave. Most people that read a Myers-Briggs assessment, it fits them but not entirely. They’re always a little skeptical about it with good reason.
[00:25:30]DISC I found I’ve administered this probably over a thousand times now and without exception. Well, sometimes there are exceptions with some unique personality but for the most part it’s so remarkably spot on. It gives you and that person a common language to communicate about your organization, about effectiveness, about what they’re getting done, about some of their weaknesses, about some of their strength. It’s just a really valuable tool.
[00:26:00]When you have these kinds of things you can start communicating way more effectively in reducing accidental evil. The other way that you might find that I found, is we have a really big problem I just read a scrum. There’s a book by Jeff Sutherland Scrum, getting twice done in half the time. Have you read that one?
Casey:Nope.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:26:30]

It’s a really amazing book, it’s the guy who established Scrum and put it out in the world. He talks about how he applies scrum to everything in his life from doing a home remodeling, to family time, what is the family going to do, the schedule, to work problems, to giant government contracts anything. Basically, you just come together and just try to solve a problem.
[00:27:00]One Scrum that I’m doing right now at that Brewery I mentioned Ale Industries we’ve invested in an expansion and we’ve got to sell a lot of beer. We’re coming together every day to talk about, actually I only come in once a week, but the whole team is getting together once a day. To talk about are we at a hundred? If we aren’t what are the problems that we can address as a team and to push beyond that. Ricochet, our product development the same thing.
[00:27:30]We have a Scrum around what are we doing to push our product out and get it some traction out in the world. These things where you start showing results every single day rather procrastinating. When everybody has been involved in a sprint that nobody starts working not the sprint until the day before the demo and then only tenth of the stuff is due and everything rolls over to the next sprint.
After ten weeks, you get all the original things done because you get a tenth on every week. It’s just demoralizing, you could have done all that in a week if you just talked about every single day. If you couldn’t get to it, you had a discussion about that and you made a plant around solving that problem.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:28:00]

One thing I’m thinking right now is that, you can tell me if this is off base. I see a big similarity between accidental evil and technical debt but obviously, that applies to more than just code. It seems like a lot of it arises for the same reasons whether it’s your rush, for whatever reasons you’re not going to invest the time even if it is marginal upfront and then you’re stuck with those decisions for a while down the road because it’s so much harder to change them when they’ve already been in place. Is that a reasonable approximation?
Casey:

[00:28:30]

I would say there’s two types of technical debt. There’s accidental technical debt and then there’s conscious technical debt. In product development, you might say, “This always happens.” The engineer comes and says, “Hey to really solve this problem we’ve got to do it this way.” Then you say, “Well yeah but we don’t have the budget or the time to do that. What’s the eighty percent solution?” Using the 80/20 rule you can get eighty percent of the way there on twenty percent of the time.
[00:29:00]They might say, “Well we’re going to do it this way, but it’s going to result in this.” The danger where you can create accidental evil is if you say, “Okay we’ll just do that,” and then you have this technical debt that’s living, that’s lurking in your code. That’s going to bite you at some point and you don’t know about it. A good way to turn it from accidental evil to just explicit evil is if you know that it’s explicitly there you can what I would say …
Andy Baldacci:Because I was going to follow up with that, I’m curious to hear what you’re saying.
Casey:
[00:29:30]
You can put some balm on that burn. it’s like, “This is going to suck guys but we’re going to address it, we’ve got to plan for it, it’s going to live in the tech debt epic and we’re going to get to it.” Just make a ticket to fix that tech debt and when we have down time or when we get to certain milestone of achievement or we have some level of profit we’re going to reinvest into reducing that tech debt.
[00:30:00]A lot of organization when the marketing folks are driving that because they don’t ever pay for the cost, they pain, they don’t feel the pain of the tech debt. They never prioritize it, but if the engineering team says, “Hey we’re just not going to do this until we pay down some of this tech debt, let’s negotiate.” You start having a dialog about how painful it is because you’re going to start burning out your engineers. You got to go to the leadership to explain the true cost of all this stuff.
[00:30:30]I would much rather an organization that does crappie stuff but explicitly does it for a choice and then it has a plan to deal with it after the fact, rather than an organization that ignores all this nasty stuff that they’re doing and then just deals with the fallout as it come. Because I think that that makes the world a less better place.
Andy Baldacci:That makes a ton of sense and to make sure I’m wrapping my head around it. It seems like you’re saying is that especially in small growing agencies, at least from my perspective, there’s going to be times where you’re going to make less than ideal decisions. Then that’s not bad in and of itself but can lead to accidental evil is when you’re not clear on what those outcomes are and don’t create a plan to render them down the road.
[00:31:00]

