Bottlenecks

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

For many of the puzzles that come up in life we can use the mental model of a bottleneck to consider possible solutions. There are two components to consider; the bottle body and the bottleneck.

For a week in July our family lived on a lake in lower Michigan. It was gorgeous. We skied, tubed, fished, swam, ate, and reminisced with friends. All the memories from the trip happened in those moments.

But there were also the logistics. The boat to rent, the swimmers to lifeguard, and the food to cook, clean, and dispose of. When I toured our rental the owner emphasized using the trash compactor. “If you don’t use this, you’ll have the cans full by the second day,” he said. He was right. Twelve people create a lot of trash.

It wasn’t an abnormal or atypical amount. It was just a lot of people. We had a bottle volume and bottleneck problem.

Normally the four families in one house were four families in four homes, each with it’s own trash can. On day two we started writing our names on the red plastic cups littered around the house. That helped one way (create less trash) but we could have also had more trash cans.

In college physics there’s always a question about flow rates. Assume a bathtub fills at X gallons per minute and drains at Y gallons per minute. What’s the water level after Z minutes? This physics question is our trash metaphor. We can turn the tap and slow the flow or widen the drain.

The business funnel is an exact replica of this. Picture taking is another. A decade ago I bought a nice camera and took online classes to learn to take better pictures. The most frequent advice was to take a lot of pictures. That’s more flow. Skills like the rule of thirds, framing, lighting, and zooming with your feet were about widening the bottleneck.

Writers are more researchers than writers. Their research expands the body their skills refine the bottleneck – this time it’s a selection effect that’s desired. Robert Caro’s challenge was that the bottle was so much bigger, etnerally vast, that he realized. About researching Johnson he wrote:

“For example, bringing electricity to the Hill Country. In all these early biographies of Johnson, the fact that he founded the largest electricity co-op and brought electricity to the Hill Country gets a few pages, if that—sometimes it only gets a paragraph. But when I was interviewing people out there, they would say, No matter what Lyndon was like, we loved him because he brought the lights. So I suddenly said, God, this bringing the lights is something meaningful.”

So Caro moved to the Hill Country.

Bottle bodies and bottlenecks are two knobs to turn to change the rate something occurs. For things like trash on vacation we only had access to one. For things like new clients and more sales there’s both.

Cheers, and thanks for reading.

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