We all sort of understand that our lives and businesses are increasingly influenced—if not controlled—by algorithms, even if we don’t really know what an algorithm is.

In short, an algorithm is a set of rules or instructions.

Algorithms are usually associated with computers; sets of instructions written in code that computers follow to solve problems, and now to influence behavior.

Algorithms can be used to predict what people want to watch or buy, they can be used to determine whether or not we get a business loan and they will soon be used to drive our cars. While this may still just be computer ‘mumbo jumbo’ reserved just for programmer geeks to a lot of us, what if I told you that we are all constantly writing our own algorithms?

What I mean is this: you and I might not be programming a computer with sets of instructions but each and every day we are programming our minds with sets of instructions, with expectations, with beliefs and with principles by which we set our own personal standards. Further, it’s these standards that govern how we run our business or organization.

When we change the algorithms that a computer follows, we change the result. It is no different for us.

To illustrate just a few examples, we’re going to learn a bit of computer programming, right here, right now.

In all computer languages, there are statements (functions) called IF, THEN, ELSE. These functions help computers determine what to do, at the proverbial fork in the road; a scenario where more than one path is possible.

The first action is defined as the IF. IF I do this or IF I do that.

The consequence of that action, is the THEN.

And the ELSE, is the alternative action or the alternate consequence.

For example (and I’ll write it sort of ‘computer-y’):

IF the password entered is correct,

THEN allow access to the website, or

ELSE write “Access Denied” on the screen.

There is, of course, more going on in the “background” but hopefully this clarifies the concept.

My contention is that we all generate IF, THEN, ELSE statements—all of us, all the time, especially as small business leaders.  Let’s call them “thought algorithms.”

Sometimes we utilize them to make reactionary decisions to the options in front of us, for example:

IF I give this customer a discount,

THEN they’ll buy from me, or

ELSE they probably won’t.

But also, we often use them when making decisions that are absolutely critical to the goals, culture and destiny of our business.

Consider these typical thought algorithms:

IF I fire this person,

THEN my workload will increase, and I’ll have to find someone new, or

ELSE I will continue to put up with sub-par performance (which affects my whole team).


IF I take time for this sales training session,

THEN I won’t get these three jobs done today, or

ELSE the sales team will be fine, they know what they’re doing.


IF I admit that I was wrong,

THEN the staff will think they can do it their way, or

ELSE they’ll know that it’s ‘my way or the highway.’


Now please, consider these alternate thought algorithms:

IF I work every day to empower and educate my team and show them my vision,

THEN my team will take care of my customers and my business will thrive, or

ELSE I will never truly know the power of culture.


IF I focus on creating systems that are repeatable and train them religiously,

THEN the foundation of my business will strengthen regardless of turnover, or

ELSE my business will never run on its own.


IF I own my mistakes and open myself to input from the team,

THEN my team will be more open to accepting my ideas and rally behind my vision, or

ELSE I will alienate my team with my arrogance and they will eventually mutiny, destroying the culture, and the business.

The choice is yours. The decisions are yours. The algorithms are yours.

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