This is Andrew from Hoxton North. I’m in no way knowledgeable about coffee, but I worked as a coffee barista long-enough to spot someone who has mastered it. I made a few hundred Cappuccinos at Pizza Express, but they were as a child’s scribblings compared to the Deco art Andrew places in front of his customers.

Mastery is a radiantly attractive quality. When I watch athletes of all shapes and sizes excel, from aerial acrobats in the Winter Olympics to snooker players in the Masters, their excellence is a soul-quaking experience. Everytime I see it in some new guise, I think about Elizabeth Gilbert talking about creativity. Their brilliance is transcendent and I firmly believe it’s available to all of us, in my own slightly crap way.

Code is an expensive asset to produce. It’s expensive even to understand and specify what it should do, expensive to cut it and test it, then typically expensive to maintain and extend in the future. My advice to most organisations, whatever your scale, is do everything you can to avoid cutting it in the first place. Re-use; specialise general purpose solutions that exist in similar if not identical fields; find open source alternatives that allow you to solve part of the problem while the rest of the community contributes too, but whatever you do avoid [re]inventing something that doesn’t set your business apart from your competition.

When you absolutely have to write code, because it is the essence and core of your business, it needs to be excellent.

In The Lean Startup, Eric Reis extols the virtue of focus. In a tiny start-up, that laser-sharp focus is often the difference between survival or total catastrophic destruction under the commercial pressure of an ever shortening runway, new entrants, rivalries and substitutes. 5 forces don’t do it justice.

What makes innovation work in those high-pressure, survive-or-die environments is the simple maxim that it has to. Succeed or fail, just fail fast and learn quickly. There are loads of great tools that help companies do well - Agile has swept the Industry leaving no mossy incumbent stone unturned - yet just knowing the buzzwords and applying their sound-byte wisdom isn’t enough.

All companies need excellence. They need teams made up of people like Andrew, who care about what they do and choose to excel when it’s easier not to. Meh is cheaper than wow, but with so much sort-of-passable-work in the world, wow’s got harder. Wherever you see the threat coming from for your business - pick your favourite force - new competition means we’ve got to excel.

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