Casey:

If you’re always running your people at a hundred and thirty percent or two hundred percent. Eventually you’re going to burn them out. If you just ignore that you’re going to have a high turnover cost, this is not some humanitarian idea. This is just good business. It’s good business to not burn your people out because there are statistics about how replacing somebody costs a lot as a proportion of their salary. It’s actually an expensive endeavor.
[00:31:30]When you’re ignore that you’re incurring cost that you don’t actually know about. It would be much better in my opinion to put the cost out there and just put them on the table. If your strategy like say what you will about McDonald’s but they maybe have high turnover but the jobs are simple enough to where they can train people fast enough where they’ve made that decision.
[00:32:00]They’ve just said, “To get a good return on our shareholder’s investments, we are going to have people. They’re going to leave anyway because they’re younger, we’re not paying that much.” This is an explicit business decision and then you have another business In and Out Burger which is specific to California and Nevada. Where they pay their people a much higher wage and they don’t burn them out and they’re more engaged and they’re like a cult classic for people who like hamburgers.
[00:32:30]Those are two different strategies that the organizations have chosen. Like I said this is not a humanitarian thing, whatever you choose stand by that and move forward but just don’t incur cost that other people have to pay including maybe investors or shareholders or yourself right because you’re working sixty seventy hours a week. You could be getting a lot more done on thirty hours a week and spending that extra time with your family for instance or in other ventures.
There’s lost value there and that’s ultimately what I’m driving at.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:33:00]

What I’m trying to figure out is obviously with like the VW example with a lot of the examples, especially on the extremes. The accidental evil, those lazy decisions can lead to death, they can lead to significant harms. In the more everyday sense and like an agency or just any business in general. Is the primary driver of avoiding accidental evil, is minimizing burnout and increasing efficiency. How would you pin it down?
[00:33:30]

Casey:

[00:34:00]

I’ll say by example I’m pushing forward six different companies and I still spend … I work about forty hours a week, I spend time with my family every single day, I bike ten miles a day, I read fifty books a year and I still have extra time. I actually do have time for activities, I go camping on the weekend, do astrophotography. I’m not that busy. I figured out that if you get ahead of all this stuff it expands your time exponentially and everybody around you is happier and you have more profit.
[00:34:30]It’s just good business sense and that’s what I’m getting at is when I look at, I said I don’t like Myers-Briggs but if you actually look at my Myers-Briggs type. There are some extreme cases where it’s like them to spot on ENTJ in Myers-Briggs. The driving force ENTJ according to Myers-Briggs is efficiently. I strive to get efficiency in every single thing that I do.
That’s my driving force, it’s just trying to get things to take as much time as they need to take so that that time can be reinvested in the society and then we can put that energy into pushing ourselves forward and innovating and solving big problems rather than just on keeping our heads above water.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:35:00]

It goes back to a lot of what you were saying to the eighty-twenty principle in that most of what, and tell me if I’m putting words in your mouth. It seems like what you’re saying is that a lot of businesses, agencies not agencies in particular but just in businesses in general. A lot of time is spent on things that frankly don’t matter that much ether they’re not the twenty percent that are getting the disproportionate returns, it’s the eighty percent that gets to the twenty. Is that reasonable?
Casey:

[00:35:30]

Totally, think about in products even client work. We spend so much time dealing about color choices and design subtleties, when really it could be that your whole business is lame and it’s not going to work at all. I like the four-hour work week not that Tim Ferriss’ book is anything about working four hours. That’s why a lot of engineers say it’s a stupid book.
[00:36:00]In fact, the premise it’s a click bait title but the gem in there is that man before you invest a hundred grand in your idea and mortgage your horse for it. Just do some really quick test to see if it’s a dumb idea or not because you can’t trust yourself and you might find that you shouldn’t be putting your time into that. Put it into something else that’s going to yield better results. This idea applies across every aspect of our lives really. I mean to your point.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:36:30]
I love that you brought up the four-hour work week because you’re right that’s the perfect example of a click title but if you listen to Tim Ferriss podcast he written like. He’s clearly not saying work only four hours, it’s about efficiency, it’s about working on things that matter so you can figure out for yourself what does matter.
Casey:Exactly.
Andy Baldacci:I’m curious taking it back from less of these high-level principles and more into the real world, into the model of an agency. What in your opinion does a high performing agency that actively works to minimize accidental, what does that look like?
[00:37:00]

Casey:

This is very particular to what my vision is for my organization, but I want my engineers and creative people to come in every morning and in a Zen like kind of way see exactly what they have to do that day. Have the mental space to be able to work on those things without interruption and execute those as the eighty percent solution. Give the client the ability to say, “Is this good enough or do you want me to keep going to the hundred percent solution?’
[00:37:30]I want them to hit their estimates, I want the clients to be happy, I want us to come under our estimates on every single project. Then that feeds back into client happiness, they still that money with us but they just spend it on things they want to spend it on. Then we retain them for a longer period. I don’t want anybody to ever quit, I want until we’re all wildly successful because we actually have a whole product venture arm that everybody has and equity stake in.
[00:38:00]Successes from these products ends up flowing through to the team. I want an entirely virtuous ecosystem for everybody that’s involve in Ricochet, from clients to my partner and I, to employees, to even contractors. I want it all to work really, really smoothly without the craziness that I’ve never seen not at an agency outside of ours.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:38:30]

That’s the thing, it’s that so many of the examples you gave or that’s just part of the course in a lot of agencies. That’s the thing, I don’t want listeners to think that it has to be that way. Because that’s a dangerous part, is there’s so much of this it’s just because when you look around you don’t find many better alternatives, you don’t see many examples of businesses working in any other ways. You just assume, “All right I need to put in my eighty hours and just suck it up.”
Casey:

[00:39:00]

Let me say where I had a big realization with Ricochet was aside from the whole point about me not knowing where to put my time. There were some things that I was having to engage in that I just really hated. I basically said, “Okay how much do I want to make, what do I not want to do or what do I want to do, what are my strengths and how do I do that?
[00:39:30]Then how do I make it, looking at the bigger picture, at all the things that people have to do that they don’t like doing and because they don’t like doing they don’t do it. How can we have things for that? That’s why we hired an admin team who handle a lot of these that either I had to do or just didn’t get done. Our admin team actually goes through all my email and prioritizes it according to the according to the urgency and importance matrix. I only look at the urgent important stuff on a day to day and then I only look at the not urgent important stuff week to week and I only look at the not urged not important stuff like maybe once a month.
[00:40:00]That gave me two hours back a day that I could focus on my life rather than not knowing. You know this feeling it’s like you’ve got five hundred emails in your inbox, you just did a scan of it, you know the three that are important and then fifty more come in. Now you’ve got to do, it’s like the worst sorting of an algorithm ever you’ve got to go do everything again to find the three that were important and the two more that might important in that fifty.
[00:40:30]You never have the time to actually clear everything out so you’re just always stressed and then that affects your productive. Then you get in an argument with your wife because you’re irritable. Then that plays out because you don’t get any sleep. It’s like all these things snowball and they don’t have to be that way. What I would say is start with the constants that you need in your life. Then it turned out that in order for us to make an ecosystem that works, to afford an admin and also business development.
[00:41:00]I was spending a lot of time, I was basically doing all of our business development. To hire somebody to be able to do that we had to be a certain size and what size is that? Well it’s this many hours and okay, “Well how many developers do we have and how many do we need to be able to achieve that?” Backing into the plan from there actually allowed us to achieve that but until we had the plan we just rudderless.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:41:30]
That’s ultimately, at least from my perspective that’s what a lot of it come down to. Having that plan and being truly deliberate and thoughtful about what you’re trying to achieve because when you just go with it, when you just have that accidental growth where you just take on as many clients that come to you.
You don’t think about the services, you’re not thinking about who you’re going after, you’re not doing anything. You’re doing things as almost momentum carries you through. You’re going to whether you want it accidental evil or externality or anything like that. you’re going to have a lot of bad outcomes that could have been avoided.
Casey:
[00:42:00]
To the point that we were making earlier, if you just apply the scrum model to reducing accidental evil and having a plan. The way to know if you’re doing accidental evil or not is you map out the ideal outcome and then you measure the delta between where you’re at and where you want to be.
[00:42:30]Then you just make a plan to address each of those things in an incremental smaller level fashion trying to find the eighty percent solution for each of those issues. You’re going to reduce accidental evil, everybody is going to be happier, your organization is going to be more profitable and you’re going to enjoy what you do. It all fits together and it doesn’t seem like you can just map out what you want and then make it happen. It worked for me.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:43:00]

I was going to ask, what would you recommend to an agency owner? Because a lot of what you’ve talked about, it obviously makes sense but some of it is so fundamental that when you’re so far along it might be hard to get there. Someone has it or just is already doing all right but they have realized that they’re working too many hours, maybe their team has high turnover things like that. Is that what you’d recommend, would you say start by looking at the accidental evil you already have and then go from there?
Casey:If I were to break it down into some actionable steps, the first thing that I would say is to actually make a budget where everything that you want to have happen is happening in that budget. Make a monster spreadsheet in Excel and figure out how many billable hours you need to have everybody in the organization make a market rate. If there’s any responsibilities that nobody wants to do or nobody is doing.
[00:43:30]Map that out, how much do you have to pay for that. Just get it all out on the table and then figure out how far away you are from that? Then come together with your team, I’ve never this, I built my organization from scratch in this way. I don’t know how I would do it if not through how I did it but this is just probably what I would do if I were consulting for an agency. Then I would say, “Okay guys let’s do a scrum.” Every day we’re going to talk about for fitness minutes if we’re getting … we’d have a weekly sprint planning and then we’d have a daily scrum about how close we are to getting to this thing.
[00:44:00]I guess in a way with the brewery I’m involved with, I didn’t found it. I actually founded my winery at the same time that I founded the brewery or they founded and a friend of mine, I’ve been involved as a friend. Now I’m coming in and applying all these principles and I’m watching them happen. I’m watching applying scrum in a Kanban board to the process. I’m watching feedback according to, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen managertools.com but a great model for feedback and one on ones.
[00:44:30]

[00:45:00]

Applying one on one, breweries are not like service organizations where, it’s a different crowd, it’s a different group of folks. They’re not as tech savvy but all these things still apply. They’re not all electronic but just the basic principles. Actually, I guess I’m applying this to an organization that didn’t have this stuff from the start and I’m watching it every single day pay dividends. It started with the budget and then it started with how do we get there, then it started with explain why scrum is important and why feedback is important and getting people to do it.
[00:45:30]Then seeing that they see that there’s results and just incrementally applying these things over and over and over again. I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t work in a technical thing. The owner really has to drive that and if he or she is always stuck dealing with the billable time, it will never happen. That’s probably the first and foremost is you can’t be billing time if you really want to lead your organization forward and there’s that dangerous thing where you’re like, “Well if I don’t bill my time, we can’t afford, we can’t be, what are we going to do? I would say to that problem you’ve got to map out how many hours you need then you’ve got to build that pipeline to be able to do that.
[00:46:00]

Andy Baldacci:

You have different issues and honestly the framework and the thought process you laid makes so much sense. Where it’s once you’re able to take the time to step back and start really addressing these things it’s being deliberate. It’s just laying out the plan, taking steps backwards and figuring out how to get there. In my vocabulary, I just see it as being deliberate instead of accidental, just being clear about what is happening and what the impacts could be and making sure your decisions are aligned with that ultimate goal.
[00:46:30]

Casey:

Maybe you can be zero percent billable, even now I still bill less than ten hours a week but it’s stuff that I really enjoy doing and we bill at a higher rate. Maybe you’re just starting and say, “Okay well instead of forty hours a week I’m going to bill thirty hours a week this quarter and then the next quarter I want to do twenty hours, and then I want to do ten, and then I want to do five.”
Andy Baldacci:It’s a process, it’s not going to happen overnight?
Casey:Exactly nothing worth doing really happens overnight except making sure that all your tickets have acceptance criteria and it just makes everything amazing overnight.
[00:47:00]

Andy Baldacci:

It’s fun because the thing is that thinking for long term goals, anything you’re trying to achieve it can seem so far from where you are right now that you never get started. When your inbox is overflowing after a vacation. It can be like, I don’t even want to look at it. Or when you’re like we have so much accidental evil in the organization right now we can’t even get started, we’re used to this we’ll just deal with it, but you can’t really thrive if that’s the mindset you have.
[00:47:30]

Casey:

I sound like a real jerk when I say this kind of stuff but I just got back from a two-week vacation in Portugal where I went to the wedding of one of our team members and it took me an hour to get on top of my email. That’s it because all I was worried was the urgent important stuff.
[00:48:00]All the other stuff could wait and in fact that was several weeks ago, this past weekend I finally just, I had some time and I sat down and just cleared out the lowest priority stuff. It was just like select all, scan it makes sure there’s no misfiling in an archive. Maybe read a couple of little things but I don’t have time for that newsletter, archive, done.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:48:30]

That’s a good one, it seems like this framework for you has really helped you get to where you’ve wanted to go and I hope the listeners do take this to heart and do think about these bigger picture ideas and how they can actually break down in actionable steps. For this part, I’m actually really excited to get into these rapid-fire questions because I’m curious to see what you have to say. For the first one what do you think right now, what do you spend too much time doing?
Casey:
[00:49:00]
I probably spend too much time worrying about things that I don’t need to worry about. knowing that I can do things really, really fast and sometimes it takes other folks longer to do that and I sit here and I do the calculation in my head. I’m like, “man I could do this in an hour and I’m paying several people, several hours to do the same thing sometimes,” but I have to be okay with that, I have to let that happen. I need to make sure that my model allows for that because otherwise I go crazy and I don’t scale.
[00:49:30]There’s a reason why I’m leading several organization is because I can do these stuffs and I can’t build the whole organization on me. Me just being comfortable with the fact that some things are going to take loner and I’ve got to be okay with that. Just let the process flow and when at the end of the year. For instance, this year will be the end of the year probably the third year that we’ve actually made an explicit budget.
[00:50:00]We’ve been growing up until this year, this is the year that we’re at the size that we want to be at. We don’t want to grow anymore on the agency side, we want to grow on the product side. Now we actually have a fixed set of inputs for the agency. I actually know what things should cost and I can go now and start iterate on efficiency, on the agency because it’s not a moving target anymore.
[00:50:30]Now I can just build the billable hours and the efficiency to make sure that all that stuff is fitting. I spend too much time being impatient and being unrealistic. I’ve tried to work on being calmer and more patient and more caring and more loving as cheesy as it sounds. To allow the organization to not be stressed out me, to where everybody feels happy and engaged.
Andy Baldacci:If you were able to achieve all that where would you redirect that time?
Casey:

[00:51:00]

The place that I want to redirect it right now is on to our products. I want the consulting to be totally locked down, it’s a little machine that hums along. It requires minimal cognitive overhead to keep it afloat. Then I want everybody’s creative energy that is above and beyond that to be towards crafting and creating interesting solutions. We have Ricochet labs which does little side projects that’s built into our budget or at least it will be for 2017.
[00:51:30]People to be able to spend time kind of like Google’s twenty percent time but people can just pursue little ideas. I also want those to funnel into our product creation, I want our products to be pushing forward. I’ve recognized that an engineering organization is not a marketing organization, trying to solve that problem for the products. We’ve got a pretty good solution for that in place. I just want all that stuff to keep pushing and keep creating.
[00:52:00]I really want all that to drive towards the group’s success, everybody that’s involved in Ricochet I want them to benefit. There is a little bit of at a certain point when you get everything locked down that is until I have that next thing. I get a little restless if I don’t have something else to jump into so this is not … I don’t know that this is like an entirely scalable solution because at a certain point you get everything under control and then it’s like, “Well what next,” and then you can move on to something but Ricochet can just keep …
[00:52:30]At some point, very few organizations actually or agencies actually end up creating successful products. That’s something that I’ve dedicated my life towards getting on top of and it’s taken now five years, actually probably close to seven years to get it to the point where we can start doing that. Just all this intense work that we’ve put into building Ricochet, investing millions of dollars in the infrastructure and tools and management and all that stuff. Now we can start building the products, we could do that over and over and over again.
[00:53:00]

Andy Baldacci:

I wish we had another hour so I could get into that because I think you hit the nail on the head. When you said that agencies so rarely are able to build a successful product. I’d love to hear the reasons why and how you’re trying to change that, but we are running out of time, I’ll have to save for another time. The last thing I wanted to ask, the second last thing I want to ask is, towards all those goals that you just laid out, towards that big vision. What are you actually hoping to accomplish on that in the next month?
[00:53:30]

Casey:

Right now, we’re evangelizing the things that Ricochet is doing and can do and are thought leaders on. We’ve got a series of webinars that we have scheduled in a few, checkout our website or you checkout our Twitter or whatever. We’re present on social media, you can learn about those topics. The same thing around the products, we’ve got a product evercurrent.io
[00:54:00]Which is around security for, right now we’re focusing on a couple frameworks but ultimately it applies to everything from desktops to phones to Linux boxes to anywhere where security it just allows you to have a bird’s eye dashboard view of your exposure across your entire organization.
[00:54:30]Evangelizing topics around that and speaking to that. Really it’s just business development and marketing and sales to make sure that we have incoming things and then doing experiments for testing, iterating and scaling from those experiments.
Andy Baldacci:Awesome I’m excited to see how all of that turns out, before I say goodbye. Where can listeners go to lean more from you, from project Ricochet just to see what you guys are up to. Where is the best place for them to head?
[00:55:00]

Casey:

Our first webinar is this Wednesday. We don’t have the webinar calendar up yet. That’s going to be coming up shortly but you can go to projectrichocet.com to learn about the things that we’re evangelizing. Then also my personal Caseycobb.com talks about, I put a lot of my topics and writing. I have accidental evil and some more writings around that on there.
[00:55:30]Also, if anybody is interesting, if any of your listeners are interested in talking more about this please feel free to reach out to me. I’m always happy to talk about this stuff, I love speaking about it. I could talk about this as you can gather for hours and hours and hours. I’ve got a few speaking engagements coming up soon but I’m always excited for opportunities to actually speak about this stuff as well. If anybody has any interests in that feel free to reach out to me.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:56:00]
Awesome well Casey you gave us a ton of things, what I know my brain is already running a thousand miles an hour thinking about how this could apply and not even just in agencies but to my own life. First I want to say personally thank you so much for coming on this show and sharing all these ideas.
Casey:Thank you.

Want to learn more?

If you want to hear more from Casey, you can follow his personal blog at CaseyCobb.com, or check out the Project Ricochet website to see what new topics they are evangelizing.

Resources mentioned:

Casey’s original article on Accidental Evil
E-Myth by Michael Gerber
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Scrum by Jeff Sutherland
Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
DiSC Personality Assessment
Manager Tools
Ever Current
Ale Industries

Thanks for listening!

What accidental evil has the biggest impact on your business? How can you work to fix it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.